The network should, in theory, provide greater democratization by eliminating the need for a defined set of elitist institutions; however, you point out a number of examples where the network breeds new hierarchies—elevating those with the ability to travel constantly and maintain a myriad of “weak-tied” connections. Do you believe the art world can truly be fully inclusive? Should it?
That’s a big question, but maybe one way to approach it is to go back to what I said earlier about art being a certain type of labor, what labor might become when it reaches a surplus, when it’s able to address not just survival but creativity for its own sake. When it becomes not a means to an end but an end in itself. Well, you can think about how our world now produces a whole lot of surplus or excess wealth, only to then have that surplus appropriated by an infinitesimally small fraction of the population. At the same time, our world also produces more and more artists. That is, If not more inclusive the art world is definitely becoming bigger—in the U.S., for example, you can just look at the MFAs produced each year, the number has been growing nonstop, steadily and rapidly, since the 1960s, it never slows despite all the recessions, the defunding of the NEA, with the withdrawal of more local support, etc. And these MFA programs now spread more evenly throughout the country, which means more and more artists now live in communities with no commercial or governmental means to support them. So not just more artists are being produced, but more have to struggle to survive, their creativity narrowed by necessity, their art as surplus folded back into scarcity. And in lieu of galleries and government agencies they turn to community organizing, philanthropy, mutual aid—they rely on crowdsourced micro-support from colleagues offered through mechanisms like fee-based classes and residencies, raffles and limited-edition art sales, and online fundraising tools like Kickstarter. That is, without the possibility of sales or government grants, they turn to networks.
But it’s important to remember that networks don’t inherently oppose unequal distribution of surplus; indeed, the period of their rise has been marked by dramatic increases in all sorts of inequality. You can even argue that, because of their constant fluctuation, networks threaten certain conditions necessary for bringing about social justice, such as the stability and enclosure required for determining collectivities that can be measured by, and held accountable to, the yardstick of across-the-board fairness. That kind of fairness was one of the promises (seldom if ever met) of government funding of social and cultural life—the arts included. Government, at least according to the socialist-democratic ideal, would differ from philanthropic or private patronage in that it would treat surplus as socially rather than individually produced, and would be mandated to redistribute it fairly across the social body. But today there’s so much less government funding available—so that citizens, including gallery-less artists, have to turn to non-government support like networks, which function according to who knows the right people (and the people who know other right people, etc.).
I just bought Relyea’s book, which has a bibliography so close to my own dissertation project that reading it might be as frustrating as it is exciting. I imagine it will end up being a really major source for me.