Current research on artistic groups suggests the career benefits of being place-based. This article examines the Chicago Imagists—a group defined by local recognition in Chicago and limited national renown—to explain the limits of these benefits when actors’ interests within a local scene diverge. Studying critical discourse on the Imagists from the 1960s to 1980s, we explain how “critical circles,” tied to the interests of regional evaluators, mediate artistic reputations. During initial group formation, Chicago artists and critics shared the goal of developing a distinct local art. However, critics’ investment in defining the boundaries of a “Chicago” style to further their careers ultimately diverged from Imagists’ investment in mastering a broader “American” style to further theirs. Chicago critics’ ensuing debates about the parochial limits of the label—and New York critics’ framing of Imagist work as provincial—further came to organize the very regionalism Imagist artists hoped to evade. We argue that attending to the divergent interests in the cultural field within which collaborative circles operate expands understanding of how affordances of place shape artistic careers. This study has further implications for theorizing the interplay of impression management and strong program perspectives on cultural wealth.
- Chicago Imagists
- Collaborative circles
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science