unity of a text does not lie in its origin, but rather
in its final destination. (...) The birth of the reader
is to be paid with the death of the author."
Roland Barthes 1967
When Roland Barthes
proclaimed the death of the author
a year before the caesura of May 1968, it could hardly
be foreseen, in light of the hegemony of producer-oriented
views, how inexorable the ascent of the recipient, the
consumer and the audience - whether understood as an
aggregate of atomized individuals or as a social community
- would be in the fields of art as well. This ascent
did not take place automatically. It was constructed,
prepared and accompanied by theoretical work. Roland
Barthes' essay is only one example of this.
As far as the social
sciences are concerned, the corresponding theory effects,
"reality effects", that have had an impact
at the level of cultural policies are relatively obvious.
In the standard works of art economics, the attempt
to valorize the consumers with respect to the producers
has been carried out as transparently as possible. Whereas
philosophers have labored over essentialist definitions
of art in long treatises for centuries, coming to the
most diverse conclusions (such as mimesis, expression,
form, aesthetic experience, and others), the economists
schooled by Occam's razor arrived at a remarkably simple
definition. As it says in a widely read standard work
of art economics from the 90s: "Normally artists
and other insiders define what is to be considered art,
while laypeople are expected to recognize this definition.
(...) In contrast, economists are of the opinion that
the individuals themselves should decide what they want
to consider 'art'. (...) The question 'What is art?'
can be answered by appealing to the wishes of the audience."
This is perhaps the most explicit version of giving
the people what they want. Only a few years before Roland
Barthes raised the estimation of the recipient, Adorno
rejected ideas of this kind in a no less famous essay,
in which he referred to the manipulation of these kinds
of preferences by the cultural industries, to the "spirit"
that they "infuse" people with.
Similar to the term
avant-garde, autonomy is one of the terms that is regarded
as having been discredited under the influence of postmodernism
in the art discourse. However, if autonomy is not related
to the idea of a socially indeterminate cultural production,
then it still has facets that are certainly worthy of
being defended. Sociologically, the autonomy of cultural
fields in the tradition of Pierre Bourdieu can also
be ascertained through the extent to which producers
have other producers as an audience.
The relevant evaluations come from peers or are oriented
to standards determined by producers. If autonomy is
understood in this way, then the "economic definition
of art" can be regarded as an exemplary case of
a heteronomous definition of art. It ultimately aims
to subject producers to comprehensive compulsions of
a general demand.
The theoretical background
for this kind of an understanding of art can be found
in the idea of "consumer sovereignty" embedded
in the model notion of perfectly competitive markets.
According to the conventional understanding, this secures
two things: a) determining the allocation of resources
according to the demand of the consumers, and b) products
that are sold to consumers as cheaply as possible and
made as abundantly available as possible. The popular
economic version of this idea is: "The public calls
the tune to which the businessman dances."
capitalism deviates so far from the model ideas of the
free market that some critical theorists make a strict
distinction between market and capitalism.
Capitalism is marked by power differences, the formation
of monopolies, intransparency of supply, and strategies
of systematically influencing preferences. None of these
can be reconciled with the idea of the pure market.
There are various explanations for the structuring or
manipulation of preferences in individual cases, for
example in reference to the cultural industries (Adorno),
to advertising and promotion in particular (Marcuse),
to invocations on the part of ideological state apparatuses
(Althusser) or the incorporation of existing structures
(Bourdieu). The sovereignty of consumers, "rational"
actors according to neo-classical theory, is therefore
severely limited in many respects.
As economic actors, the proponents of the free market
usually strive for monopolies themselves and attempt
to systematically influence consumers' preferences.
call for "customer orientation" based on the
idea of consumer sovereignty has become extremely widespread
in recent times. This is also evident in the results
of the historical comparison of management discourses
that Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello attempted in the
course of their study on the "new spirit of capitalism".
In the accentuation of customer orientation and in the
concomitant attempts to substitute hierarchical internal
controls in institutions with an external control by
customers, clients or an audience, Boltanski and Chiapello
see one of the most striking recent developments in
the economic field: if control tasks are
transferred from the management level to the customers,
this results in flatter hierarchies and cost reductions.
In the most daring notions, the entire hierarchical
structure of organizations is turned around: the customers
are placed at the tip of an inverted pyramid. Proving
oneself against the measures of control by customers
creates vertical differentiations between institutions
in competition and leads to the elimination of those
who are not willing or able to stand up to this test.
