A network complexity model for
how we (finally) know when it's "art"
Mediology and art
- Beyond binary mutual entailment of art/non-art: looking at the cultural category of art--and works that appear as art within the artworld system--as part of a system, and/or art as a subsystem
within a larger "visual culture" system.
- Looking for institutional contexts and preconditions, containers,
material means of production, distribution.
- Mediology looks for often unnoticed grounds, conditions, catalysts
in which two or more social and technological forces combine in an institutional
framework to produce a third thing: examples
- modern and contemporary art and the White Cube and museum containers
constitute the art object and art experience in the artworld.
- or availability of new materials in a pre-encoded institutional
context allow for the production of new hybrid works (e.g., Warhol's
use of photomechanical silkscreen stencils at a certain scale and
pre-existing artworld encoded materials like paper and stretched
canvas allowed for the new object: silkscreen "paintings"
- Networks of artworld actors and their mobility back and forth
- Mediology also looks at the cultural encoding of the materials of
a medium or technology (e.g., painting over photography).
The structure of possibility and the grounds for intelligibility
for a work of art in the contemporary art world
- An art object is constituted for us as such by being situated in a
field of semiotic relationships and oppositional contexts that operate
in an artworld.
- The artworld field functions like a network with concentrating and connecting nodes, and distribution of knowledge and power through the network system.
- Mediological complexity
- Seeing that there's no "there there" outside a nexus of
relations, fields of force, ways of creating meaning and value with
material objects situated in the social-economic-political role of
the "art work."
- This network of relations presupposes the already
structured "art space containers" and invisible institutions of the gallery, museum,
or art fair.
- It is a network of possibilities and preconditions without which there
is no art. In a real sense, a work of art is the product of the operations
of this network.
- The nexus of structures and institutionalized art
spaces provide the preconditions for the reception and intelligibility
of an art work, generating the contemporary category of "art"
- There is no "there there" outside this nexus of
relations in an art world context of production and reception.
- Decoding the art work in the artworld: some main forces in the field
- What were the contexts of making and reception?
- What is/was the artist's institutional situation--art school, formal
or informal education, teachers, galleries, exhibitions?
- How were the works received and in what institutional context?
- Was there a slow entry in group shows, small galleries?
- Was the artist promoted by a major collector or dealer?
- Was there an institutionally funded breakthrough like an art
biennial, funded art fair, funded museum show, etc.?
- In maturing phase of artist's work, what collectors, corporate
or institutional collections, and museums owned work by the
- When did the artist get a good catalogue of works that accompanied
- When did works by the artist start hitting the secondary market
(auctions and resales at galleries)
- Other prior and contemporary artworks and artists that generated
a response, reaction (positive, negative, or complicated), or interpretation
Semiotics of the art medium
- Materiality of art work and symbolic space of social life
- Hierarchies or value for material things in a nexus of relations,
- "The artist's technical problem is how to transform the material with
which he works back into the sphere of the spirit." (Hans Hoffman, "The
Search for the Real in the Visual Arts")
- This may be the artist's technical problem, but the social life of
the art work is a question of reception: how the material object is
situated in a predetermining or constitutive symbolic space that encodes
it with meaning, value, significance.
- A rectangular or square 2-D space in a frame on a wall is already
encoded as a symbolic object before any specific meaning is understood,
decoded, felt, or experienced.
- A painting, drawing, print, or photograph is introduced into an already
constructed space of social significance.
- This model assumes that the identified contexts and
oppositions operate in a social environment of learned associations
- The operations hold regardless of any individual's
level of competence with the cultural encyclopedia (the totality
of possible knowledge and associations for a cultural object).
- Ignorance, inability to access the codes of the
artworld social class, or other interpretive variables only reinforce
the validity of these intersecting fields in the construction of
an art object as such, since they explain why a work of art seems
unintelligible or unrecognizable to the uninitiated.
of structures within an artworld "container":
gallery, museum, art fair, biennial