Theses Doctoral

The Global Rules of Art

Buchholz, Larissa

The past three decades have witnessed the extraordinary emergence of several global cultural realms for the crossborder flow and consecration of cultural goods (e.g., in the visual arts, music, or literature). Scholars have debated whether such accelerated dynamics of the globalization of culture are leading to the worldwide dominance of cultural goods from a few Western countries--and in this sense to growing cultural homogeneity--or whether they facilitate the increasing transnational dissemination and recognition of cultural creations from other non-Western contexts, such as Asia, Latin America, or Africa--and thus entail increasing cultural diversity. Focussing on the case of the contemporary visual arts and elaborating Pierre Bourdieu's theory of the field of cultural production further from a national to a global scale, the dissertation specifies the conditions under which artists from non-Western regions become visible and recognized in a global cultural realm. In contrast to the established theoretical models in the globalization of culture literature--the political economy model of cultural imperialism, the global flows and networks model, or the global culture strategies model--a field approach extended to the global scale has the principal advantage that it permits to differentiate between the hierarchical structures, transnational networks, and cultural rules of different subspaces in the same global cultural universe. From this perspective, the dissertation develops an alternative argument that goes beyond approaching cultural homogeneity or diversity as an either/or problem. Drawing upon a rich array of sources and combining interpretative and quantitative methodologies, I argue that there are systematic differences in the conditions of worldwide artistic recognition and diversity in globalizing cultural circuits that are based on a logic of intellectual prestige and charisma on the one hand, and those that are ruled by a commercial logic on the other. Hence, I make the case that, in order to capture the complexities of cultural diversity in a period of accelerated globalization, it is necessary to take into account and theorize more fully the institutional diversity of global cultural realms themselves. The dissertation is divided into four parts: the first part clears conceptual ground by discussing aspects of Pierre Bourdieu's theory of the field of cultural production that have to be modified or added when the framework is moved beyond national boundaries to a transnational or global level. The second part investigates the worldwide diffusion of contemporary art institutions across more than 140 countries, and it also examines discourses of artistic globalization and global art and additional historical sources, in order to illuminate the institutional formation of a global cultural field in the contemporary visual arts since the 1980s that is transcontinental in geographic scope and cultural orientations. The third part asks how these global transformations have affected the recognition of artists from different parts of the world. Drawing upon encompassing data of the transnational careers of leading artists in the global exhibition space and global auction market, I show that the contemporary visual arts are structured around a dual world economy of recognition, and that, correspondingly, dynamics of artistic diversity have evolved in systematically different ways with regard to global symbolic capital or global economic artistic success. Building on the insights from this broader structural account, the third part engages with an in-depth case study comparison of the biographies of outstanding artists from China and Mexico (Yue Minjun and Gabriel Orozco), who have achieved either high economic success or symbolic recognition in the global art field. They are representatives of the first artistic generation in the history of the contemporary visual arts that might be termed global. By explaining how these artists rose to worldwide leading artistic positions, the dissertation brings to light additional different historical, social and cultural preconditions for the inclusion and consecration of artists from non-Western regions at the intellectual and commercial poles of the same global cultural realm. Overall, by expanding insights of one of the classical studies in the sociology of culture, Pierre Bourdieu's The Rules of Art, the dissertation advances an understanding of the `global rules' of art, that is, the core-periphery structures, transnational networks, cultural practices as well as classificatory schemes of interpretation and valuation that are intertwined with the making of worldwide artistic reputations and careers in a global cultural realm. It thereby offers a window onto the making and dynamics of what I designate as a "dual world economy of recognition." In addition, through the substantive lens on worldwide artistic recognition and careers, the dissertation develops further a new theoretical approach to the globalization of culture that goes beyond certain polarities among established theoretical models, as between cultural homogeneity vs. diversity, structures and meaning, macro vs. micro, or structure vs. agency. By comparing transnational and global processes at both an intellectual and commercial pole of the same global cultural field, it elaborates a theoretical model that is multi-dimensional and multi-leveled. It permits to study processes associated with the globalization of culture--as, for example, cultural crossborder flows and exchange, cultural inequalities or cultural diversity--by linking different macro and micro level factors. Lastly, the dissertation also offers a step toward advancing general global field analysis as an emerging new theoretical paradigm in global and transnational sociology vis-à-vis more established broader theoretical approaches, such as world-systems analysis or world polity theory. By theorizing and substantiating the institutional core-periphery configurations of a whole global field, involving both its autonomous and heteronomous pole, it develops a template for reconstructing the institutional making of a field at a global scale both in its structural and cultural dimensions.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Eyal, Gil
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 23, 2013