Becker’s Theory, Genus Individual And Sharjah Biennial

 Becker’s Theory, Genus Individual And Sharjah Biennial


Howard Becker in 1982 developed a theoretical framework, which held that the world of art and the associated activities is dependent on collective efforts as against the efforts of a single person as the theory of artist genius (Becker, 1982, p. 28-30). He reasoned that most often, individual persons receive commendations for pieces of artwork collectively done. For instance, in a movie or film that brings together the efforts of many people in the production process, credibility of an outstanding performance within the market or theatre room often go to the director. According to the theory by Becker, credit is due to all participants within the process of production of the film as against an individual whose role was just part of the different roles that resulted to the final piece as produced. In other words, Becker stands to differ with the perception that within the arts industry, an individual agency can govern the industry. Accordingly, Becker reasons that art is/should be defined through the various activities that lead to its production. He, therefore, defined the art world to be the collective activity that is involved in the production of a piece of artwork. He refutes the ideology that an individual constitutes artwork but in the contrary advances his theory that the collective system in the industry constitutes it. It is also worth noting that the creation of artwork would be influenced by such constraints as production systems as well as the distribution systems. However, Becker acknowledges the varying roles played by the core personnel within a piece of artwork and the role played by support personnel (Becker, 1982, p. 1-39-30).

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As Jones points out in an article, a product of artistic nature requires the collaborative efforts as well as interdependence on roles as well as skills by different people, a fact that is often overlooked by art worlds and the artists themselves. Organizational scholars actually reason that creativity has become fundamentally social as against primarily individual as would be argued by other fields. Success in artwork and the industry rely more on collective creativity, which involves ‘help-seeking’, ‘help giving’, ‘reinforcing’ as well as ‘reflective reframing’. Moreover, in regard to creations as well as credit of patents, individual brokers often create new ideas but the ideas are least adopted by others while collaborative brokerage which involves people coming together to co-create does not as often create ideas but their ideas get easily adopted by others. This, therefore, reaffirms the observation by Becker that individuals often have high capacity of creativity than collaborative efforts despite the fact that they are least recognized in credit. However, Jones reveals that art worlds differ depending on the collaborative efforts they require from artists. For instance, such pieces of art as etching, painting as well as sculpture are more dependent on individual creativity as well as execution as unlike the case with such pieces of art as films, which depend on the collaborative creativity as explained by their complexities. Moreover, even in the art worlds where simple artistic products are involved, which depend on single person to execute, artists still find the strength of individual creativity from the group context through which collaborative efforts ensures that such a product gains audience as well as attention necessary. This is contrasted with other artistic works such as the film industry, which rely on the collective efforts in creativity, and execution where the question that arises is how an individual artist would create a reputation on an independent basis from the rest of the contributors. This, therefore, shows that interdependence is a prerequisite to the success within the art worlds (Jones, 2011, p. 151-152).

Cultural creation can equally be viewed from the lens of collaborative efforts rather than the other perspectives as the result of some individual geniuses. In the investigation of where culture comes from, two perspectives are presented as discussed above. There is the dimension, which views cultures as products of individual geniuses, which are contrasted, with the collaborative efforts of individuals within a society. This individualistic approach would be better in understanding of individual objects of culture such as specific styles. Nevertheless, as sociology posits, culture, as well as cultural works, are the outcome of collective creativity as opposed to individual efforts. This is the reason that Holmes agrees with the previous position of Becker that collective efforts are fundamental in the understanding and creation of art worlds within a society. He reasons that culture originates from the efforts of all people from whom the production of a particular characteristic work of artistic nature within the society depends on. However, the development of a culture such as within the arts industry develops through two main stages, which are the naivety stage as well as the stage of sophistication. Within the extremity of naïve stage, there lacks a coherent system of evaluating artistic works and as such, no standards for justification in classification exist. On the other hand, at the sophistication stage, works of art are evaluated based on predefined criteria, which distinguishes the self-claimed artists with the ‘real’ artists. Through the influence of market forces as well as the gatekeepers, cultural products through artwork reach the intended audiences. The gatekeepers’ roles are to filter what the industry produces before the product reaches the target audience. This, therefore, implies that through the filtration by the gatekeepers, it is not all that the industry produces to reach the market audience intended. Only some small percentages of cultures produced to reach the audience. However, a critique is developed towards the role and efficiency of the gatekeepers in filtering the produced work because they base their analysis on individual preferences as well as on their tastes. They also analyze products based on what unique features these productions have for viability in the market (Holmes, 2008, p. 1-12). Markets are on the other hand seen to be constructed for making the tastes of people more recognizable. This, therefore, confirms that cultures are not created sporadically by efforts of individual persons but are rather the creation of collaborative efforts by different layers within the society.

