Abstract How do people do or make things that come to be seen as works of art? In
other words, when is there artification? The answer to this question is
simultaneously symbolic, material, and contextual. It has to do with meanings, objects,
interaction, and institutions. We seek
to define not what art is nor how it should be considered, but how and under
what circumstances it comes about by way of methodical observation and inquiry
in a variety of fields. Circus acrobats,
breakdancers, fashion designers, chefs, graffiti artists, printers,
photographers, and jazz musicians are some of the examples we explore. This pragmatic and empirical perspective
enables us to present a typology of forms of artification and examine its
sources as well as the questions of de-artification and obstacles to
Key Words art, artification, artists, categories, legitimation, pragmatic
sociology, recognition, social change, valuation
an old issue in a new way
Our title pays homage to Nelson Goodman’s famous
article of 1977 “When is Art?” It is
indicative of the descriptive turn in analytical philosophy that was then
taking place in the realm of aesthetics.
By denying that art can be defined by its essence, Goodman argues that
art is a category that must be defined by reference to context and usage.
sociologists we are very sympathetic to this perspective as it redefines things
and beings in terms of process and context.
In posing the question “When
is artification?”, we would like to take the pragmatic stance a step further. In
our own professional creed, this has a specific consequence. It puts action to the forefront, both in its
own right and as a gauge of the values and meanings that are relevant for the
actors. In taking this stance, we also
focus on how art is engaged in social change on a par with many other social
Seeking to understand what art people
cherish and admire has long been an important purview of the sociology of the
arts. Although this is certainly of
interest, it is not our main concern. We
take a materialistic view and first observe what people do and how they do it,
the things they use, the places they go, the persons they interact with, the
things they say, and the norms they abide by.
How, through this nexus of action and discourse, do people do or make
things that gradually come to be defined as works of art?
is no straightforward answer to this question.
The solution is to be found on many interrelated levels and is
simultaneously symbolic, material, and contextual. Art emerges over time as the sum total of institutional
activities, everyday interactions, technical implementations, and attributions
of meaning. Artification is a dynamic
process of social change through which new objects and practices emerge and
relationships and institutions are transformed.
In order to understand this process, we must first describe it, and this
may only be achieved by methodic observation and inquiry in the field. Thus, our stance is neither essentialist nor normative, but descriptive
and pragmatic. We seek not to define what art is nor how it should be
considered, but how and under what circumstances it comes about. We want to map the processes through which
objects, forms, and practices are constructed and defined as artworks and see what
consequences this emergence has. How do
these processes develop? What specific actors and institutions are involved?
How do they give birth to productions that are meaningful not only for
specialized minority groups, such as artists, patrons, curators, and sociologists, but to the point that the status of these productions as art
becomes common knowledge and goes unquestioned?
The paragon of such a social transformation is the advent of the very
notion of art and the elevation of a professional group of painters to that of high-status
artists, first in the royal courts of Renaissance Italy, then in France and all
of Europe. Throughout the Middle Ages,
sculptors and painters belonged to guilds and were part of the mechanical arts. They were craftsmen situated in the lower
ranks of a very hierarchical social order.
As they fought to gain independence from the guilds and thus be defined
as practitioners of the liberal arts, they were likened to poets rather than
manual workers. Their
personal worth was gradually recognized and they gained status and prestige
over a span of centuries. The modern
system of the arts, based on conceptions of the artist as genius and the
uniqueness of the aesthetic experience, was stabilized with new institutions
devoted to the arts and the development of a specialized market controlled by
intermediaries in the nineteenth century.
Since then, countless other groups of people, objects, and activities
have undergone transformative evolutions that can be compared to this inaugural
process. Until quite recently, it
characterized the institutional arrangements of Western societies alone but has
now expanded widely. Artification has
continued and goes on before our very eyes.
As sociologists, it is our job to conduct inquiries, and then analyze and shape data documenting these
cases, and seek to understand their limitations. Thus we attempt to build a
theory of artification as social change based on the greatest possible
accumulation of empirical data.
large part of the data we draw upon comes from original monographs discussed at
the meetings of a research seminar we organized regularly in Paris from 2004 to 2008. Many of these are due to be published in a
book on which this paper is based. Other data come from our readings of the literature in sociology, anthropology,
and cultural history. Overall, our
materials constitute a corpus of research on changes affecting painting,
printing, crafts, cartoons, graffiti, tribal art, outsider art, cult objects,
national heritage, photography, cinema, theater, circus, breakdancing, magic,
luxury fashion, gastronomy, and jazz, a seemingly motley collection of
phenomena that we hope to demonstrate are, in fact, connected by a coherence we
this paper we do not address substantively the questions mentioned previously;
those are taken up in detail in the monographs.
