Artistic creation is one of the most individualistic pursuits a human being can engage in. Yet it is tied--by delicate webs and deft knots-- to personal relations, cultural traditions, economic organization, and political rule. Like our very sanity, it depends in great measure on the understandings, standards, and supports that come from the social world we live in. Creativity in the arts does, of course, flow from deeply personal sources; but even the most private, aesthetic standards and goals are influenced and molded by the world in which artists develop and come into their own. It is not only that academic art is shaped by schooling and tradition; one's very access to artistic traditions and movements is mediated, and can be controlled, by the institutions of art--museums, academies, and schools, critics and publications. Artists are concerned about reactions to their work, especially the response of those institutions and people who define the standards by which art is recognized, judged, and acquired. Even the boldest innovators are affected by others' reactions. Indeed, for them the response of a few trusted viewers, fellow artists, and critics is perhaps especially important: it sustains the reality of their work.
The creation of a work of art, then, is grounded in a social setting. Art acquires its meaning from a web of social relations, even if it defines itself as much by negation as by affirmation of what is conventionally accepted. It is this social character of art that