Content in context

What often is lost in cultural policy conversations or research reports about the visual arts world is an examination of how ethnic-specific cultural practices and the dynamics of non-collecting museums and artist-centered organizations keep the art world from be-ing static and dull, from being victimized by the hierarchies of taste or the technocratic aims of cultural managers. Any analysis of the sociology of the visual arts field needs to speak about the relationship between the aesthetic content of a work and the contexts in which different aesthetic inquiries are supported. Where is the support for the art practices that make societal claims tied to democratic ideals — visual art manifestations of cultural citizenship? Where is the support for community-based visual art practices that trouble the market or collecting museums validation mechanisms? How are Native American basket weavers or African-American quilters, who have defined themselves as contemporary-traditionalist visual artists, finding their support? To answer these questions one needs to examine the relationship between aesthetic content and its context of support, including a spectrum of means — the nonprofit sector, gift economies, and the art market. It needs to reflect on the politics at work in the visual art field between content and context, between the goods and the good.

Robert Bedoya is a writer and arts consultant who works in the area of support systems for artists