What follows is an attempt to theorize across the data to discover what
the artification process is and is not, where it comes from, and how to
classify its manifestations, before concluding with some thoughts about
contrary trends such as de-artification.
2. What artification is not
Before proceeding further, a few words are in order
about our conception of what artification is not. First, we do not use artification as a
metaphor and thus disregard assertions comparing things to art or people to
artists. Although the historical
importance of the category of art explains the success of such comparisons,
observation in the field has shown their practical impact to be minimal. The
power of metaphors to institutionalize art is next to nil.
Second, our inquiry must be differentiated from recent
research that focuses on specifically exclusive world views based on scholarly
informed perceptions of art. By
contrast, our work has a wider scope, including discourse and practice on both
popular and cultivated levels. Thus, the
problem of artification has little to do with “artialization,” a term created
by the philosopher Alain Roger to define a specialized world view that
constructs nature into landscape through the perceptual framework of art. Likewise, we take Edouard Pommier’s remarkable book
about scholarly discourse on art in the Renaissance as one among many sources
that document different types of change during that period.
Furthermore, our corpus does not include controversial cases that are part of
an artified world, as are common in the field of contemporary art. Nor is our inquiry directly concerned with
the sociology of taste. Indeed, our
assumptions are shaped not by axiology, based on what value social actors
attribute to things, but by pragmatic description. How does the whole roster of actors involved
define these things?
Finally, and this is probably the most important
distinction of all, artification is not to be confused with legitimation. This is a point we cannot stress enough. Despite an apparent similarity, the two
concepts are quite different. Indeed, we
contend that the concept of artification is a theoretical and empirical advance
over legitimation, and we would like to demonstrate that here.
legitimacy paradigm would have us study various gradings of value that are
indicators of low culture versus high. This
is not what we are addressing here. We
direct our attention to a prior phase during which non-art is transformed and
constructed into art. This is why our
corpus does not include material about arts commonly considered low-ranking,
such as naïve painting or pop art, or the process of relabeling that led to
their recognition as high art, or monographs, such as Howard Becker’s, about
marginal artists and mavericks and their subsequent acknowledgement as legitimate
We also bypass a large portion of the sociology of art and culture, such as the
Bourdieusian theory of domination and cultural theory. Bourdieu used the concept of legitimation (or
canonization) as a touchstone for his work on the artistic field, while
research in cultural theory tends to insist on symbolic boundaries and
hierarchies. The main limitation of
these important works is their near-exclusive focus on classification and hence
their difficulties in explaining change.
The paradigm of artification we propose puts the emphasis on material
aspects and concrete situations of change in a dynamic and pragmatic
orientation based on the observation of actions, relationships, material, and
organizational modifications. Indeed, we
take artification to be an all-encompassing process of change, both practical
and symbolic, of which legitimation is merely a part and a consequence. The attribution of meaning, recognition, and
legitimation are all results of concrete transformations. “Meaning is the consequence of activity.”
In addition, the valuation of art creates a process of circular
causation. The artification of an object
necessarily brings about legitimation of that object. Conversely, the desire to secure legitimacy
for a practice that someone deems unjustly undervalued may, in turn, spur a
process of artification. Nevertheless,
it remains not only that artification and legitimation are distinct processes,
but that the former, rooted in materiality, encompasses the latter.
3. Processes of artification
So what is
artification? We see artification as a process of processes. We have
identified ten constituent processes: displacement,
renaming, recategorization, institutional and organizational change, patronage,
legal consolidation, redefinition of time, individualization of labor,
dissemination, and intellectualization. Without entering into a full description and analysis of
these ten processes nor addressing all of them, we will give a few brief
Extracting or displacing a production from its initial
context is a prerequisite for artification.
This happened when jazz was first transcribed in musical notation, when
film broke away from its initial site at fairs, when graffiti was photographed
and published in books, and when breakdancers left the street for the stage.
Terminological change is a second modification. In the case of painting in France, the word imagiers (image makers) that designated
craftsmen was progressively replaced by that of artistes during the eighteenth century. This example also highlights the
institutional change seen in the shift from the guilds to the Royal Academy and
changes in classification, such as the shift from the mechanical to the liberal
arts and changes in the hierarchy of pictorial genres. Under the Academy system, the king bestowed
pensions on a very small elite of painters; now, the institutionalization of
government grants provides for endowments.
These support systems enhance the perception of an ontological difference
between art and those activities deemed unworthy of such official monetary
support. In France today, government
support favors the artification of circus, magic, and breakdancing.
Legal consolidation is another important step. French painters confirmed their new status in
the courts in the seventeenth century and writers and composers were granted
intellectual property of their work in the nineteenth century. In the United States, legal decisions that
culminated with the end of censorship restrictions in the 1960s furthered the
artification of cinema.
