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Agencies of the Art World

Illustration by Vilhelm Pedersen, The Emperor's New Clothes, Hans Christian Andersen

For the uninitiated, the art world can be a daunting and confusing space where rules are unwritten and there are more players than just the artists themselves. For students entering their senior years, they will have primarily focused on art history and the practice of art making. Whilst these are all crucial foundations to a solid understanding of visual arts, HSC students need to be armed with a greater level of understanding when it comes to the agencies of the art world. Students can often become confounded by the unanswerable question of ‘What is art?’ and often can leave galleries and exhibitions even more perplexed as they begin to have increased exposure to art in a multitude of forms and mediums. Beyond the technical skills and conceptual basis of an artwork, there are three main areas that have a great influence on the art world. These are the establishments and stakeholders that have the ability to exult art and to share its wonder with a wider audience, as well as the ability to strip artists from cause and credibility with their methodical, business like approach to this creative medium.

“…whatever you do in the field of writing, painting, sculpture, architecture, film, dance or theatre is of unknown value until it us judged by people outside your own society.’ (Hughes, 1990)

Stage 6 students should not however feel that it is art critics who dictate what work they should be producing or whether their own art making practice has any value. It does however provide a framework of understanding for how art is analysed and interpreted by experts. Although there have been critics that have developed reputations from polemical statements, outlandish remarks and scathing reviews, there are also critics that provide their audience with a perspective that can be both enlightening as it is engaging. Although it might seem self-serving, coming from a current art critic, Jonathan Jones promotes the need for such critics, exclaiming,

“The critic’s task is to identify what is good and defend it come hell or high water – and to honestly denounce the bad.” (Jones, 2009)


Art curators play an equally significant role in the art world and hold a great responsibility to the people when it comes to communicating the vision of an artist and enabling an audience to experience and interact with art in a contextualised way. Daryl Bank, of ‘Curators In Context’, believes that the responsibilities and role played by a curator has become increasingly difficult to define in the modern era. With artists often also playing the role of curator, and curators sometimes also being the practicing artist, the definition has become widely used in the art world. Bank defines the curator as the individual that gives a collection of artworks a coherent context or as a catalyst

“whose actions - the selection and interpretation of artists and artworks - initiate a dialogue between the audience, artist, and institution.” (Bank, 2008)

Curators must be well informed and constantly aware of trends, emerging artists and opportunities to exhibit works if they are to be successful in providing this catalyst.


The purpose and place for art critics can be difficult for many to understand or appreciate. As students learn that art is subjective, they must also learn that to approach and interpret art subjectively,one must have a base of knowledge to build their opinions. Although anyone may offer an opinion of an artwork, it is the critic who can justify his or her response to a piece with justified and informed reasoning. Having said that however, art critics are not immune from forming misguided opinions or generating debate due to personal beliefs or tastes. Robert Hughes, regarded as one of the most influential critics of the modern era, lamented the changing face of art, with the decline in work of true value being undermined due to

“…the conquest of art by money and the proliferation of celebrity artists” (Jones, 2012)

Hughes hypothesised that, aside from personal value and worth, art can often only be valued once it is interpreted by others. In his book ‘Nothing, if not critical’ he stated, Through selecting appropriate artists and artworks, the curator of an exhibition has the ability to create a meaning to a collection that may not have existed if a work was to be viewed as an individual piece. However, if such selections are not made with the upmost sensitivity and understanding of the artist’s intentions and conceptual basis, the art will have been done a disservice. Students studying the role of the curator within the art world will be given an appreciation of how art is viewed in context and the interrelationship between the artist, the artwork and their audience.


Within the art world there are both public and private galleries, motivated by differing goals and ideals. Whilst public galleries strive to fulfil a civic responsibility to provide people with an enriching experience where they may view and interact with art, private galleries are commercial enterprises that enable people to deal in art. Often it is these private galleries that can influence and dictate the monetary value of art, as if art were a commodity on the stock market. The website is a testament to the financial trading approach that dictates the value of art, making claims such as

“Make the right decision with our unique artists’ reports art market key figures & trends country by country.” and “Keep track of the real market value with our unique databank of 27 million auction prices and indices.” (Artprice, 2012)

Economics of the art world dictate the prices of paintings and the rise and fall of artists’ value and can be a complex and confusing world for an outsider to understand. For students, understanding the motivation and purpose behind public galleries and being able to experience their exhibitions and collections is a far more tangible introduction in to understanding the role galleries play in the art world.

Critics, curators and galleries all have a considerable influence in shaping social practice in the visual arts. Their varying roles and influence upon artists and their art making practice means the art world is one that can be created, shared, understood and valued by a far wider community than just the artist themselves. Once Stage 6 students are able to truly understand the value that they elements play in their environment, it will provide them with a far richer perspective on their own art criticism, as well as their own practice


Artprice. (2012). Homepage. Retrieved October 1, 2012, from Artprice:

Bank, D. (2008, March 26). Curator. Retrieved October 1, 2012, from Curators in Contexg: http://

Hughes, R. (1990). Nothing If Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists. New York: Alfred Knopf.

Jones, J. (2012, August 7). Robert Hughes: the greatest art critic of our time. Retrieved October 1, 2012, from The Guardian: hughes-greatest-art-critic

Jones, J. (2009, April 24). What is the point of art criticism? Retrieved October 1, 2012, from The Guardian:

Thompson, D. (2008). The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

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