This introduction sets the stage for the five chapters that follow. I demonstrate how the notion of what is and what is not art has narrowed over the centuries. I explain what I mean by “the main period of serious art”, which runs roughly from 1880 to 1980. During this period, art was serious and deep, while popular art was not even considered art. The art ethos of this period consisted of beliefs, moral convictions and norms such as the notion that art and artists must be autonomous and commerce is bad. I elaborate on the concepts of artworld, serious art, popular art, symbolic and social boundaries and social classes. I also explain how I operationalise the concept of serious art. In the main period of serious art, this art enters, what I call, art buildings (traditional prestigious museums and concert halls), while popular art is denied access. Art is often useful. This is what economists expect. But it contradicts the notion of “art for art’s sake”. I discuss this and related issues in a more philosophical section where I argue against the essentialist notion of art and show that Kant’s notion of purposeful purposelessness makes no sense.
In the past, there was no difference between popular and serious art. This changed in the second half of the nineteenth century when certain artforms began to be distinguished as true art. The mingling of serious and popular art became taboo and a serious art etiquette became de rigueur. Nonprofits were established as well as an art heritage. Respect for serious art flourished during the main period of serious art. The establishment of guilds led to changes in the governance of art and artists including the introduction of quality standards and organised art education. Major art academies also played an important role during this period. Eventually, the roles of governments and artworld representatives began to dominate. These institutions all indirectly controlled the numbers of professional artists. This continues to the present day, albeit in more disguised forms. In the 1950s, public and private funding became essential. This necessitated increased justifications for support of the arts, which evolved over time. Governments, large donors and arts organisations cooperated in the distribution of funds. I also pay attention to the notion of so-called restricted production and how innovation is fostered in the serious arts compared to the popular arts.
Chapter 3. Authentic Art and Artists
In the arts, both nominal and expressive authenticity are considered important. Artists and art lovers believe in the ideal of expressive authenticity. In the second half of the twentieth century, both authenticity and informalisation become essential components of the arts for almost everybody. The young consider the etiquette demanded at serious art events stifling. They shun these events and are increasingly into popular music. The obsession with nominal authenticity causes a severe cost disease in the performing arts. Costs rise significantly, necessitating increases in funding, which exposes an unwillingness to cut costs among the serious arts. Art lovers embrace notions of singularity and aura, which result in fewer artist collaborations and the increased passivity of audiences. The young are attracted to the arts and, as a consequence, are willing to work for low income. I present a number of explanations for this trend. The ideal of expressive authenticity is the most important reason. Meanwhile, although most artists have second jobs, incomes remain low and their position remains precarious. It is essentially this willingness to work for low wages that enables the exploitation of artists. Their often necessary desertion of the arts as a career is stressful.
Chapter 4. Exclusion and exclusivity
During the main period of serious art, the less-educated—for instance, people of colour or those with non-western backgrounds—are very underrepresented among art consumers and producers. Women are also underrepresented among artists. Although in some art disciplines, their positions have improved. But their visual artworks sell for far less than those of their male counterparts. In the early twentieth century, socialists sought to elevate the poor through art. Which led to art lovers and governments wanting to disseminate art to the poor. These attempts were paternalistic and unsuccessful. Lower ticket prices mainly benefited the well-to-do. In response, I discuss some alternative funding strategies. Price exclusion was an important factor—tickets prices were and are generally too high for the less-educated. There was also informal exclusion, which involved that the lower educated and social risers felt uncomfortable in serious art venues. A lack of certain social and cultural skills made this even more difficult. Furthermore, this may have hindered their ability to learn to understand serious art. Exclusivity is important for many art lovers. Limited editions must not be too large. Meanwhile, the wealthy can buy their membership into elite art circles at the top of the visual art market.
Chapter 5. Commerce and the Rejection of Commerce.
In the period of serious art, many artists, art lovers and art theorists considered art and money to be hostile spheres. Art was too precious to be valued in terms of money. Price must not stand for quality, but many consumers equate price with quality. Earlier for artists more money meant more autonomy. It is no different today; artists and arts organisations continue to earn money from commercial endeavours and second jobs in order to increase their autonomous space. But it is difficult to find a path of increased autonomous space that avoids the shame of being associated with commercialism and compromise. This requires that artists perform various tightrope acts. Most artists remain mostly oblivious to the effect that market demand and donor and artworld representative demands have on their work. Donors are often more sponsors than donors. Some use their “gifts” and the respectable reputation of the artworld to whitewash dubious activities. There is gift exchange. Memberships on the boards of major art organisations are for sale. Cultural entrepreneurship and professional art marketing were at first rejected in the late twentieth century. But arts organisations eventually began embracing both with artists following closely behind.
Chapter 6. Art in the Twenty-First Century
To better understand the arts in this century, I distinguish four art practice spheres. The most interesting one is that of bohemian practices where most artists are self-taught. They are good at combining art and business activities. In the other spheres, there usually is entrepreneurship education. Their goals differ. Digitisation in popular music brought along with it exciting artistic innovations. Some serious arts venues now feature innovations such as digital applications and immersive experiences. This century’s platform economy has already had a major impact on the arts and the distribution of artworks. It allows artists to highlight their work via social media platforms like Instagram. I pay attention here to superstar phenomena and look at the position of the large majority of popular musicians who offer their work in the very long tail of minor sales. The most exciting aspect is the increased blurring of boundaries and hybridisation. The boundary between serious and popular art has become very fuzzy indeed. As has the boundary between art and not art. Is a makeup artist a real artist? Most people no longer care. It is no accident that the term “culture” has increasingly replaced that of “art”.