Another significant process is the individualization
of labor. As painting moved from the
master’s workshop to the painter’s studio, it underwent a continuing process of
individualization; by the nineteenth century, activity that was once collective
progressively became solitary. When
breakdancing first appeared on stage in France, most choreography was
collective; today individual auteurs
choreograph hip-hop ballets.
Finally, discursive reinforcement and the
intellectualization of practice are an essential part of artification. Biographies of painters were first published
in the Renaissance, art critique was first published in the eighteenth century,
and academic art history developed dramatically during the nineteenth century. These elements intensified the growing trend
toward the intellectualization of the relationship onlookers and painters have with paintings. In France, media discourse on breakdancing
took an aesthetic turn by 1992, with journalists referring to art and art
history rather than to the social and cultural traits of the dancers. In turn, the content of hip-hop ballets has
become increasingly reflexive.
4. The many origins of artification
are the spheres of social life in which conditions have proven to be the most
favorable to artification? As we shall see, artificatory practices spring from
comes to mind first. As we already
mentioned and is now well known, painting served as the exemplar for the modern
system of the arts based on the autonomy of the artist. The prerequisite for this was the refusal by painters to be considered menial
laborers and their collective break from the craft guilds during the
Renaissance period. Sculptors followed in their stride. Centuries later, traditional artisanship has again
been the source from which arts and crafts emerged, as did photography in the
1800s and graphic arts in the 1900s. The path from craftmanship to art implies
professionalization, intellectualization, and a trend toward authorization, that
is, the individualization of production.
Objects are understood to express personal intention; they are nominal
and original; and the maker’s signature appears as a synthetic marker of these
Artification also emerges from industry. Film started as a modest endeavor in fairs
and rapidly rose to the rank of a million-dollar industry in the 1920s. Although there were attempts to
make artistic films at the very onset of cinema, well
before World War I, motion pictures began to be considered as art by the
general public much later in the century. This happened first in Europe and then in the United States in the 1950s,
when film directors progressively adopted new aesthetic norms before breaking away
from the industrial studio system. Independent
film production grew and directors gained greater control over the production
process. Comparing professional critics’
film reviews in the 1930s with reviews published forty years later, Shyon
Baumann showed the change over time and how contemporary assessments of film
are now informed by the perceptual framework of art.
games are another industry that seems to be undergoing artification before our
eyes. Some creators are famed individuals
trained in major art schools, winning important distinctions (the three authors
of video games dubbed Chevaliers dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture in 2006), and their
products are identified as coherent bodies of original work. Historically the products have gone the path
from low-brow to middle-brow, from shoddy arcades haunted by adolescents to
sophisticated games for adults in domestic environments. Critical discourse has developed in academia
and in various media, and there is an ongoing scholarly discussion about the
artistic nature of video games, not least in this journal.
The spheres of leisure, fun, free time, travel, and tourism give rise to
artification, as well. Photography as a
“middle-brow art” studied by Pierre Bourdieu and associates arose from pursuits such as these. To some degree this is also true of art brut and self-taught art. Considering “tribal art” and “primitive art” as works
of art in their own right has meant rejecting the perceptive framework that
Western collectors of curios and travel souvenirs had long imposed.
Entertainment is an important source of artification and many activities
travel the path from entertainment to art.
The first films were shorts shown at peep shows at fairs in the 1890s. Even after technological progress and
organizational complexity lent the medium greater autonomy, for decades movies
were considered coarse amusement completely devoid of artistic qualities. Similarly, jazz, magic, circus, and breakdancing
were long defined as simple pastimes; they are now seen as performing arts. Jazz, in particular, underwent major
transformations around World War II.
Artistic complexity, the emergence of the virtuoso soloist, the growing
importance of critical discourse, and other transformations contributed to the
redefinition of jazz as art. In recent years, magic, circus, and breakdancing have
ceased to be defined as purely playful, childish endeavors and have integrated
the canons of theatrical and choreographical representation.
Similar mechanisms are at play in the visual arts. Comic books, once the sole province of
children, have now morphed into elaborate “graphic novels,” and some have
secured eminent critical acclaim. Graffiti has
also become more refined, while involving a wider socio-demographical spread
than at its inception, as well as engaging an array of institutions in the art
world, such as galleries, museums, and publishing houses. In all these instances, artification concurs
with the social elevation, sophistication, and coming of age of both producers
and consumers, the individualization of production, and the advent of the
author. Works are evaluated in terms of
objective criteria of “beauty”
rather than solely in terms of the subjective pleasure they provide, and this
forms the basis for a novel experience in these spheres: aesthetic appreciation.
