Alexander, Victoria: Classification in Art: Residual Classification and the Separation of Producer and Consumer

Current scholarship in the sociology of the arts tends to dichotomize the fine arts (still commonly referred to as high culture) and the popular arts (once referred to as mass culture), but with a recognition of the blurring of these two categories. DiMaggio (1987) theorized this dichotomy in his work on classification in art. However, focus on this division is problematic because it ignores a crucial similarity between the fine and popular arts, in that both are created and developed in (commercial or nonprofit) production systems for distribution to audiences who receive them. In other words, they separate production from consumption.

This paper argues that the division between producers and consumers was constructed as the fine and popular arts were institutionalized. This occurred as a byproduct of actions by cultural and commercial entrepreneurs in what could be called residual classification. Forms of artistic creativity where production and consumption co-occur or blur have been largely ignored in sociology and in studies of classification in art, possibly because they are often seen as “not-art.” Peer-production in digital spaces makes visible these boundaries. A more complete theory of classification in art needs to consider the relationship between production and consumption, in systems where these are separated and those where they are not. Accordingly, the paper sketches a more comprehensive theory.