Capitalism as a Dominant Force in the Cultural Sector


Bérubé, Julie, Jacques-Bernard Gauthier, Julien Doris. Capitalism as a Dominant Force in the Cultural Sector. 22nd International Conference on Cultural Economics, (2023).


Today’s society is dominated by values derived from capitalism. All other activities based on values essential to the maintenance of society (creation, democracy, justice, care, etc.) are put at the service of capitalism (Fraser, 2022). This domination of capitalism transcends all sectors including the arts and culture (Fraser, 2022). However, many artists claim to be governed by artistic and non-capitalist values. The purpose of this research is to explore the dominant values of professional artists. To do so, we use Boltanski and Thévenot (1991, 2006) On Justification theoretical framework, which allows for the study of tensions arising from different value systems. Boltanski and Thévenot identify six worlds with independent value systems: inspired (creation), domestic (care), fame (popularity), civic (democracy/justice), market (profits) and industrial (efficiency). It seems logical to believe that the cultural sector, specifically artists, are dominated by values from the inspired world. In order to explore which world artists identify with, we conducted a longitudinal study with an initial data collection in 2017. At that time, we conducted 50 semi-structured interviews with professional visual artists. We conducted 20 interviews three years later with a sample of the respondents in the first data collection. Our data shows that artists deal with a tension between artistic and monetary imperatives or between the inspired and the market world. To manage this tension, artists either reach a compromise between these two worlds or reject the market world in favour of the inspired world. Indeed, artists who reach a compromise have decided to sell their works in commercial galleries. Thus, they manage to live from their art. Artists who reject the values of the market world and refuse to sell their work use two strategies for their careers, either they exhibit in museum-type galleries in exchange for an artist’s fee, or they apply for creation grants offered by governments or artist-run centres. Although these artists reject capitalist values, they implement strategies to obtain grants or to exhibit in museum-type galleries. Thus, they are not guided by their inspiration and creativity, but rather by the requests of granting agencies or curators. In both situations, our analyses reveal the domination of the market world induced by the principles of the capitalist sociohistorical era. This research makes a contribution to the field of cultural economics, as it shows that the cultural sector is dominated by capitalist values. Artists cannot create freely but have to comply with different requirements due to the domination of capitalism over the whole society.

Keywords: Capitalism; Artists; On Justification theory; cultural sector