Several practices we have observed lie astride the spheres of leisure,
showmanship, and sports. As a rule,
practitioners of trapeze, circus horseback-riding, or breakdancing must arrange their actions according to social
conventions other than those that qualify as gymnastics or buffoonery if they
seek to be defined as artists. Physical
prowess, sheer virtuosity, or stark facetiousness are detrimental to the
transfiguration of a practice into art. In
theater as in sports, virtuosity must become an aesthetic, and gesture must
command grace in order for the incorporated technique of ars or skilled making to turn into that accomplishment of beauty we call art. Magicians and circus routines become
individualized and are attributed to the creative genius of specific actors;
feats of dexterity are recast as creations and interpretations. Thus the consolidation of the improvised jazz
solo in the 1940s consecrated widespread social recognition that black
musicians possessed artistic sensitivity (called "soul").
Technique points to manual dexterity but it also signals the expertise
necessary in maneuvering tools, machinery, and equipment. For it to be metamorphosed into art,
technique usually must be made invisible.
This is evident in the case of architecture and in ”fine art crafts.“ Architecture
was classified as a fine art in the various tables of knowledge drawn up during
the eighteenth century. But in the contemporary understanding of the word,
neither architecture nor crafts can be said to be accomplishing a process of
artification. Rather they are in a state
of perpetual tension between art and technique, and are acknowledged as art (rather
than artes) only to a degree. Béatrice Fraenkel, who interviewed the highly
skilled printers of the Imprimerie Nationale in Paris in 1997 before it was
dismantled, showed that limitations in both technique and the division of labor
put insuperable obstacles to the artification of traditional type-setting.
Photography gives an interesting example a contrario, in that one of the factors
contributing to photography’s promotion to the rank of art seems to rest on an
at least a partial emancipation from technical constraints. Soon after the
invention of the medium in 1839, photographers starting using soft focus, thus
departing from the convention of clarity in representation. This particular method of producing blurred
pictures came to signify the conventional means of conveying an artistic
quality to the images. Finally, new techniques in the mode of new devices
give birth to novel artistic objects and practices, as research on phonographs, video, and Internet art has proven.
Artification also derives from science, at times intertwined with group
interests. Heated public debate
surrounded the founding of the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. The political interests of the French central
government, in particular of Jacques Chirac, President of the Republic from
1995 to 2007, locked opposing anthropologists and art historians in power
struggles. The end result was the
dismantling of the ethnological Musée de l’Homme founded in 1937 in favor of
the Musée du Quai Branly and a new museological policy. The new museum exhibits as art such things as
tools, trinkets, household items, and other like objects that the previous
institution had defined as ethnographical artifacts. In the
realm of contemporary art, museology is another example. As curators assert themselves
as the authors of the exhibits they organize, this area of expertise shows a
growing trend toward artification. Cookery is yet another instance in this sphere. Recent developments in physics and chemistry
that derive from the food industry are essential sources of artification in
contemporary haute cuisine, with the
scientific rationalization of culinary production as the basis of avant-garde
creations invented by chefs like Ferran Adrià, Pierre Gagnaire, and Heston
Religion is an obvious fount of artification. But although the transformation of religious
artifacts and activities into art has been studied abundantly in the case of Europe from Antiquity to the Renaissance, it is hardly
acknowledged in other times and places, although an ongoing process of
artification affects objects and practices of devotion in societies throughout
the world. Frank Myers has shown how the
complex transformation of ritual objects of Aboriginal peoples into Australian
contemporary art represents the “hybrid collaboration of numerous agents.” Similarly, Gilles Tarabout describes the
metamorphoses of cult practices in southern India and their promotion to the
status of art. In both instances, as in the case of the support
granted by Canada
to Inuit sculpture, political entities and national governments place
high stakes on artification. Thus
cultural productions that formerly were known only within the boundaries of
small communities, and eventually to a few scholars and experts, are now art forms
that are celebrated worldwide and have come to represent the status and
identity of nation states. In an
interesting contrast to these situations, Emilie Notteghem observed on an
infinitely smaller scale the artification of cult objects in contemporary France. The process is complex (objects must be both
desacralized and aestheticized), but here there are no strong community,
economical, or political stakes. This
may explain why artification is fragile in this case and why some objects she
observed periodically regain their ritual status.
Artifacts designed for political purposes may be reconstructed as art
when their primary function as agitprop begins to wane, as in the case of murals. The related sphere of social work has a longstanding
history as a seat for trends toward artification. Community and social workers encourage their
constituents to engage in various practices for reasons of social melioration. Some practices tend to become artified, such
as graffiti, theater, modern dance, and breakdancing. The personal connections of certain social workers
with the art world and their professional worldview concerning art as social
good contribute to this trend.
Finally, misdemeanors or criminal acts may become engaged in a process
of artification. Graffiti is a case in
point. It is undergoing a complex process of sustainability,
aestheticization, individualization, and legalization as its status changes
progressively from vandalism to art.
