May 20, 2009

Is the bad economy good for artists?

The NYT interviewed a lot of artists and extracted the insight that not being able make money unleashes creativity. Starving artists, you know. They are the good guys. The patrons they would kowtow to are the bad guys.
[Artist Cadine Navarro said] that she hoped the economic pressure would weed out “market-oriented art that is being churned out by the bulk. Onward!”
When the patrons disappear, art flourishes. Do you believe that?


AJ Lynch said...

Journalism is a craft as well? Can we expect an improvement there?

Paddy O. said...

Bad art flourishes, because when the patrons disappear, the artists are funded by the government.

If no one is buying the art, the artists can't actually go ahead and starve. That would be unseemly and uncultural.

traditionalguy said...

The comment seems to say that quality art will sell better when the pretend artists go get a real job. That is true. Patrons are well and good and many still are wealthy. But the key to Art in culture is the passing along of skills and techniques to newcomers which Schools od Art and Design still do as more and more $$ flows into funding school for everyone.

EnigmatiCore said...

Sounds like the New York Times business model, applied to artistic endeavors.

Perhaps the Old Grey Lady is nothing more than performance art?

chickenlittle said...

When the patrons disappear, art flourishes. Do you believe that?

No. Artists always flock to patrons. But wealthy artists cease to create.

Sofa King said...

I think the reasoning might be more along the lines that art gets better when patrons become more discriminating.

John Lynch said...

I guess I'm confused about who actually pays for art. If the artist is paying for it himself, I don't see why that can't still happen with rich patrons paying other artists.

If no one is buying art, same thing. So, I don't see the difference.

Other than some artists being angry that other artists are making more money.

Pogo said...

The pain of existence can stimulate creativity.

For example, Freda Kahlo.
Or James Taylor, who wrote some good songs about love and loss, until he got famous.
Then **poof**.

Artists seem to have a bit of the monastic mystic seeking purification.

Bissage said...

“Cartooning is manufacturing.”

-- Sam Gross

Big Mike said...

When the patrons disappear, art flourishes. Do you believe that?


Pogo said...

Well, the answer is surely no, but it's pretty to think that once the dreadful sin of mammon is excised, pure art will spring forth.

Like all that art coming out of Somalia and Zimbabwe, and the USSR art, and North Korean art, etc.

Bissage said...

I used to know someone who served her residency in the psychiatric hospital where James Taylor wrote “Fire and Rain.”

How she came to learn of this I do not know.

Maybe someone passed that factoid along to her as a bit of folklore and institutional pride.

Maybe there’s a plaque in the entrance foyer.

onparkstreet said...

No, I don't think so. It's not about the patron, it's about the artist.

Anyway, history has it's own ideas about good art. Lots of popular stuff (translation - it sold or was noticed by critics) is forgotten. You can't always predict who will be remembered as good, or great, or worthwhile.

I dunno what I'm trying to say. All I think is that a lot of contemprary arty art in museums seems silly to me because it's about some supposedly amazing transgressive, progressive, mind-blowing idea, and not about beauty or conveying an experience. And, nine times out of ten, the idea is nothing more than 'to shock'. Which is, like, so done for the past how many decades?

I think academic meddling destroys art more than silly patrons.

commenter said...

I like adam duritz because i am sure we suffer the same patterns of disorder.

I like in his mr jones that everybody wants to be big stars(artists) but we all have different reasons for that.

I heard that he changes the line every now and then in concerts

when everybody loves you ( i assume that means you are making money as a big artist) you're just about as funky as you can be

sometimes people hear

when everybody loves you , you're just about as f8cked up as you can be.

Bissage said...

One of my school chums had a father who was an artist. He said, “Art is the first thing that people can do without.” That was a word to the wise.

traditionalguy said...

The Art Market is in large part an attempt to convince bored and rich people to think that an artist is so special that what you pay 10K for today will one day be worth much more, and in the meantime you get bragging rights among your friends. That story is seldom true, but it never loses its appeal. Finally the Patron will donate it to a charity/goverment/school as decor and inflates a tax deduction to recover some of what he was conned into paying for it. Or he can use denial and continue to pretend that he has a rare treasure. So yes, today's fear of throwing away more money will cut down on newly rich marks who will play the game.

Salamandyr said...

Good god, this is not true. And fie on this person for her disdain for "market-oriented art" by which she means "art that people actually like".

Richard Dolan said...

