Howard Backer starts his book on the constitution of art worlds (1982) with a quotation in which Anthony Trollope thanks the old groom whose duty it was to wake him every morning at ten to six with a cup of coffee since, the novelist suggests, he may owe more to him than to anyone else for his literary success. For Becker, the tale serves as an illustration of the fact that it is the co-ordination of the sometimes mundane activities of a number of people which leads to the production of art works. He remarks, ‘Through their cooperation, the art work we eventually see or hear comes to be and continues to be. The work always shows signs of that cooperation’ (Becker 1982:1). Yet, as Becker also notes, being woken at 5.50am does not necessarily positively contribute to the quality of any work produced at that time: The way the work is produced bears no necessary relationship to its quality. Every way of producing art works for some people and not for others: every way of producing art produces work of every conceivable grade of quality’ (1982:2). In short, while the art or cultural work always ‘shows signs’, or bears the imprint, of the way it was produced, the organisation of that process has no direct relationship to the quality of what is produced; nor does it provide a guarantee of its popular appeal or its commercial success.
This paradox has provided particular problems for those concerned with the process of capital accumulation, since they have sought to organise cultural production in ways which will increase the likelihood of the works that are produced being of predictable grades of quality and guaranteed commercial successes. This chapter and the next two will consider the specific problems this need for predictability raises in the field of cultural