If my title is not cynical, what can I possibly mean when funds are being cut to non-profits, when people look twice at the cost of theater tickets and stay home to watch broadcast television, when even masterpieces fail to bring in money for Christies? All luxury or nonessential purchases like books and art will be scaled back. Strapped corporations and executives are dumping their vanity collections onto the prestige auction houses who are seeing prices and attendance fall precipitously. Many small art-related businesses will fail, including bookstores, small theater companies, galleries, even museums. Surely this is a time for a great wailing to arise in the land of the creatives, who have already pinned their last hopes on a new W.P.A program that will surely be announced soon.
So why in Picasso's name would this be a good time to be an artist or writer? Let's start with Bush or should I say Bush-hating. Artists and writers have been a disproportionate amount of effort "fighting the man." The stance, however justified, made it easy to structure plots and feel good about poorly realized efforts because the artist was focused on the urgent need to topple the evil regime. How much subtlety was required?
With a new dynamic Democratic administration firmly gripping power in Washington, there is no longer a need to waste any more effort haranguing the public about the war in Iraq, and his other unpopular positions. Soon "his" mistakes will be "our" mistakes as Democrats innovate and/or borrow from the previous administration and we will only have our own to blame. Only the farthest left of us (like the ones already unhappy with Obama's practicality) will continue to use artistic outrage as their main source for inspiration.
I am hoping the whole concept of "artist as politician" phase will come to an end. Sure, we can still support our causes of global warming, corporatism, land mines, and nuclear disarmament if we like, but adults in Washington will be doing their best to represent the constituencies that have promoted these causes. We no longer will have to shout at them, though there is no guarantee that we will like their solutions or pace. Nevertheless, artists will find the protest stance somewhat emptier, somewhat less compelling and, hopefully will be moving on to new, less knee-jerk, less repetitive, less strident content.
Back to the issue of business failures in the art community. It's not that I think the art world is too fat and will benefit from a crash diet, but it's worth thinking about who the market for art has been and who it might become. Art has been, in a sense, also feeding at the trough of the high finance world. How many people can afford a painting over say $10,000 (and I'm stretching here). Clearly the middle class doesn't buy much original art. Why not? Because the content (often incomprehensible but supported by museums and academics) is largely non-compelling to average people.
In the literary world, where the readership is shrinking, agents and publishers are running scared. They want another J. K. Rowling phenomenon but aren't sure where and how to find it. Meanwhile a tsunami of self publishers and bloggers are going around the publishing world for their reading. Both the sellers and makers of art need to accept this challenge. If they have something to say, how should they say it and where? New forms, hybrids and experiments are springing up and the world of criticism (e.g. The New York Times Book Review) are holding up their noses in hopes that the riff-raff will all go away soon and everyone will return to network television, Broadway shows and industry-picked "geniuses" in the print world. That's not going to happen. People are entertaining themselves in new ways, from YouTube, to bloggers, to game designers, to "low-brow" art that embraces illustrators, graffiti artists and tattooists as "real" artists. Some see this as a devastating collapse of "high" culture, I see it as evidence that in many ways the arts have not been doing their job.
Music might be an exception as well as an example. While mainstream media continues to site declining CD sales something we're supposed to fret about, an explosion of interest in music is happening all over the world. The internet is allowing us to create our own custom radio stations (e.g. Pandora), iTunes is making it easier to buy exactly what we want, and portable music devices have freed us from Big Radio and Big Music companies. This is partly because, unlike say painting or the literary novel (the bad ones not the good ones), the general public has never given up its love of music and never will. So music will lead the way. Will there be fewer superstar groups but more people creating the music they love? I hope so. Will it be difficult to find the new geniuses if they are not picked out of the crowd and promoted by Big Music? Maybe, maybe not. Most likely the internet will evolve forms of self criticism which will allow more diverse music to survive as the cost of getting that music to the public continues to decline. Overall will less money go to music because people are used to getting it free? Maybe. Inevitably good stuff costs money, think organic produce. People pay more everyday for both the label and the confidence in its quality and taste, even if they can't prove it or taste it.
People will pay to be entertained. Collecting original art on a small scale could conceivably be something people do again once their more confident of their taste. How many people worry about their taste in music needing outside experts to tell them whether or not it's good? I know what I like is the rule. In fact, for millions, if its popular it's already time to dig deeper and find the creatives (the new new) that have already been there and done that and are now doing something altogether new.
So we might be on the edge of a burst in creativity. I'll make my final point be referencing an economically difficult but extremely creative period another country experienced: The Weimar Republic. This from Wikipedia:
"The 1920s saw a massive cultural revival in Germany. It was, arguably, the most innovative period of cultural change in Germany. Innovative street theatre brought plays to the public, the cabaret scene became very popular. Women were americanised, wearing makeup, short hair, smoking and breaking out of tradition. Music was created with a practical purpose, such as Schoenberg's 'atonality' and there was a new type of architecture taught at 'Bauhaus' schools. Art reflected the new ideas of the time with artists such as Grosz being fined for defaming the military and for blasphemy."
There's plenty of opportunity out there, folks, stop whining and get busy!About the Author:
writer, painter, anthropologist