Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

AFB’s Terms of Art #5: Art World


Now that increasing numbers of people are stuck at home and sheltering in place, I figured I’d do a little series. Every weekday for the duration of this intense period, I’ll post a short definition of some term in/related to aesthetics and philosophy of art. Let’s see how this goes! See them all here.

Terms of Art #5:
art world (or artworld*)

Pronunciation: ART world (accent ‘art’)

Definition: The art world refers to the network of people who (a) produce or (b) distribute art. It sometimes also includes those who (c) are core recipients of art.

(a) Producers: Artists, plus people who commission art or otherwise enable its production (but: a manufacturer of paints is not typically thought of as an art world member). Also includes those who restore or preserve art.

(b) Distributors: People who sell art (auction houses, dealers) or make art accessible to the public in other ways (think: museums, curators, gallerists). Also includes those who “distribute” art ideas and concepts (art magazines, critics, historians – or even people like me!).

(c) Core recipients: Critics, collectors, maybe frequent museum-goers… Note: not all recipients count as art world members.


Sotheby’s auction [source]

Usage: This term usually refers to museum-y art, rather than ALL art. So: painters and sculptors, yes; musicians and authors, no. Sorry guys. (Or lucky you, depending on your perspective!)

History: Tellingly, the term has only existed since the late 19th century.


*art world vs. artworld:
The vast majority of people write this as two words. It is my strong suspicion (confirmed by brief Ngram-ing) that the one-word version came into being with philosopher Arthur Danto’s paper “The Artworld”, and that therefore the one-word version is disproportionately in favor with analytic philosophers of art than with the general public or the rest of the, um, art … world.

What I’m saying is: Danto, this confusion is your fault.

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