Saturday, February 28, 2009

Will the recession be good for art?

Lately there's been a lot written on this topic. Among the most thoughtful are my favorite art blogger Edward Winkelman, and, in the Times, Holland Cotter, and Dave Hickey in this February Art in America (unfortunately Art in America is not online). Most predict a rejection of irony and academic decadence. That's fine with me, but aside from hearing these same predictions just a few years ago, after 9/11, I have a few other caveats.

I've noticed when people predict the end of decadence, schadenfreude aside, they're referring to art they happen to hate. When you get down to specifics there's a lot less agreement. Is Warhol decadent? How about Jeff Koons? Damien Hurst? Matthew Barney? Mariko Mori?
See what I mean?

More important, I'm not convinced that a big-money, trendy art scene necessarily hurts art or artists. Of course it's disgusting to see art trivialized and people behaving in unseemly ways. It denigrates what most artists do out of sincere conviction and more often than not, financial sacrifice. But historically there are plenty of examples of artists that were hugely popular and richly rewarded (e.g. Rubins and Picasso) and that didn't seem to hurt their art. And sure there's a lot of bad artists that became rich and popular, but their success didn't necessarily exclude other artists from making great art. Just the opposite. These artists support galleries, get the public interested and increase the size of the entire scene increasing the possibility of other artists to succeed -- or at least get shown. It's not like there's a given amount of money out there and if one artist gets it another doesn't.

More often (not surprisingly) it's lack of attention and reward that hurts art. Cultures that don't support the arts rarely produce good art.

But there will certainly be a radical shaking out -- if things get as bad as Paul Krugman predicts there's going to be a much smaller art scene. It'll be an interesting few years watching who and what survive.

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