In the analysis of artworks by Becker, it is evident that artworks are created through cooperation of individuals who interact through the different roles played. For instance, Becker notes that the industry of arts harbors such people as suppliers to the materials required, distributors of produced products, other artists as well as audiences, critics and the theorists. Therefore, the different players (individuals as well as the organizations) constitute the art world. Recognition, as well as reputation by individual artists, depends much on the availability of a suitable art world. The interrelations described by Becker revolves around the fact that for an artist to produce a piece of work, for example, a film, other people comes in to provide such tools as cameras, costumes, theater instruments, and other such necessities which Becker points out to be the role of distributors. The actual process of production of the film engages efforts by other players such as the producers, directors and such other relevant people. Other persons involved in the process are those obliged to respond to completed works where appreciations or criticisms are considered part of art production. These are often categorized in the list of gatekeepers and often contribute towards the particulars of the artwork before the piece of work reaches the market or target audience. Finally, the essence of distributors as well as marketers arises for availing the produced artwork to the market. The interplay of all these persons involved creates the ‘art world’ as defined and applied by Becker. He also points out that cultures have definite roles they pay in regard to art worlds. In the cultural analysis of the art world, cultures have definite conventions, which often influence the production of artwork. Under such culture influences the conditions under which the works of art are produced as well as the environment in which they are expressed. However, it is worth noting that culture has definite roles to play in regard to influencing the works of art as described by the main facets of culture. The facets of culture are technology, the structure of the industry, the law as well as regulation, the market, the organizational structure, and the gatekeepers. Therefore, according to Becker, works of art are defined and understood as per these fundamental defining features. Technology broadly defines communication as a necessary tool in artworks and society in general. Regulation, as well as law, define and dictate what is acceptable within a social confine as well as in such an industry as the art industry. It also plays a critical role in trading and business transactions within the industry. The market industry defines the autonomy of the participating firms within the industry wherein some setups, only a few large firms are in operation and thus restricting other smaller firms to enter into the market. On the other hand, the industry may also face the participation of many players including such small player individual firms or corporations of large firms. Organizational structure concerning the arts industry concerns the aspects of product differentiation and harmonization for commanding influence within the market. This industry involves many products, which are highly differentiated, and therefore the influence of such a feature (Becker, 1982, p. 1-227).

In a case study, this report analyzes the Sharjah Biennial, a most celebrated Arab cultural event that is currently planned by the ‘Sharjah Art Foundation’ as an example to the discussion of art worlds and individual geniuses. It was established in 1993 and has ever since provided an appropriate bridge for individual artists, institutions of arts as well as art organizations at local, regional as well as the international front. Ever since its introduction, Biennial is credited to have had great influence in production as well as a presentation of art works for fostering experimentation. It has dominated the field within the region with programs that are meant to support production of art works, access to art presentation as well as effectiveness in dissemination and sharing of such pieces of works of art. The foundation has led to the growth and establishment of many such organizations across the globe with the emerging features of the industry in the modern-day. Artists are increasingly acknowledging the role played by such biennials and this positively develops the art industry as such art movements. Background to the formation of Sharjah Biennial, the department of information and culture in Sharjah adopted national exhibitions, which included the participation of national representatives. However, the original idea had been to have global art exhibitions and as such place the organization on an international front. Despite the intention and the vision that the original idea carried, some setbacks in accessing global works of art especially from the west proved challenging, which explains the concentration on Arabic artworks in the initial stages. Nevertheless, this was in line with the initial purpose as to which the national department on information and culture was tasked with; to establish and build on the local talent in artworks. With enough support from the country’s administration, the organization has successfully organized international book fairs, poetry festivals, heritage festivals as well as built on museums within the country. Sharjah Biennial is credited on consciously prioritizing and taking artworks produced within the Arabic region with high regard amongst its projects. This has therefore enormously uplifted regional artists in the arts industry. According to the organization, the most effective tool through which a government or a society would build on local talent in the artwork is through the creation of realistic as well as the necessary infrastructure to offer the support necessary and not just through building structures or depositories (Persekian, nd, p. 1). According to the report, the government must understand the network framework that is employed within the arts industry, which involves players in actual production, dissemination, acquisition, valuation, promotion, marketing, education, and such related logistics. The success of the arts industry within each country or region is dependent on for feasibility as well as sustainability on this network. The Sharjah Biennial is such a good example to the collaborative efforts that are necessary for the success of the contemporary art industry as well as the Cultural Revolution. It therefore conquers with Becker’s position that art worlds are wholly dependent on collaborative efforts as against the individualized effort of the few geniuses.

