Tommie Soro: Economies of Prestige

Advisor/tutor: Jorinde Seijdel
Independent reviewer: John Byrne
Arnhem, June 2014


In the context of neoliberalism artists have become entrepreneurs of themselves; self-governed commodities. In the marketplaces of social and professional relations an artist's prestige (symbolic capital) functions as a currency which mediates their professional success and the artistic appreciation of their work. This study explores how artists accumulate prestige through their relationship to their subject matter, their participants and to institutions. The study develops three economic models which describe the exchanges of immaterial capital in these relationships: free exchange, extraction and patron-client. Using case studies this paper demonstrates how these economies operate and how, based on the principle of misrecognition, they contribute to the commercialisation of art practice and the increasingly difficult evaluation of artistic merit.


This is a very good/excellent dissertation on the subject of how artists acquire prestige. Tommie begins with an overview of the possible roles and functions of artistic practice within a neo-liberal economy and maps out a range of exchange forms which might enable a closer analysis of the kinds of capital (economic, symbolic, reputational etc.) that an artist or artistic practice might accrue. As such, Tommie's initial analysis of available literature and possible methodological models that could be applied here is excellent (there are some very minor flaws, such as his discussion of M-C-M in Marx, where M is money plus profit – this should be M-C-M' where ' is profit, which allows Marx to begin an analysis of surplus labour). What then follows is a series of case studies, primarily of Tommie's own practice, which are very good and very useful. Tommie uses these instances of practice as both a means to apply the methodological tools he has identified and, through deploying them, to undertake a comparative analysis of worth, value and prestige and their acquisi- tion in contemporary art practice (although some new forms of analysis, such as Rancière's 'redistribution of the sensible' and Duchamp's Co-efficient of Art – via Wright – are introduced as fait accompli, this does not detract from the scrutiny of these sections). Tommie also offers an excellent analysis of his own work at Van Abbemuseum (via 'Capital Please') and the work of Jonas Staal. However, most of these analyses closely align, in a relatively unproblematic way, to Tommie's earlier assertion that 'The artist's relation to their subject matter operates according to an economy of extraction; the artist's relation to participants operates according to an economy of exchange; and the artist's relation to an art institution operates according to a patron-client economy'. This is perhaps the only key flaw, or rather missed opportunity, in the dissertation – that a range of (potentially excellent) assertions could have been tested out more rigorously and critically via the examples and, as such, a range of propositional models for artistic social change (primarily those which attempt to break, transgress or even change the terms and conditions of neo-liberalism) could have been scrutinized in more detail. This, in turn, would have led to a more developed and critically substantial position being developed and, subsequently, a more convincing conclusion being forwarded. However, this remains a very good piece of work.  John Byrne, Senior Lecturer Fine Art, Uses of Art Co-ordinator, Liverpool School of Art and Design