In the cultural fields,
in which the state assumes a stronger position than
in the economic field, this control mechanism is deployed
today within the framework of neoliberal strategies
of governmentality, which seek to make the "collective
body (...) 'lean' and 'fit', 'flexible' and 'autonomous'."
This becomes a substitute for state controls when the
state withdraws from these fields, or it is used as
a basis for restructuring institutions under state auspices
by implementing elements of market logic. The reinforcement
of the idea of customer orientation or its transfer
from the entrepreneurial sphere to public cultural policies
in the form of an "orientation to the audience"
as a control mechanism, can be illustrated with numerous
examples. Two examples may suffice here, one from the
museum context, the other from the context of major
Hamburg serves as
the first example, because it seems to exemplify contemporary
cultural policies in many respects. The "Hamburg
model" was introduced under the auspices of the
Social-Democrats. In terms of the orientation of cultural
institutions to models from the economic field, it is
therefore not one of the radical examples familiar from
the Thatcher era in Great Britain.
In early 1999 all
the museums in Hamburg, including two museums devoted
to art, were made "independent", namely in
the form of a transformation into public law foundations.
"Independence" in this case means release
from strong state integration. It implies sovereignty
in personnel decisions, self-management of the budget,
the introduction of commercial accounting, free hand
in the commercial exploitation of gastronomy and the
museum shop, decision-making competency and responsibility
for all business operations issues. In addition, the
artistic director is complemented with an executive
director on an equal level and the reduction of state
control is balanced by additional control through the
foundation council. The state or community ensures the
financial basis, whereas the individual institutions
conduct their "operative business" according
to their own ideas and within the framework of their
of the structural reform of the museums that has been
introduced," as stated in conjunction with the
"independence" of the seven Hamburg museums,
"is to create conditions (...), under which the
museums will be better able to fulfill their task by
being more open to the public and more efficient than
In terms of legitimate principles of justification -
"cités" in Boltanski and Thevenot's sense
- efficiency arguments of the industrial cité are linked
here with those of the market economy cité, which comes
down to the supply of desired commodities in the competitive
Here the possibility of achieving profits creates "incentives
for a more conscious visitor orientation." An art
institution that has to survive on its revenues, according
to the principle idea, will seek out new ways to attract
In the course of
the transformation into state supported quasi enterprises,
the two Hamburg art museums followed the line of the
market economy cité and its emphasis on orientation
to the customer even more explicitly than the other
five cultural institutions. In the specification of
the "leading objectives" for the individual
institutions, it says for instance that the Hamburg
Kunsthalle seeks "to the fullest extent possible"
to "place itself at the service of art and at the
service of the visitors", whereas the Museum of
Arts and Crafts seeks "to the fullest extent possible
(...) to place itself at the service of the audience."
Already in 2003 the media reported a "dramatic"
development among the Hamburg museums. According to
the reports, although the museums had become "more
interesting, closer to the public, more modern",
their economic situation was "worse than ever before".
However, I would like to draw attention not so much
to the consequences of the structural transformation
and the subsequent call for the state and an increase
in support, the rise of blockbuster exhibitions, or
the difficulties of recruiting a large audience for
art on a long-term basis in a city like Hamburg. Certain
aspects of the genesis of the structural transformation
are no less interesting. In fact, the heads of the institutions
themselves were substantially involved in this transformation.
They presented the first drafts for structural changes
in this direction in 1995 with a view to the apparent
autonomy gains. And these endeavors were in turn well
supported in the art field. This is evident in the results
of specific research. During the year prior to the initiative
of the museum directors roughly 670 artists, critics,
curators and non-specialist visitors to the Hamburg
Kunstverein and the Hamburg Deichtorhalle for exhibitions
with works that are to classed as belonging to the "field
of limited production" in Bourdieu's sense were
questioned on the issue of the economization of the
art field, among other issues. In particular, two conclusions
are remarkable in this context:
a) The broadest possible
acceptance for the economization of art institutions
was evident, regardless of whether it was a question
of corporate sponsoring or the question of whether the
management of art museums should be oriented to commercial
rationality. Over 80% of those questioned expressed
b) There were only
marginal differences between the responses from groups
specializing in the field, in which - as the interviews
showed - Adorno, but also post-structuralist authors
such as Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida, etc. are highly
regarded, and the responses from the general art public,
mostly comprised of occasional visitors to art exhibitions.
There was little trace of an antagonism between "art
and business" or a "break with the economic
thus accepted even in the center of the field, not by
all the participants, but certainly by wide majorities.
