Art world: the puddle that thought it was an ocean

Earlier today, I ran across this article which has triggered a series of not so calm reflections on my part.Initially, my thought was that tumblr is already the social network of an art art world – in fact it is already an art world in and of itself, a place where culture is generated and explained, argued over and celebrated. But of course, in articles of this type, there is only one “artworld”, which is comprised of an amorphous clump of museums, auction houses, publications, artists, arts professionals and art schools. So it’s important that this art world have a vehicle that with which to speak to itself, because its massive self regard does not have enough outlets.
I’m angered by the idea that artists and museums need to buy this fifty dollar theme for tumblr, based pretty much solely on the idea that it was custom made for them. We all know that such a theme has no affect on the way your posts appear in the stream of people who follow you on tumblr, right? It barely matters what theme your tumblr uses the appeal of tumblr is that it is made for reblogging and commenting, two things that the art world as depicted in this article would seem to have trouble with because they are about the circulation of ideas, not the ownership of them.
As currently constituted this isn’t an art world that is about giving away content or experiences. It is not about many voices of equals. It is top down. And it perpetuates a bizarre separation between the majority of our daily experiences and the realm that it designates as cultural or artistic. In the west, we have had a century of people knocking over the barriers between “art and life”, barriers that must be propped back up again and again, if their knocking down is to have any meaning. Over and over, this art world stages a curious ritual where some aspect of the “outside world” is brought into the precincts of the art world and then subjected to a process of isolation and analysis that supposedly “elevates” it to a fit topic for discussion. We have seen this happen with all sorts of social interactions over the past couple of decades. It is a process that only serves to reinforce the notion that it is the art world that provides value.
But here is what is going on in social media right now: people are creating things and circulating them without waiting for an arcane structure to validate them. They are making commissions for each other, they are photographing, they are drawing they are recording. And through the circulation and arguing and posting and noting, they are constituting an art world, an art world that is much grander and more democratic in scope and action that the one that imagines itself to be “the” art world.
There are already tons of artists and cultural institutions on tumblr and on twitter. They don’t really need anything special to mark them as such. I can see the idea that building a website template that has tumblr functionality is a painless way for places to connect if they haven’t already, but the notion that there is something special about all of this simply because the small group of users that thinks of itself as the art world is now involved with it seems particularly clueless.

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