It's just a simple instance of the supply/demand dynamic at work. As demand goes down, so will supply (and the number of suppliers, here 'artists'). But the winners will be those best able to supply whatever the (diminished) market demands. Far from "weed[ing] out 'market oriented art,'" the effect is likely to be the opposite. Ms. Navarro would be right only if 'demand' was a function of 'quality' (in whatever sense Ms. Navarro measures it), while 'market oriented' meant 'marginal' in this context. Seems unlikely to me.

In one sense, Ms. Navarro is offering stardard romantic, true-artist-as-solitary-genius fluff. In another sense, one needs something to hang on to, a narrative to make sense of one's choice of a difficult path, when demand dries up and prospects look grim.

Bissage said...

Re: Standard romantic, true-artist-as-solitary-genius fluff.

I once knew a woman of little accomplishment who thought of herself as an artist.

She was seeing a psychotherapist who specialized in treating the disorders of the mentally gifted.

I am not making this up.

Henry said...

Since most artists don't make money anyway, I'm not sure how anything has changed.

I would add that the best artist I know personally is the best because he paints no matter what.

To add some perspective on how much "weeding out" might be necessary, I direct Althouse readers to this classic slam on the artists market, Walter Darby Bannard's "The Art Glut" (Arts, December 1986, pp. 22 - 23):

Art is too popular. There is too much of it. I remember when everyone wanted to be an actor. Now everyone wants to be an artist. I read in a magazine the other day that there are 90,000 artists in New York City. 90,000! That's more people than there are in Scranton. Probably more than there are working as cab drivers and short-order cooks in Manhattan. I don't know where they got the number but I assume it is somehow "official." Is it too high? Half as many would be amazing. Call it 50,000. If each of them makes just twenty works a year that's a million works of art made in New York City each year. In ten years, ten million. Add in all the art made in other cities and art centers and the endless boondocks and you've got one stupendous lot of art out there....And here's a quote to remember:

In the past we absorbed the lesser art pretty well. There was less of it, for one thing, and it was better, for another.

Zeb Quinn said...

As a general proposition, an artist struggling to be noticed creates better art than he does as a famous artist in his efforts to recreate himself.

It's not a patronage thing, it's a recognition thing.

Henry said...

Read Bannard's "On Pluralism" (Arts, Summer, 1986, pp. 84 - 85) for more in that vein:

Great art does not spring en masse from a flat field like tulips in Holland. It is made just like history tells us it is made, by a few talented people working in a narrow style. Narrowness and concentration are the muscle of art-making. Art doesn't care about broadness and fairness and availability, and it doesn't care about those who do. Art, as art, is disinterested. All it wants is a few geniuses and a good solid, simple, dry, unitary nonaffective art style.

In an odd way, Bannard might agree with Navarro. Let the churned-out market-oriented bulk be weeded! Where he might disagree with Navarro -- or the sad performance-space director pictured in The Times article -- is what constitutes "market oriented."

Many artists, forever toddling between the academy, the collective and the cooperative, seem unaware of how conformist and market-oriented their unconventionalities are.

TMink said...

Good art often comes from pain. Not always, but think how many singers or songwriters do graet, impassioned work, then the pain leaves and so does the depth of their work.

And artists do art, it is in them and it has to come out! Selling is another thing entirely, real writers write.


AllenS said...

A timely thread. I just finished painting half a wall in the shop. It's kind of Picassoesque, but without the silly stuff.

rdh said...

I completely agree with the article. Remember all that Medici-sponsored art? Patron-oriented garbage!

commenter said...

i wonder if picasso could steal anything off my hard drive or even live feed would he? m i worthy?

would i be proud or insulted?

Bissage said...

The important thing to bear in mind is that Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole.

chickenlittle said...

Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole.

Not in New York ;)

Pogo said... his face.

no, no, no bed.

Aaron said...

Gotta love the logic.

If no one likes it, and no one buys it, its a sign that its good.

its a weird anti-free-market, anti-democracy attitude. The great mass of the people don't know what they should like. they are too stupid to make that decision for themselves. its elitist and wrong.

As for the NEA, i say cut it back to ancient egyptian exhibits at museams and the like, and let go of the modern art game. First, to pay for art as we blow a hole in the nation's debt is like buying a porche the day you get laid off. its dumb, fiscally.

Second, i think its almost impossible to avoid turning it into a political hobby horse. so the artist insulting Bush gets money and the artist insulting Obama doesn't. Its wrong, so let's cut it out.

Third, inevitably this art will offend us. i don't believe you should force a person to see their values, their God, etc. insulted as a rule of thumb, but i also believe that we shouldn't be excercising editorial control over these artists generally, so i say pull the plug on the whole thing.

