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  • 7/27/2019 Artworks Networks

    1/25,Culture & Society online version of this article can be found at:

    DOI: 10.1177/0263276404043619

    2004 21: 35Theory Culture SocietyNiels Albertsen and Blent Diken

    Artworks' Networks: Field, System or Mediators?

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    The TCS Centre, Nottingham Trent University

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    Artworks NetworksField, System or Mediators?

    Niels Albertsen andBlent Diken

    Introduction: Artwork versus Network

    THERE IS no history of art, Lyotard claims, there is only a history ofcultural objects. As a cultural object, the work of art can be inscribedinto a network of internal and external determinants, and can becomean object for historical, sociological or political-economical inquiry. As awork of art, however, the work cannot be reduced to its network because ithides an excess, an intensity that surpasses the conditions of its produc-

    tion and reception. The work is only art if it is a gesture of and in a materialcreating an absolute surplus, a profusion of sensuous presentations. Thesurplus consists of forms organized differently from the given matter ofnature, as if nature only had used some of its powers to create form. Concep-tual discourse can never capture such material profusion, which cannot besubjected to contextual conditions, formal rules or determination by a peri-odization. The artwork bestows a persisting promise of happiness thatnever ceases transiting intransitively through epochs or styles. However,the artwork invites a commentary that can do justice to its intensity if the

    commentary itself employs a profusion in and of language. Hence thecommentary in a sense repeats the gesture of exuberant profusion whichinhabits the work, without ever being able to say the final word (Lyotard,1992: 23, 1415).

    As a work of art, then, the artwork is open for artful commentary; asa cultural object, it is an object for theory and research. Hence a clean-cut,modern division: commentary versus science, artwork versus network. Thisdivision reinforces the well-known polarization between internal andexternal approaches to art. Bourdieu (1992a), on the contrary, insists,

    alluding to Spinozas intellectual love of God, that positioning the work ofart in the structures and struggles within the field of art, that is, its

    Theory, Culture & Society 2004(SAGE, London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi),Vol. 21(3): 3558DOI: 10.1177/0263276404043619

    at Univ of Education, Winneba on August 10, 2013tcs.sagepub.comDownloaded from
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    necessitation, intensifies the experience of art. The work then, as well asits commentary, is part of a network. This sociological truth is misrecog-nized through the separation of work and network.

    Both Lyotard and Bourdieu give an account of the love of art, but in

    radically different ways. Lyotard, following Kant, concentrates on the tran-scendence of the work; Bourdieu, following Spinoza, focuses on its historicalimmanence. Lyotard, of course, would never agree with such a focus. Itsnetwork cannot ground the work as a work of art. Indeed, when Bourdieu(1992b: 110) claims that everything is social, this seems to affirm Lyotardssuspicion, and one wonders how Bourdieus science of the work of art(Bourdieu, 1992a: 247) can transcend the internalexternal divide. Hetheorizes the work of art as a fetish emerging from the magic (of the belief-system) of the field of art, in which the work of art itself is a stake in the

    struggle for domination. The work of art thus tends to disappear into itsnetwork and the commentary into magic.

    While such sociologism can be accused of being violent toward art(see Heywood, 1997), Luhmanns (1995) cool sociology of art can escapethis criticism. Describing the system of art as an autopoietic system,Luhmann necessarily accepts the way the system itself observes itself, andcan present a sociological theory of how works of art are produced as worksof art rather than as fetishes. Luhmann achieves this insight by defining thesocial as communication and the work of art as a communicative artefact.

    In this, however, the materiality of the work disappears in communication,the sui generis of sociality. Yet, as Hennion and Latour (1993: 21) argue,the world of art is less a communicative system than a heterogeneousnetwork of human and non-human mediators. Within such networks,fetishism is not a question of belief and magic but rather of mediators thatalways transcend mediators. The world of art is then neither a field nor asystem but an actor-network, and the commentary its mediator.

    In the following, we first present some features of these different soci-ologies of art, remaining faithful to the authors. Then, in the concluding

    part, we assess their strengths and the weaknesses with an emphasis on thepolarization between the internal and the external understandings of art aswell as the materiality of the artwork. Doing this, we establish some hiddensocial-theoretical convergences and mutual implications among theseapproaches.

    The Artwork as Fetish

    According to Bourdieu, Duchamps ready-mades deliver sociology a privi-leged access to art by demonstrating the collective belief that grounds theartistic order (1992a: 261). To understand this, however, one has to consultMausss theory of magic, which, in order to explain the belief in the efficacyof magic, moves from the instruments, operations, representations andpersonal characteristics of the magician to the social universe in whichmagic is developed and enacted (1992a: 400). In other words, one has tounderstand the magical group to understand magic; collective belief gives

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    the magician his power, which is misrecognized as being the magical effectof the magician. Artistic creativity has similar roots. Signing a ready-made,the artist gives it a market price, which is disproportional to the cost of theready-made, and this magical effect is due to the whole social universe that

    recognizes and authorizes him (1992a: 240). This social universe of believ-ers, the field of art, includes everyone engaged in art: artists, art historians,politicians, gallery-owners, teachers, parents, etc. (Bourdieu, 1980: 221,1992a: 318f.). The more people involved the greater the effect of belief andits misrecognition. Consequently, a cycle of consecration emerges; the morecomplicated this is, the more it becomes invisible, which, in turn, makesits structure more misrecognizable, and thus magnifies the effect of belief(Bourdieu, 1980: 206). In combination, then, Duchamp and Mauss demon-strate how the field of art as a universe of belief produces the value of the

    work of art as fetish by producing the belief in the creative power of theartist (Bourdieu, 1992a: 318).

    Basically, therefore, belief is grounded in the field, which resemblesa game. The field presupposes some rules of the game and the presence ofinterested players, both of which further presuppose a fundamental beliefin the value of the game. This primordial belief is what Bourdieu callsillusio: a specific form of belief that is more internal and profound thanexplicit forms of belief (Bourdieu, 1997: 122). Explicit belief is founded inthe collective belief that springs from the field, but the field itself is founded

    in the tacit belief of the illusio. T