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Bound by Creativity

How Contemporary Art Is Created and Judged

Bound by Creativity

How Contemporary Art Is Created and Judged

What is creativity? While our traditional view of creative work might lead us to think of artists as solitary visionaries, the creative process is profoundly influenced by social interactions even when artists work alone. Sociologist Hannah Wohl draws on more than one hundred interviews and two years of ethnographic research in the New York contemporary art market to develop a rich sociological perspective of creativity. From inside the studio, we see how artists experiment with new ideas and decide which works to abandon, destroy, put into storage, or exhibit. Wohl then transports readers into the art world, where we discover how artists’ understandings of their work are shaped through interactions in studio visits, galleries, international art fairs, and collectors’ homes.
Bound by Creativity reveals how artists develop conceptions of their distinctive creative visions through experimentation and social interactions. Ultimately, we come to appreciate how judgment is integral to the creative process, both resulting in the creation of original works while also limiting an artist’s ability to break new ground. Exploring creativity through the lens of judgment sheds new light on the production of cultural objects, markets, and prestige. 


"Sociological research and theories on creativity assume that creativity is based on collective processes, social evaluations and judgments, and the result of social networks, interactions, and shared beliefs. Hannah Wohl’s book Bound by Creativity: How Contemporary Art Is Created and Judged addresses this sociological assumption by providing in-depth insights that she has gathered from a long-term ethnography within the contemporary art world in New York."

American Journal of Sociology

"Wohl's intriguing book explores the mystery of creativity, the whatever-it-is that informs artists’ visions as they shape successful and moving works of art and finds its explanation in the shared and socially supported understanding of the idea of creative vision. An original and profound contribution to the sociology of art."

Howard S. Becker

"Bound by Creativity escorts us into a world of radical uncertainty--the contemporary art market in New York City. Wohl brings us with her as she witnesses artists engaging with their publics, explaining their worth, and struggling against misinterpretations, or worse. What should count and why? And what to do when the counting goes wrong? These questions animate the creative process where genius emerges or fails to emerge. Artists, art critics, humanists, and social scientists will long debate this book and its findings. And those who care only about the creative process, no matter its field of application, will benefit from the clarity with which that process is described and acted upon. Powerful and evocative, this work shows how creative genius is generated and why it sometimes survives assaults on its worth."


Frederick F. Wherry, Princeton University

Table of Contents

1 Introduction: Aesthetic Judgment in the Contemporary Art World

2 The Eccentric Artist: Negotiating Creative Autonomy in the Art World

3 Experimentation and Emotion: Developing Distinctive Creative Visions

4 Interpretive Guides: Exhibiting Work and Shaping Meaning

5 Eyes and Ears: Collecting Work and Maintaining Connoisseurship

6 Producing Creative Visions: Presenting Evolving Trajectories over Careers

7 Conclusion: Aesthetic Judgment in the Creative Process


Methodological Appendix




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