In this section we have briefly reviewed the spheres of crafts,
industry, leisure, entertainment, sports, technique, science, religion,
politics, social work, and illegal practices.
Hence, we observe that there are many parts of social life from which
artification may derive (we have identified nearly a dozen) and that
artification is not marginal, but a mechanism much stronger and diversified
than we might have initially thought. So
let us now turn to the specific ways in which this mechanism operates and
observe the results that it yields.
5. A typology of artification and resistance to artification
We identify four types of artification: durable, partial, ongoing, and
unattainable. The first type is simply what we define today as art,
for it is, in fact, the outcome of a process of artification that has provenboth comprehensive and enduring. This is the case in painting, already mentioned above. Let us add literature, music, and dance. These were already part of the liberal arts,
and their makers did not go down as difficult a path as did painters and
sculptors from the Renaissance to the eighteenth century in asserting their
creative powers. Nevertheless, they did
struggle at length for their autonomy, as Norbert Elias’ study of Mozart
illustrates so well.
During the Enlightenment, artists of these core disciplines went through a
process of consecration, and during the Romantic period, these arts were
redefined as vocational and grounded in a requirement of artistic individuality. In the Western world, their status as art now goes
unquestioned throughout society.
second type comprises stabilized cases of partial artification. In some instances, artification is incomplete
but does not seem to have cause to expand further without favorable conditions. This is the case with architecture, which
never fully attained the status of a fine art because of technical and
utilitarian constraints, and with many crafts forever in limbo between art and
artisanship, or art and industry, such as bookbinding or the making of
stained-glass windows. In other instances,
recognition, not utility, is at stake. The
artist has crossed the four circles of recognition by peers, critics, merchants
and collector, and public acclaim, as defined by art historian Alan Bowness, but is either acknowledged for only part of his or
her production or by only part of the potential public. For example, only the sectors of photography
labeled “fine art photography” or of film labeled cinéma d’auteur are recognized as art. Other genres are defined by profound
intra-group differences. Comic book
readers range from mundane teenage consumers to highly cultivated collectors of
rare books. The world of bullfighting is
characterized by an uncompromising alienation between aesthete aficionados
and militant opponents.
The third type touches on cases of artification that
are recent, barely accomplished, and in progress. Outsider art and art brut fall into this category, as do readymades. All have gained recognition from critics and
museums barely one or two generations after appearing in the public sphere. In pursuits such as curating
contemporary art exhibitions, breakdancing,
and graffiti, the artification process
seems to be on the verge of completion; it is taking place before our very eyes. In these
instances, the concept of artification
manifests its relevance most particularly by revealing phenomena that otherwise
would have gone unnoticed.
there are cases where the process encounters obstacles that seem insuperable
and the accomplishment of artification seemsunattainable under present conditions.
Indeed, some practices host sporadic artificatory movements that do not
come to fruition because of the socio-economic arrangements that are contrary
to the traits that have historically constituted art as an institution. Thus we can venture that pursuits such as
typography, gastronomy, oenology, gardening, or perfumery, while perhaps being
qualified as arts in a metaphorical sense, will not garner recognition for
their producers as full-fledged artists in an enduring, institutional, and
universal fashion in the near future; nor are their works commonly acknowledged
throughout society as oeuvres to be presented for purely artistic appreciation.
that artification is a dynamic, ongoing process, this typology is open-ended. Which example belongs to which type is fluid
and may change depending on various contexts.
If the market economy disappeared and restaurants did not have to make a
profit, or if a new mode of production for haute cuisine emerged, a consummate artification
of gastronomy might endure. One could
also imagine that if there was major inclusion of outsider art and graffiti in fine
art museums, and their producers controlled dissemination and sales, they would
be completely artified. But opposite trends
could also prevail, and artification could be arrested.
brings us to a last important question. Are
there contrary processes, processes of counter or de-artification? Can we
identify cases where a legitimate art has lost its acknowledged status?
Although there seem to be very few cases in point, our investigating procedures
may be at fault. Calligraphy, gardening, and elocution may well be de-artified practices,
provided historical research establishes that they were indeed
institutionalized arts and not artes,
that is, virtuoso crafts demanding
high levels of skill but not defined by claims to originality. Nevertheless, recent research does reveal
cases of de-artification, although it is difficult to evaluate how definitive
they are. Diana Crane described how the
transformation of French haute couture into an elite luxury industry now
controlled by international financial conglomerates has entailed a loss of
artistic autonomy for fashion designers.
Emilie Notteghem, in her study of objects of the Catholic cult in contemporary
France, revealed just how flexible the system of artification is when it comes
to objects of religious reverence. Items
enter and exit the system; they may return for a while to the world of ritual,
and then re-enter the art system and be redefined as museum pieces.
