What attracts us to art exhibits featuring key players in contemporary art? What attracts us to art fairs that involve millions of dollars worth of art? Could it be that art appreciation today is defined by dollar signs-- the monetary value of the work rather than the meaning? Does money come before the idea? If this is the case, how is art to be appreciated during times of recession? Furthermore, how is art to be appreciated during a borderline depression? Or does money play little part in our interest?
Are we still captivated by the intrinsic value of art-- or must specific pieces be attached to a lengthy and “successful” sales history in order for it to have value within our collective conscious? Needless to say, the current status of the art world-- closed galleries, rescheduled art fairs-- has me thinking. During the ‘best of times’ does our sense of art appreciation falter only to be rediscovered during times of economic turmoil? I think so.
The irony of the current economic situation is that we have seen it before-- perhaps not on this scale in our lifetime, but we have seen it. If you look at recent art history you will find that select artists rise during times of financial turmoil and recession. One could say that people, in general, focus on meaning rather than the value of art during these times. In other words, it appears that specific artworks are more apt to make a connection with the public during times of financial struggle. Thus, I have no doubt that a handful of artists who are currently living on the edge for their art will eventually be the key players of tomorrow.
The cycle continues. Those who rise today will first be acknowledged for the meaning behind their art only to be embraced later down the road-- once the economy recovers-- for its high monetary value and strict
marketability. After all, when we read about important works it often seems that the money involved with the art or the wealth of the artist himself or herself plays a significant role in how the art is reported on. It begs the question-- why do we lose the philosophical or emotional connection with art once the economy is stable?
There is a direct connection between recession and the elevation of art. Look at the recent past-- the YBAs found their voice during a time of recession. Indeed, the likes of Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin went on to define the contemporary art scene in the United Kingdom. Before that many artists, including Andy Warhol, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and a long list of art world ‘titans’, were launched into the mainstream during the span of three recessions.-- 1953-1954, 1957-1958, and 1960-1961 respectfully. Their work was embraced during times of uncertainty.
Many of the artists from those years-- living or deceased-- have went on to define how contemporary art is perceived while their works have dominated the art market at the same time. One could say that their art formed the foundation for the contemporary art market that we have come to know. Unfortunately, when we read about their work we are more apt to find articles that are focused on money rather than meaning. Take for example an article I read about James Rosenquist recently-- the author had to throw in the fact that his work has sold for millions-- as if that is why we should value Rosenquist as an artist. The same can be said for artists who made their mark during recession in the early 1980s-- Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schnabel, Francesco Clemente, among others.
It appears that recession creates the perfect condition for specific artists to rise to the next level due to ideas and meaning that are embraced during times of economic woe. The question-- is meaning lost once the economy recovers and the art that resonated during the time of struggle becomes more about monetary value than its philosophical or emotional value? When art is thought of on terms of financial gain does it lose meaning as far as art appreciation is concerned? Does the financial aspect of art foster the idea that only art involving high monetary value is of cultural significance?
Consider this an open debate about the value of art and the connection between the rise of art-- and specific artists-- during recession compared to the market for their art when the economy is stable.
Take care, Stay true,
New York Art Exchange