Two Cultures, One Art World


Arthur Danto writes in his paper “The Art World Revisited: Comedies of Similarities”, that “the Art World is the discourse of reasons institutionalized…” A “discourse of reasons” could be thought as a discussion of motives and ideas. “Institutionalized” refers to how this discussion has grown into a standard practice over time. Altogether the “discourse of reasons institutionalized” is a discussion of motives and ideas which has become standard practice over time. Danto also says to be a part of the Art World it is necessary “to have learned what it means to participate in the discourse of reasons for one’s culture”. This paper will explore two scopes of the phrase “to have learned”. By doing this it will become convenient to talk about the Art World as two parts, each part pertaining different kind of participation in the discourse. Paul from “Faking It” and Thomas Kinkade will be looked to as persons of interest who cross the barrier between the two portions of the Art World. The learning divide may equivalently be shown to be a cultural divide.

Danto is not very exact about what it means “to have learned to participate in the discourse of reasons for one’s culture”. One could be open and inclusive about what it means to “have learned”, or one could set a stringent standard of learning to partake in the Art World. George Dickey claims that the Art World is composed of subsystems stemming from different modes of expression and historical developments. It may also be useful to divide the Art World into two levels of education. One level is easily obtainable, open, and nearly all-inclusive. People on this level have learned what it means to participate in the discourse of reasons for the culture. The other level requires formal training to achieve and is exclusive. People on this level have learned what it means to participate in the discourse of reasons for the art culture.

Those on the first level may be completely unaware that they are a member of the Art World. These are the commoners or lay people. Their education comes from the firsthand experience of being immersed in the culture. The range of artifacts that may be dealt with by this portion of the Art World is boundless. Everything from Kindergarten macaroni art to mass produced Kinkade paintings may be offered up for appreciation. The practice of the Art World is very similar to Dickey’s very open-ended definition. Anyone with some bare minimum knowledge “confers the status of candidate for appreciation”. This can be as simple as little Billy showing Ma his macaroni sailboat. This may not be some erudite academic discourse, but at least between Ma and Billy the macaroni sailboat is art and they can talk about it in some context.

Those in the second level are part of a defined group which includes: professional artists, art critics, and those otherwise formally educated in the arts. To complete the analogy, these are the clergy of the Art World. In Hume’s school of thought, these are the people who determine the standard of taste. The art they are concerned with is presented in a specific manner, typically on stage or in a gallery.

The experience of Paul from the program “Faking It” is a clear illustration of the great divide in the Art World. In the beginning Paul was a member of the broader, perhaps one could say “low” Art World. He could view at works of art and formulate opinions because he was familiar with the culture through experience and had developed appreciation or disdain for particular styles, subjects, colors, shapes, etc., but lacked formal training. It was clear that he was not a part of the “high” Art World when he viewed the large glass sculpture of empty boxes. He was still able to form an opinion, join the discourse so to speak, but his contribution was based off of completely different criteria than those of his manager, an established member of the “high” Art World. In a month’s time Paul was able to cram in lot of learning, but it was still obvious that he had not achieved the same level as the critics he conversed with. He still required coaching and his explanations to critics were almost scripted. He may have taken steps, but Paul was never a full participant in the culture of the “high” Art World.
Similarly Thomas Kinkade has a unique position in relationship to the Art World divide. Being a professional artist himself he has the background to partake in the “high” Art World, but he presents his art specifically for those in the “low” Art World. He paints and reproduces his paintings knowing full well that they have little chance of catching the eye of, much less being appreciated by, the “high” Art World. The “high” Art World puts a premium on creativity, originality, and the genius required to create something completely novel. Kinkade makes no effort to be novel in his works. Instead, he uses a limited “artistic vocabulary” which is very appealing to the “illiterate” masses. Although a Kinkade may have the look and feel of a piece one might see in the “high” art world, and may even appear in a Kinkade gallery, it is only an illusion. Kinkade’s cookie cutter art is neither something an art critic would write about other than to explain how it is not real art, nor is Kinkade likely to influence other artists other than those hoping to have a big pay day.

Danto wrote about the Art World as a discourse pertaining to one’s culture. In this paper a gap in the education of level of those in the Art World was examined, but perhaps the gap is cultural not educational. Aside from those living in complete solitude, anyone can be seen as an expert in the culture they live in. Little Billy knows if he sticks macaroni to paper and shows it to Ma, she’ll look at it and give some sort of impression or judgment. Informally Billy has been educated on how to partake in the standardized discussion. The ritual of presenting objects for appreciation has been established over time in Billy’s culture. The ritual is very different for the culture that has been called the “high” Art World in this paper. Paul attempted to participate in the discourse of reasons for this culture by presenting his work in a gallery and exposing it to critics. He was able to succeed in his presentation, but in this “high” Art World the full standardized practice includes defending the work to critics, which Paul was incapable of doing on his own. In contrast Kinkade has made himself the Taco Bell of the Art World. He takes something authentic from one culture and has altered it slightly to be mass consumed by another. There are two cultures which Danto may refer to: the culture of the art people, and the culture of the people.



By: Daniel Foust
Major: Biophysics
Expected Graduation Date: May 2014
Hometown: Pasco, WA

My goal was to give some theoretical context to what I view as a dichotomy in the “Art World”. There’s art that gets stuck to refrigerators with magnets and there’s art that gets bought for millions at Christie’s.