During the late 1980s, the near-worship of artistic genius produced auction sales of works by Vmcent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso for tens of millions of dollars, over $15 million for a painting by Jasper Johns, and record prices for works by many other deceased and even living masters. At the same time, it was no longer controversial in academic and intellectual circles to maintain that art works are the products of what Howard Becker has termed collective activity carried out within loosely defined art worlds: Works of art, from this point of view, are not the products of individual makers, "artists" who possess a rare and special gift. They are, rather, joint products of all the people who cooperate via an art world's characteristic conventions to bring works like that into existence. Artists are some sub-group of the world's participants who, by common agreement, possess a specialgift, therefore make a unique and indispensable contribution to the work, and thereby make it art. (1982: 35) The concept of the art world-with its central focus on the collective, social, and conventional nature of artistic production, distribution, and appreciation--confronts and potentially undermines the romantic ideology of art and artists still dominant in Western societies.