Artworld Prestige examines the ways in which cultural arguments about value develop: the processes by which some practices, artists, and media in the artworld win and others lose. Timothy Van Laar and Leonard Diepeveen argue that the concept of prestige, although uncomfortable and consistently overlooked, is an essential model for understanding artworld values, as important as the more common models centered on economics or power. Prestige shapes the forms of attention art is given, as well as the processes by which some affects dominate art discourse and others fall away. But prestige does its work silently, and its principles are used unself-consciously. People effortlessly display the protocols of being an insider. A form of socially constructed agreement, prestige shapes what we see, and does so with great power. Prestige is inescapable, a version of Althusserian ideology or Foucauldian power that both constrains and enables. It is also flexible, defining the seriousness of artists as diverse as Dan Peterman and Marlene Dumas, Gerhard Richter and Takashi Murakami, Elizabeth Peyton and Joseph Kosuth, Howard Finster and Frank Gallo.
Cultural argument about value in art is a matter of deference and conferral, performed through thousands of tiny acts of estimation that suggest one cultural form is less relevant, worthy of attention than another; acts that instinctively grant more attention to reviews in Artforum over Artnews; to the Tate Modern over the Hirshhorn; to anxiety over pleasure; to Duchamp over Matisse; to conceptual art over abstract painting, and abstract painting over figure painting; to painting over ceramics, and video over painting. In order to argue candidly about cultural value, the artworld needs to understand the subtleties of prestige, of such things as what it means to be "serious." Not an expose but an explanation, Artworld Prestige offers such an understanding