This case of intermittent
artification discovered by Notteghem is reminiscent of a comparable situation
in a very different society: the
intermittent heritagization of artifacts observed by anthropologist Pierre Centlivres in
Afghanistan. Centlivres noted how, on some occasions they considered appropriate, tribal elders would borrow back
artifacts that their tribes had donated to the National Museum of Kabul and
were on exhibit there. These examples underline the importance of the general
process of resistance against artification (and, by the same token, resistance
against heritagization). Resistance to artification is a built-in,
structural component of the artification process.
One of the most dramatic instances of such a trend
resulted in the acute deheritagization and de-artification by voluntary
destruction in 2001, when the Taliban government dynamited the monumental
Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, on the grounds that they were idols. Clearly, the result of heritagization and
artification can be highly volatile in certain contexts. In the case of the Buddhas, it hinged on many
factors: the general worldview held by the Taliban, the manner in which radical
clerics defined a
particular cultural production (the Buddhas), issues
of power between ethnic groups and regions, and international politics. There, action against artification can be
understood, among many other meanings,
as leverage in power struggles and a particular instance of action
to artification can be internal or external.
In cases more familiar to us, such as those based in contemporary
France, observation suggests that internal resistance originates from potential
artists and members of their family, while external resistance comes from
sponsors or administrators and is rooted in a variety of values. When producers and their close relations
refuse the move toward art, they do so typically in the name of family values
(outsider art), working class values (outsider art, jazz), and solidarity among
peers (breakdancing). In all these
instances, artification appears to social actors as the process of social differentiation
and stratification that indeed it is. They
would prefer to evade this, for in artification they see a risk to group
cohesion. Institutional or corporate
actors also may put forth obstacles to artification, often in the name of
quality and consistency (“maintaining standards”) in order to defend group
interests (keeping the outsiders out).
government bureaucratic practice provides an interesting example of
de-artification. The category of
national heritage (le patrimoine)
implemented by the public administration of l’Inventaire
(a department of the Ministry of Culture) was initially invented for the census
of historical monuments construed as masterpieces of artistry. It has been progressively extended to include
non-artistic objects, such as milestones, farmhouses, and various popular
artifacts such as tombstones.
What are the conditions necessary for artification and
the obstacles to its achievement? Luxury and upper class activities that
produce objects that are easy to transport, enhance individuality, and secure
autonomy to the maker seem to be among the prime conditions for the realization
of artification, as in the case of easel painting and luxury fashion. But it is true that the practices of lower
class groups, or of partially socialized groups, like youth and inmates, also
undergo artification. Such is the case
for jazz, hip-hop, graffiti, or self-taught art. In those instances, favorable circumstances
seem to be a tightly knit network of cooperation, collective organizations, and
a rich corpus of critical discourse. Avant-garde
initiatives give impetus and visibility.
Government support and long-term cultural policies consolidate the
Nevertheless, the inferior social status of its practitioners,
audience, or public is indeed an obstacle to artification and does seem to slow
its progress. Other hindering factors
are the utilitarian nature of a practice (crafts, architecture), dependence on
clientele (architecture, gastronomy, fashion), technical constraints that put
physical prowess before artistry (sports, magic), or limitations to
transportability (gardening, graffiti). Artification
thus appears as a major indicator of a general trend toward the valorization of
art in modern Western societies, both at the level of common sense and for
Our inquiries into artification follow a nonsubstantive orientation,
common to analytical philosophy and the social sciences. According to this perspective, there exists
no “art in-itself” (en soi), grounded
in an essentialist definition that would enable us to describe how social
actors experience “art for-themselves” (pour
soi), but only historically situated, collectively accepted, and relatively
stabilized conceptions of what social actors understand by the word ’art.’ The
nominalist turn in analytical philosophy has unpacked the question “what?” into
an array of queries such as “for whom?,” “under what conditions?,” and “when?”
In this perspective, art is not a given but the sum total of all possible
operations of artification. Going back
to Nelson Goodman, we may now proceed just one step beyond the question we
started with. Art is when artification
Roberta Shapiro is a sociologist at the Institut
Interdisciplinaire d’Anthropologie du Contemporain (LAHIC-IIAC) at the Ecole
des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris, France. She works in the areas of art, cultural
sociology, and urban sociology.
She has published numerous papers on marriage and the city, and cultural forms
and social change and is the co-editor of
L'artiste pluriel (Septentrion, 2009).
Nathalie Heinich is Research
Director in sociology at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
(CNRS), Paris, France. She is associated
with the Centre de Recherches sur les Arts et le Langage (CRAL) at the Ecole
des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS).
Her main research
areas are the sociology of art, the sociology of values, and the sociology of
identity. She has published a large
number of papers in scientific journals and nearly 30 books, including The Glory of Van Gogh. An Anthropology of Admiration (Princeton
University Press, 1996).