Of course it will never happen. Even as Callifornia is on the brink of bankruptcy, they can't stop funding stupid things. Nothing less than a complete collapse of the US government budget will change that and maybe not even then.

Henry Buck said...

The artistic richness of the Renaissance resulted from rising wealth, particularly among the merchant class. Oh, the horror of those narrowminded Dutch merchants who imposed Vermeer upon us!

Anyway, there is nothing new under the Sun:

"Well, you see the idea of artists depending upon a patron Lady Bountiful has more or less gone out."

Mike (Jimmy Stewart) in The Philadelphia Story - 1940

Cabbage said...

Will Durant noted, over half a century ago, that art is the conversion of capital into beauty. If we look at the history of western art, this is quite clear. The Italian Renaissance began when Florence and the Church became wealthy enough to support art creation. Art spread across the continent as wealth grew.

Much of what is called art today is not; without beauty, it cannot be art. Of course, art can be both beautiful and political, ground-breaking, unique, or a challenge to the patriarchal assumption of our racial-capitalist hegemons -- Goya is a good example.

What so many supposed artists fail to understand today is how they must, before all else, produce beauty. They take the surplus wealth in our society, and humanize it. There is so much surplus capital lying about that the comings and goings of the stock market should have no effect. So long as at least some people have money left over after meeting their expenses for food, shelter, and sex, they can finance art. Paint ain't exactly expensive.

rocketeer67 said...

It's an oddly self-defeating argument that ends up treating "art" as if it were a manufactured commodity, or a chemical equation, or an engineering formula. Just come up with the right mix of conditions and "good art" is "produced." If that were true, of course, art departments would be folded into science & egineering schools or business schools.

Great art just happens. Or not. Sometimes it comes from rich artists (W.C. Handy) and sometimes poor (Van Gogh). It's generated by highly individual genius and highly individual circumstances that are unpredictable and unreproduceable.

David said...

My son, the artist, would tell you that this woman is full of shit.

Problem is, hard times tend to squeeze out the good art more than the bad. The world is awash in bad art. Cockroach art--it will survive anything.

ricpic said...

All art has to meet the test of the market.
--Robert Frost

commenter said...

If you have never worked, you can't really be unemployed.

if the kids and husband are gone and you don't have a house or home, you can't be a housewife.

If you are doing what you always have been doing with your life for yourself, you can't be retired.

what do you say when they ask you at the bank, at the rental office, at social gatherings, on forms, occupation?

dietary intake aware artist is the only plausible answer if you have produced even one drawing, you eat what nutritionists recommend, and you really are thin, occupying less space in girth than most people your age. i try and ask forgiveness for the space taken up with my height.

Robert Cook said...

I suggest the connection between bad or good economic times and the flourishing of art, to the degree there is one, has to do with the cost of rent.

When rents are low, artists can afford to flock together in low rent communities and spend more of their time (or all of it) working at their art rather than at jobs of work. This time spent at their art, combined with the stimulation and cross-pollination that is part of artists' communities often sparks the production of vital new art. Also, once one or two artists in such a community find an audience, attention begins to be paid to others in the community who are producing good work. One thinks of the Impressionists in France in the 19th Century, as well as the modernists in early 20th Century Paris, (Picasso, Braque, etc. etc.), the Surrealists of slightly later, also in Paris, or the nonobjectivist artists in mid-century New York or the musicians in 70s New York who created what later came to be known as "punk," (taken up slightly later in London), or the creaters of rap music in the Bronx, concurrent with the development of the CBGBs bands downtown.

It helps when these communities of young aspiring artists work in cosmopolitian cities where media is concentrated, to ease the dissemination of news about the new artists and their work to the larger community, locally and abroad. There are many good or even brilliant artists who, if they work in isolation, away from other artists or from media attention, may never be discovered.

In short, it is the community of artists, made possible by a poor economy, that is good for artists.

Ignacio said...

More of "Pablo Picasso" (by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers):

Some people try to pick up girls
and get called assholes
This never happened to
Pablo Picasso

Well he could walk down your street
and girls could not resist his charm
Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole

Not like YOU

Freeman Hunt said...

Sure. Patrons didn't have anything to do with the great art of the past like all that old stuff in the Louvre, right?


Sigivald said...

History suggests the answer is a flat "no".

Most (not quite all) of the best art we have was created either to make money directly or for a patron who was paying for it.

It's perhaps less common in literature, but by no means unknown.

Salamandyr is absolutely right - marketable art is that art that people like to look at, which is not separable from "good art".

