Friday, January 30, 2009

The Value of Art: Recession and the Rise of Art

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,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
New York Art Exchange
London Calling


Anonymous said...

When the economy is good people take things for granted and give into excess.

Mark Staff Brandl said...

Great Brian!

Anonymous said...

Do these artists who rose from the ashes of recession necessarily have more value than the larger masses of artists who disappeared from the markets during lean times?

Do they have more, or better, meaning? Or did they just embody the qualities that most ensured their ability to survive?

People actually look for "value" more during lean times. Value meaning "bang for your buck" if you will. People start avoiding overpriced assets in favor of underpriced things or other "safe" investments. On Wall Street and the art market, I'd assume.

So it would make sense that the market would latch onto a few up and comers during each recession to invest in at early periods of their careers as opposed to artists currently at a stage in their development where their prices may be relatively inflated.

Similarly, one would expect art investors to sink more money into well established commodities, such as Picassos, and other high high end historically relevant objects.

I don't know that art made during recessions necessarily reflects an increase in meaning or depth in the pieces created, it just creates a sort of darwinist naroowing of the population...

Anonymous said...

The above comment comparing the art market to the Stock Market is interesting to think about. The two are very much the same. But I don't think people view stocks in search of meaning or for emotional, spiritual, or philosphical connections.

Anonymous said...

You're probably right for the most part, but I think art buyers buyy based on emotional response as much during boom times as bust times- they are just more likely to make impulse buys when they have a lot of disposable cash. So when looking at the difference between boom and bust times in the art market, I think it becomes worthwhile to view it in the colder economic terms.

Anonymous said...

Art was a commodity, people bought because they saw huge sales at auction houses, and prices for established and new artists skyrocketing, it was about money. View the Nouveau Riche Russians, they jumped in when oil prices peaked, bailed when the started going down, actually went to the places adn saw the fools involved, and prices started to tank at Art Basel and after the absurdity of the Hirst auction.

Those who were in it for the money are gone, looking elsewhere for investment, those who like the attention and absurd idea that artistes are "cool", learned their lesson and gone, Those who truly know and love art, a very small sliver, are looking for bargains, as they have the knowledge and now even more spending powre, to buy waht they want, and know will be worthy to either sell when needed, or donate to a museum at death.

Its not a depression that brings out new or great art, been plenty in the past, its a reevaluation of who we are, our purpose, about waht art is, and how it is important to mankind. Thats been lost for a long time. We will see wht happens, the academies ahve brainwashed gernerations of poor hapless souls. Those who werent strong enough to resist its self worship anyway, but some may come to their senses, and begin to understand what is truly important in life.

Its a helluva lot of work to learn ones craft, and throw out what was useless. Picasso did, he knew what he had learned eearleir was false, and after 1905 restarted his search, and redid his ways of thinking, feeling, and producing art. Those who can may come up with something good, those who dont, well, theres always interior design, or house painting.

Time will tell, but responsibility to ones fellow man, Truth, and passion drive art, Mankind, Nature and God its subjects. Always. How ones approaches these essentials varies, many different styles can arise, depending on sensibilities and knowledge, but deep, hard, long learning is ahead, and must have all thoughts of oneself and one grandeur or career thrown out the window, for vanity kills art.

Lets get to work.

art collegia delenda est

Anonymous said...

Yes, It is true desperate times make artist make better art. I know my own art has become much better in this recession. Things -- ART becomes more UNIQUE and original.

Janet Roots said...

In response to J.D.:
"Do these artists who rose from the ashes of recession necessarily have more value than the larger masses of artists who disappeared from the markets during lean times?"

I think one could make the argument that lean economic times create an atmosphere of artistic freedom that does not exist when the world is less financially challenged - a sort of "oh, well, what's left to lose?" mentality. The three artists Brian mentions were each groundbreakers in their way. And yes, I think the artists (though not necessarily their art) do have more value than the ones who disappear in recessions, because it takes a level of commitment beyond what most people would consider sane to pursue one's passion without the carrot of huge financial gain hanging in front of your nose.

"Do they have more, or better, meaning? Or did they just embody the qualities that most ensured their ability to survive?"

Hmm. Isn't the "ability to survive" very close to the definition of timeless art? And doesn't that also require deeper meaning in the artwork?

I maintain an optimistic view: that recessions act as a sieve for those who are driven toward art purely for monetary gain and that they are occasionally necessary for the overall health of the artworld, rather like forest fires clear out the dead wood and enrich the soil, thus encouraging new growth.

Artists have always had an uncomfortable relationship with their patrons: they need them and resent them at the same time. When sources of money are thinned out during a recession, the artist is forced to look to his/her own resources and develop business skills that in fatter times they may eschew or hand off to others. I think acquiring or refining those skills benefits the artist. At the very least, it forces one to consider the "value" of one's art, both in pecuniary and creative terms. Historically, the shrewd entrepreneur/artist (e.g., in the field of music, Haydn) has always fared better than the devil-may-care genius (think, Mozart). Why shouldn't artists be involved in their own business world, beyond the "manufacturing" stage? Then the sound of the art investors' wallets closing needn't be the knell of doom, but a call to get more creative in every way.