A climate predominated that supported the structural
change directly and indirectly, actively and passively.
The second example
that is to be mentioned here briefly reveals the implications
of promoting audience orientation for the autonomy of
producers and curators. The choice of the motto of the
Venice art biennial in 2003, "The Viewer's Dictatorship",
may have been based on ironic intentions on the part
of the curators. However, the management of this venerable
major exhibition interpreted it literally: "The
audience was undoubtedly regarded as a mere side effect
in modern art ten years ago. Now, though, there is certainly
a point in focusing on the 'viewer's dictatorship' in
one of the mottos of the Biennale, rather than the artist's
dictatorship. (...) The only criterion for success is
the number of visitors, as it is everywhere else in
the business world."
Thinking about the motives for "buying the product
exhibition" led the Biennale management to the
principle of "limiting the number of video installations"
and showing "at the most, very short videos",
out of consideration for the "perspective of the
in cultural policies is only a mosaic stone in a more
comprehensive process of continuously shifting boundaries
- the expansion of commodification and market-appropriate
relationships. The side effects have been extensively
documented, at the level of difference - a constantly
increasing vertical differentiation of living conditions
on a global scale - as well as at the level of indicators
More recently an
awareness of both the disarmament and the appropriation
of criticism and dissidence has risen.
In search of explanations for why the process of economization
has progressed largely unhindered, the most diverse
factors are mentioned. There are structural mechanisms
that are overpowering, as well as subjective conditions;
discrepancies between a critical awareness and the willingness
or ability to react at the level of action; the heterogeneity
of critical currents that are too incidental or one-dimensional
and which therefore overlook developments in other areas;
there is the effectiveness of the associative strategies
of the elites that are designed to coopt criticism and
resistance. Nor should those theories be forgotten that
formulate the generalized suspicion that dissidence
and resistance have a relationship of secret complicity
with power. A new facet of these kinds of insights is
found in the study of the "new spirit of capitalism"
presented by Luc Boltanski, brother of the artist Christian
Boltanski, and Eve Chiapello.
The system attacked by criticism does not merely appropriate.
Because of its normative indeterminacy, in Boltanski
and Chiapello's view capitalism is instead actually
dependent on its opponents or on the interplay with
anti-capitalist criticism. This serves to de-legitimate
obsolete structures, to develop more convincing justifications
for existing structures and also the self-control that
it is not capable of by itself. Historically, capitalism
has initially regenerated itself in the 20th century
through the influence of "social criticism",
the primary themes of which are inequality, exploitation
and discrimination, specifically in the form of the
welfare state, which emerged in reaction to socialist,
communist, but also fascist criticism. According to
the two French sociologists, beginning in the 1960s
"artistic criticism", which was originally
rooted in the philosophy of Romanticism, opposing standardization,
bureaucraticization and massification and demanding
autonomy, emancipation and transgressing boundaries,
has been more important for the regeneration of capitalism
than social criticism.
This study, which
is not based on the presumption of the ineffectivity
of art or cultural production, but indeed presumes the
opposite, especially in conjunction with certain critical
approaches, has hardly been received in the art field
so far. The tendencies of its implications include that
it is less a matter of motifs or programs, but rather
of effects. Programs are not simply progressive because
they make use of a radical or anti-capitalist rhetoric.
What is progressive and what stabilizes or renews the
system should accordingly be judged by its effects,
especially the delayed effects. The position distinguished
between different forms of criticism and thus does not
lead into cynicism, escapism or resignation, which could
easily be the case with an orientation to the relatively
empty formulas from the philosophy of suspicion, such
as "we are all part of power". Instead it
draws attention to the question of which forms of criticism
and practice are functional for the next stage or the
stage after that of economicization and commodification,
and which forms of practice could at least decelerate
or disrupt, if not actually prevent these tendencies.
Of course it is difficult to assess potential effects
in open social systems, but it would already be an improvement
to think more in this kind of frame of reference. Following
the logic of paradox effects, it is not unusual for
criticism to reinforce the same ills that it seeks to
fight or prevent. The classic example of non-intentional
perverse effects is Max Weber's Puritan Protestants,
who did not intend to create modern capitalism, but
nevertheless contributed substantially to its formation
in the west.
The changes in cultural
policies are undoubtedly partially the result of conscious
neoliberal strategies. By themselves, however, these
cannot explain the transformation. In its pure form
the neoliberal ideology is radical, and for this reason,
it is hardly popular. As the neo-Gramscian theory of
cultural hegemony emphasizes, it requires a connection
with popular ideologies,
but also support through paradox effects. These create
acceptance and agreement, but also abstention and reserve
in terms of opposition.