Over the years, the biennial has evolved to become a distinct cultural and artistic phenomenon across the globe. It has had notable effect on political and cultural influence in the gulf region through the artistic exhibits and unifying the industry that attracts many players. It has provided a platform, which is crucial to contemporary artists within the region of Middle East (Harris, 2013, para 1-5). In fact, according to a report by Harris, Sharjah Biennial currently holds the lead within the region as a hub for contemporary arts. Other countries such as Qatar, are increasingly investing in the field of exhibitions of contemporary arts as well as the acquisitions. However, carrying different themes, the Biennials have grown to become an important tool of communication through the artworks not only within the region but also across the globe from where the audiences are targeted. The Biennial specializes on exhibitions from different parts of the world though with more focus on the Arabic culture and arts. Through such exhibitions, the Biennial helps to decentralize the credit and reputation that individual artists would be pursuing and in contrast credits collaborated efforts in the entire organization and success of the industry. This confirms that art worlds are dependent on collaborated efforts as against efforts by individual artists who pose as individual geniuses.

The past two decades provide great milestones that the Sharjah Biennial exhibitions has undertaken to revolutionize from the traditional art exhibitions that it instituted in its inception to the modernized Exhibits that characterize the event. The modern-day events organized carry a global representation as would be argued that they are organized with such a global perspective. The current practices that characterize the events and management of the Biennial are commissioning, production as well as innovation and presenting challenging artworks from the United Arab Emirates while still providing an international platform for the artists from the region (Biennial Foundation, 2013, para 1-3). The Sharjah Biennial was however shifted from the original facilitator; department of information as well as culture to become a core initiative to the Sharjah art foundation. Other notable changes with the biennials is the change in the format where individual artists were chosen to represent own countries to the modern practice of direct involvement of individual artists as against the participation for representation. The foundation of the organization of Sharjah Biennial is on education as well as outreach programs through which thematic concerns are conveyed across borders and specific cultural outline within the greater UAE. Moreover, a unifying feature that is pointed out in the management and organization of the Sharjah Biennial is through the collaborative efforts that are engaged. This equally has a significant effect on the notions of artists as distinct entities but on the contrary highlights the essence of co-working or collaboration for the sake of success in the propagation of art works and art world.


The position by Becker in 1982 that success in the industry of arts is dependent on collective efforts as against the individual effort by a particular artist has far-reaching effects and implications across the globe on matters of arts and the industry in general. This theory was advanced to reveal the implication of co-working of individual players within the industry through various illustrations. In the film illustration used, crediting the director of a movie is insufficient in acknowledging the various participants through whose efforts the movie is produced. Becker reasons that for a film to be produced and to be availed within a market, it entails the joint efforts of suppliers of the materials needed, the actual performance of individuals in film shooting, marketing and distribution of the movie to the target market. This, therefore, shows that no particular individual should receive absolute commendation for the art work but that all persons involved played a particular role towards the realization of the goal of having the movie produced. In a similar manner, other discussions have been projected towards supporting the joint efforts between individual participants in the industry of arts across the globe. Individual artists herein referred to as the geniuses lack particular competencies in innovating and effectively presenting artwork, which is perfect and as such requires the contributions of other people. this, therefore, show that the industry of arts is not a one man industry but that collaborative effort is necessary in order to develop the efficiency of the industry. However, Becker acknowledges the varying roles played by the core personnel within a piece of artwork and the role played by support personnel.

Becker notes that the industry of arts involves such people as suppliers to the materials required, distributors of produced products, other artists as well as audiences, critics and the theorists who together form the art world as used by him. It is through the collaboration of such players within the industry that individual artists are successful in producing the specific artworks. In such an example of the relationship of different players in the industry, this report has evaluated the organization and the working of Sharjah Biennial from the UAE.  The introduction of the event in 1993 has brought commendable revolution in the arts industry within the Arabic countries as well as across the globe. It has been effective in linking individual artists, institutions of arts as well as art organizations at local, regional as well as the international front. Ever since its introduction, Biennial is credited to have had great influence in production as well as a presentation of art works for fostering experimentation. It has dominated the field within the region with programs that are meant to support production of art works, access to art presentation as well as effectiveness in dissemination and sharing of such pieces of works of art. It has been effective in exhibitions of contemporary art works for the Arab cultures as well as other culture across the globe forming an effective tool for communication and education for thousands of people who attend the exhibitions annually. This discussion therefore shows the essence of collaborative efforts as against individual efforts in success of the industry of arts.


Becker H. S., 1982. Art worlds. London: University of California press. Available at:<> (Accessed on 12 November 2013)

“Biennial Foundation”, 2013. Biennial Foundation. Available at:<> (Accessed on 12 November 2013)

Harris G., 2013. Art review: Sharjah Biennial, Re:emerge: Towards a New Cultural Cartography. Available at:<> (Accessed on 12 November 2013)

Holmes, A. 2008.Artworld: changing gatekeepers?Working Papers in Art and Design 5.Available at:<> (Accessed on 12 November 2013)

Jones C., 2011. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Artistic Reputation: The Role of Networks and Creativity. Available at:<> (Accessed on 12 November 2013)

Persekian J., nd. A history of cultural production. Available at:<> (Accessed on 12 November 2013)




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