Institutional Aspects of Art and Institutional Approach in Cultural Studies

UDC 321.911(477)

Oleksandra Oliinyk
PhD in Cultural Research, Head of
Department of Institute of Culturology,
National Academy of Arts of Ukraine, Kyiv

Abstract. The article gives an introspective review of the genesis for institutional approach as it is seen both in modern theory of culture and in the philosophy of art and culture in the mid 1970-es in order to recollect and renew the methodology of cultural studies by the means of complex analyze, which includes not only interpretation of cultural phenomena, but also focuses on the social, economic and historical context which can be generalized as institutional aspect of cultural process.

The issue of institutionalism in art as the probable signifier of the artworld’s apperception of art-object, artwork or artefact (and art as is) launched both in theoretic concepts and applied studies concerning cultural production and artistic activity.

Nowadays the issue obtains more accuracy in western humanitarian society despite the attained experience in theoretic and applied studies still proceeds seeking of overall complex definition of following terms: “culture”, “art”, “artwork” and related interpreting and analytic concepts in various approaches.

Current socio-economic practice of cultural administration in Ukraine, including recent discussions on the changing functions and role of public authorities, increasing the power of a professional environment and the public sector, improvement of the legal framework, etc., confirms the relevance of theoretical study and analysis of the institutional framework of culture creation.

Regarding the term ‘cultural institute’ it is impossible to avoid mentioning the non-classical concept known as institutional theory of art, lacking the theoretical background and argumentation for both philosophy of art and culture and economy of culture, but nonetheless valuable: the concept attempts to link abovementioned disciplines and suggests unique and methodologically fruitful approach for cultural research.

The institutional theory of art was suggested by George Dickie as a counterargument in the philosophic discussion of the 1970-ies regarding meaning and determining of art and its legitimate status in the society. Albeit the key concept of this theoretical hypothesis — the artworld — initially belongs to another thinker of that time — Arthur Danto, whose thesis was drawn up to

emphasize the specifics and uniqueness of the social relations in art demanding from the engaged parties (artists, dealers and audience) the deep understanding of intangible and unseen features of art, which upon Danto’s point of view is impossible without acknowledgement of “atmosphere of artistic theory” and “knowledge of the art history”.


Despite the fact that institutional theory of art was criticized for the insufficiency of theoretic basics and generalization of key concepts and processes, the number of modern authors recall the concept as an important theoretic source for further cultural, social and economic studies of art and culture.

Shifting the focus from aesthetics and symbolic meaning of the artwork to the more general issues and complex context of artistic world is seen as the most valuable part of the Dickie’s theory, not to mention the remark of T Cohen suggesting that Dickie “explained the inexplicable” in the philosophic discourse of “defining the art”.

However the institution of culture and art was discussed in similar terms in the Sociology of Culture, written by Raymond Williams in 1981. Author discloses that artists obtained specific instituted social status within the societies (especially controlled either by church or by state), and the social relations may be revised as major feature of determination and distinction of various early types of the societies.

However the rapid social changes that have been taking place held in Europe since the 18th century greatly impacted the habitual social hierarchy and art’s dependency on the power of church, state or liberal patron. Indeed, modern cultural theory suggests complex institutional approach, which aims cultural production (including various forms and modes of artistic expression and creativity) and describes in term of more wide general sociocultural and economic context.

This approach echoes the Dickie’s original concept to define artwork in the sense of “artifact as a set of aspects of which has had conferred upon it the status of candidate for appreciation by some person(s) acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the artworld)”, and is thought to be theoretically fruitful in case of respectful coherence with the existent tradititon to reflect uniqueness of art throught the prevalence of aesthetic value as an irrefutable thesis.

Keywords: institution of culture, autonomy of art, artworks, socioeconomic relations.

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