(There is also good art that isn't popular, but the idea that the popular and marketable is not art by virtue of being Not Purely An Expression Of Artistic Integrity In An Economic Vacuum?

Purest rubbish.

Tell it to William Morris, or Alfons Mucha.)

Palladian said...

Museums have storehouses full of terrible paintings. Most people don't realize this because good museums rarely display their terrible paintings. Last year the Metropolitan Museum put on a show where it displayed every Dutch painting that it owned that was painted contemporary with Rembrandt Van Rijn's career. The good, the bad and the ugly. It was quite interesting to see paintings that you never saw before and will never see again.

Here's the interesting part: in the 17th century in the Low Countries, mainly Holland, historians estimate that nearly 6 million paintings were made and sold, mostly to the local market. That's right, for every "Old Master" you see, there are millions of good, fair, mediocre and terrible paintings lurking in the storage of museums and in private homes and collections that you will never see. The market arose with the appearance of the Dutch middle class. All those artists, the great ones and the lousy ones, were making work to satisfy a market. It wasn't until the late 18th and particularly the dreaded 19th century that ridiculous romantic notions of Ars Gratia Artis gave every semi-talented hack and every glorified Sunday painter the delusional idea that art exists outside a need, desire and/or market for looking at and/or owning it.

The real problem came when in the 1960s, after abstract expressionism, when art became completely detached from the idea of craft. You didn't need to make anything anymore. You just needed to be clever and seem intellectual and most of all appear fashionable.

Bad economies are good for art in several ways: they weed out the unserious and they force the serious to make better products to compete for scarcer resources.

Sadly, the legacy of the 1960s still distorts the supply/demand of the contemporary art world. It no longer matters if you're really good. What matters is that you attend the right parties and ingratiate yourself to the right art marketeers. This was certainly necessary in the distant past, but a good product was also generally required.

I wish the Catholic Church still commissioned art.

Palladian said...

"Salamandyr is absolutely right - marketable art is that art that people like to look at, which is not separable from "good art"."

This is not true. Marketable art is art that will likely produce a good return on investments. Quality is something different.

rocketeer67 said...

Quality is something different.Ha! Tell that to the secondary mortgage market.

TMink said...

Palladian wrote: "The real problem came when in the 1960s, after abstract expressionism, when art became completely detached from the idea of craft."

Indeed. My father had a wonderful gift, he made these tight, detailed watercolors. He had wonderful control, but had trouble knowing what to paint. So he would look through my photographs and use those for the composition.

His teachers were always after him to loosen up, but that was not my father, he was not a loose guy. He had this wonderful craft, this amazing small muscle control, and we love having his paintings around the house and office.

I do think there is something to be said for art as a medium of self expression, but then you do not care how other people react, or at least, not very much.


Joe M. said...

Bullshit. Just look at Greece and Rome. One of the first signs that things were about to go bad was that the quality of the art took a dive.

Stability -> Prosperity -> Money for luxuries -> Good pay for good artists -> Better art.

Joe M. said...

(sure it's a simplistic analysis, but you get the point).

tim maguire said...

When the patrons disappear, art flourishes. Do you believe that?Yes. Cheap rent helps too.

Bridget E. Wilde said...

I make some money selling mediocre art. When there are more people with money - or the people who like my art have more money - I tend to produce more interesting, challenging, and "artistic" art because I can count on better sales and better prices, and even occasional donations from supporters, so I can afford to spend my time on growth and personal development.

When there are few people buying or the people who like my art are broke, I produce artwork with the subject matter that sells best, but takes the least investment of time and effort. Often geared specifically towards those buyers who I know are still funded.

I "churn out" the most "market-oriented" art when the economy has not only eroded my market but also eroded my earnings at my day job, so that the money from art is not just to improve my earnings but actually to survive, and I need to produce twice as much to get the same amount of money. Like now.

Economic pressure may well weed out the dilettantes, but it also surely weeds out people who do have terrific art in them but also have to deal with reality. And it still leaves people who produce dreck by any standard but have trust funds or other stable support and can do what they please, not to mention those like me who are mediocre but have few other options but to keep slogging away in mediocrity until the market opens up again and there is breathing room to even worry about how "good" the art is.

Chris Althouse Cohen said...

My own personal experience is that I am more productive with creative stuff when I'm not worried about money. If you're worried about money, the mindset you need to go into in order to solve the problem is often not an artistic one. When you're not worried about it, you can feel free to be more aloof and off in a dream world. But my response to a type of circumstance might be different from other people's.