Boltanski and Chiapello
call their approach "sociology of criticism".
Unlike Boltanski's earlier works, in which he investigates
the conditions for the media publicity of social criticism,
the analyses in the study of new capitalism are more
reminiscent of the criticism of ideology in the philosophical
or humanities tradition. In comparison with the analysis
of homologies and parallels between an "artistic
criticism" represented at a high level of abstraction
and sophisticated management discourses, the social
mechanisms through which criticism is made functional
for that which is criticized, ultimately remain fragmentary
and indeterminate. One of the crucial links in the chain
is popularization. Through the popularization of decontexualized
fragments from emancipation and authenticity theories
(e.g. Adorno, Freudo-Marxism), but also from fragments
derived from the tradition of authenticity criticism
(e.g. Deleuze, Derrida), structures of desire and patterns
of action emerge, which are taken up in economic and
political fields of action and subjected to contrary
goals. In this way, criticism unwittingly contributes
to new forms of suppression, exploitation and economicization.
The social and cultural mechanisms through which this
happens in individual cases is not decided.
A research program that deals
with the disarmament, endogenization and reversal of
social and artistic criticism certainly seems to be
worth refining and developing further. Even though its
current realization can only be convincing to a certain
extent due to a number of reasons, it should still provide
an impulse to take a closer look at the critical approaches
that have contributed to de-legitimizing the producer
and revaluing the consumer. From today's perspective
it seems that it was more than a kind of theoretical
background music for the preparation and establishment
of new cultural policies oriented to the customer and
the audience. At the same time, attention should be
given not only to philosophical criticism, but also
to the popularizing and popular forms of theory with
a widespread impact, which are received by current and
future actors in cultural policies and cultural management.
A number of social and cultural theories would be suitable
in this context, sociological theories devoted to the
decentralization of the author,
such as the theory of art as collective action, as well
as theories of culture or of the aesthetics of reception.
One example must suffice here.
For years one of the most popular
variations of critical theory has been cultural studies,
which has meanwhile spread far beyond the Anglo-Saxon
world. Due to its magnitude, this field has been differentiated
into numerous sub-fields with heterogeneous paradigms
that are partly mutually antagonistic. "We want,"
writes Paul Willis, for instance, who represents the
ethnographic paradigm of cultural studies, "to
rehabilitate consumption, creative consumption. (...)
The interpretation, symbolic action and symbolic creativity
are components of consumption. This work is ultimately
just as important as everything that may have been coded
into the commodities originally."
In light of these and similar
revaluations of the consumer in certain sub-fields of
cultural studies, in which consumption is redefined
as a form of production, Jim McGuigan
pointed out parallels to the variant of cultural populism
that is based on the fiction of the sovereign consumer.
What the different variations of cultural populism have
in common is that they attempt to shift the customer,
the consumer, or the audience, as in the case of John
one of the main proponents of the semiotic paradigm
of cultural studies, into the center. In light of the
differences in intellectual style and in the political
connotations, these populisms undoubtedly appeal to
groups in different regions of the social space. These
kinds of theories and others, such as certain variations
of cultural sociology, are implemented, alongside purely
economistic theories, in the training programs for cultural
agents, cultural managers.
It would seem apparent that particularly
the interplay of apologetic and critical approaches
could explain the tremendous cultural-political success
of consumer and audience orientation. About forty years
ago now, Adorno wrote under conditions, in which the
cultural industry was still underdeveloped and the customer
and audience orientation of cultural institutions was
still relatively discreet: "The customer is not
king, as the cultural industry would have us believe,
not their subject but their object." Now that a huge measure
of energy has been invested over the course of years
and decades in deconstructing the author or producer
and in revaluing the customer, the consumer and the
audience, it seems appropriate today to devote at least
a portion of this energy to the deconstruction of the
recipient, certainly in conjunction with a strategic
revaluation of the cultural producer, formally borrowing
from the idea of "strategic essentialism".
Cf. von Osten, Marion (Ed.), Norm der Abweichung.
Vienna / New York 2003.
Cf. Weber, Max, Soziologie, Weltgeschichtliche
Analysen, Politik. Stuttgart
1968, p. 314ff. Collins, Randall, Max Weber. The
Prostestantic Ethic. Beverly Hills - London- New
Delhi, 1986, p. 48ff.