Published on April 5, 2012.
Goodman, “When is Art?” in The Arts and Cognition, eds. David
Perkins and Barbara Leondar (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1977), pp. 11-19.
 Martin Warnke, The
Court Artist: On the Ancestry of the Modern Artist (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1993); Nathalie Heinich, Du peintre à l’artiste. Artisans et académiciens à l’âge
classique (Paris: Minuit, 1993).
Harrison and Cynthia White, Canvases and
Careers. Institutional Changes in the
French Painting World
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965, 1992); Larry Shiner, The Invention of Art: A Cultural History
(Chicago: University of Chicago
 Nathalie Heinich and Roberta Shapiro (eds.), De l’artification. Enquêtes sur lepassage à l’art (Paris: Ehess,
Nathalie Heinich, L’Art contemporain
exposé aux rejets. Études de cas
(Nîmes: Jacqueline Chambon, 1998).
Alain Roger, Court traité du paysage
(Paris: Gallimard, 1997).
Édouard Pommier, Comment l’art devient l’Art dans l’Italie de la Renaissance (Paris: Gallimard, 2007).
 Howard Becker, Art
Worlds (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).
 Stephen Mennell, Anne Murcott and Anneke van Otterloo, The Sociology of Food (London: Sage, 1992), p. 17.
 For a more complete description,
see N. Heinich
and R. Shapiro,
Quand y a-t-il artification?”
 Shyon Baumann, Hollywood
Highbrow. From Entertainment to Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
 Aaron Smuts, “Are Video Games Art?” Contemporary Aesthetics, 3 (2005); Grant
Tavinor, “Definition of Videogames,”
Contemporary Aesthetics, 6 (2008); Grant Tavinor, “Video Game as Mass Art,”
Contemporary Aesthetics, 9 (2011).
Pierre Bourdieu et alii, Photography. A
Middle-Brow Art, originally published 1965 (Stanford University Press, 1990).
Véronique Moulinié, “Des ‘oeuvriers’ ordinaires. Lorsque l’ouvrier fait le/du beau,” Terrain, 32 (1999); Gary A. Fine,
Everyday Genius. Self-Taught Art and the Culture
of Authenticity (Chicago: The University
of Chicago Press, 2004).
Benoît de l’Estoile, Le Goût des Autres. De l’exposition coloniale aux Arts premiers
(Paris: Flammarion, 2007).
 Paul Lopes, “Diffusion and Syncretism. The
Modern Jazz Tradition,” Annals of the
American Academy of Political and Social Science, 566 (1999), pp. 25-36;
Olivier Roueff, “Domestication du goût et formation du champ du jazz en France,
1941-1960,” Actes de la recherche en
sciences sociales, 181-182 (2010), pp. 34-59.
 Graham M. Jones, Trade
of the Tricks. Inside the Magician's
Craft (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 2011); Roberta Shapiro,
“The Aesthetics of Institutionalization: Breakdancing in France,” The Journal of Arts Management, Law and
Society, 33, 4 (2004), 316-335; Magali Sizorn, “De la course au trapèze
aux Arts Sauts,” in De l’artification,
op. cit. (2012).
Art Spiegelman (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986), the only comic book to be
awarded the Pulitzer Prize (in 1992) is the most obvious example. See: Thierry Groensteen, The System of Comics (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi,
2007); and Vincent Seveau, “La Bande dessinée,” in De l’artification, op. cit.
 In this section we take the word ‘beauty’ as a
compendium for all the aesthetic qualities as seen from the standpoint of the
Caroline Hodak, Du Théâtre équestre au
cirque. Commercialisation des loisirs,
diffusion des savoirs et théâtralisation de l’histoire en France et en
Angleterre, 1760-1860, Thèse d’histoire (Paris: EHESS, 2004).
Roberta Shapiro, op. cit. (2004), and
Roberta Shapiro, “Du smurf au ballet, l’invention de la danse hip-hop,” in De l’artification, op. cit. (2012).
Béatrice Fraenkel, “L’improbable artification de la typographie,” in De l’artification, op. cit. (2012).
François Brunet, Photography and
Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009); and “La
photographie, éternelle aspirante à l’art,” in De l’artification, op. cit. (2012).
 Sophie Maisonneuve, “Between History and Commodity:
The Production of A Musical Patrimony through the Record in the 1920-1930,” Poetics, 29 (2001), pp. 89-108.
Nathalie Heinich, “La vidéo est-elle un
art?,” Giallù. Revue d'art et de
sciences sociales, 5 (1995); Jean-Paul Fourmentraux, Art et Internet. Les nouvelles figures de la création
(Paris: Cnrs, 2005); Frank Popper,
Art of the Electronic Age (London:
Thames & Hudson, 1997).
Nathalie Heinich and Bernard Edelman, L’Art
en conflits. L’œuvre de l’esprit entre
droit et sociologie (Paris: La Découverte, 2002); Nathalie Heinich, “From Museum Curator to Exhibition Auteur: Inventing a Singular Position,” in Thinking
About Exhibitions, eds. Reesa Greenberg, Bruce Ferguson and Sandy Nairne
(London: Routledge, 1996).
 Isabelle de Solier, “Liquid nitrogen pistachios:
Molecular gastronomy, elBulli and foodies,” European
Journal of Cultural Studies, 13 (2010), 155-170.
 Fred Myers,
Painting Culture: The Making of an Aboriginal High Art (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002).
Gilles Tarabout, “Passages à l’art. L’adaptation
d’un culte sud-indien au patronage artistique,” in L’Esthétique: Europe, Chine et ailleurs, eds. Y. Escande and J. M. Schaeffer (Paris: You-Feng, 2003).
 Nelson Graburn, Ethnic
and Tourist Arts: Cultural Expressions from the Fourth
World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976).
Emilie Notteghem, “Frontières et franchissements. Les objets du culte catholique en
artification,” in De l’artification, op. cit. (2012)
Francesca Cozzolino, “Les murs ont la parole: Sardaigne,” Le Tigre, n° 1, March (2007), 50-55.
Virginie Milliot, “Quand l’art interroge l’espace public. Le graf, le travail social, l’art
contemporain et le politique,” in L’art
contemporain, champs artistiques, critères, réception, eds. Jean-Pierre
Saez and Thierry Raspail (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2000).
Serge Proust, Le comédien désemparé. Autonomie artistique et interventions
politiques dans le théâtre public, (Paris: Economica, 2006).
 Emily E. Wilcox, “Dance as l’Intervention. Health and Aesthetics of Experience in French
Contemporary Dance,” Body and Society,
11, 4 (2005), 109-139.
Marisa Liebaut, “L’artification du graffiti et ses dispositifs,” in De l’artification, op. cit. (2012).
 Norbert Elias, Mozart. Portrait of a Genius 1991 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).
Paul Bénichou, Le Sacre de l'écrivain
(Paris: José Corti, 1973).
Nathalie Heinich, L’Élite artiste. Excellence et singularité en régime
démocratique (Paris: Gallimard, 2005).
 Alan Bowness, The Conditions of Success. How the Modern Artist Rises to Fame (London: Thames and Hudson, 1989).
 Nathalie Heinich, “Framing
the Bullfight: Aesthetics versus Ethics,” The British Journal of
Aesthetics, 33, 1 (1993), 52-58.
 There is a body of literature, particularly in the
realm of "everyday aesthetics" that upholds that productions such as these
are art. Although space lacks to develop
a full discussion of this point, there are a number of reasons why we disagree
with the reasoning that leads to this conclusion. First, the argument is normative and
essentialist. We are asked to recognize
art as the hidden truth of everyday pursuits.
Second, it is non-realistic. Working
conditions, legal and symbolic status in society, organizations and
institutions, critical discourse, economic exchange, and similar aspects of
life in society are completely disregarded.
Finally, the manner is rhetorical and moralizing; these authors seek to
persuade. See, for example, Glenn Kuehn,
“How Can Food Be Art?” in The Aesthetics
of Everyday Life, eds. Andrew Light and Jonathan M. Smith (New York:
Columbia University Press, 2004), pp. 94-212; ref. on pp. 194-195: “Food is art;
I am convinced that this is true. Problems
arise, of course, when I try to convince others just how food can be art.” One
might call this author an experiential activist. His stated goal here is not to describe
reality, but to persuade others to feel differently about it.
 Above, we mentioned gardens in
reference to an ongoing discussion in the realm of the aesthetics of everyday
life. Does the experience of gardens
warrant our defining them as art? (See Thomas Leddy, Mara Miller,
David E. Cooper)
Here, we mention gardens
a second time, but in an historical perspective; gardens, like architecture, were
classified as fine art in eighteenth century tables of knowledge.
Diana Crane, “La mode,” in De
l’artification, op. cit. (2012).
 For a detailed discussion of this very complex issue
see Pierre Centlivres, ‘‘The Controversy over the Buddhas of Bamiyan,” South Asia Multidisciplinary AcademicJournal (2008),
Nathalie Heinich, La Fabrique du
patrimoine (Paris: Maison des sciences de l’Homme, 2009).
Jean-Marie Schaeffer, L’Art de l’âge
L’esthétique et la philosophie de l’art du XVIIIe siècle à
nos jours (Paris: Gallimard,
 We are thankful to the editors
Ossi Naukkarinen and Yuriko Saito for their critical reading and thought-provoking
comments on this article.