The most recent Artnet News magazine has a cover story headline titled “Art As Industry.” I ask, “Is art an industry? Should art be considered an industry?”
In the past, there are those who believed that art would be compromised/ controlled if it was: created for money, controlled by what others liked, what was popular, a particular content, a particular color or if it matched your sofa. What controls industry? According to the online dictionary, industry is defined as: “economic activity concerned with the processing of raw materials and manufacture of goods in factories..” Has the studio become a factory? Is art the manufacturing of goods? If art is an industry and industry is controlled by money, then, would art be controlled by what sells and what doesn’t sell?
So does money determine the value of art today? Is that what ArtNews is implying? This entire issue of ArtNews was filled with quotes about money. The money spent justified their claim that art is now an industry. One section was labeled “Record Breakers” with the subtitle: “Here are the Most Expensive Works of Art Sold at Auction in the Past 30 years.” They had statistics on the highest dollar amount spent on a single painting of a living artist and of a dead artist. They had statistics and pricing from art auction houses, galleries, and art museums. They talked about the business of art collecting.
You get the idea. After reading the entire issue, I was convinced that the values that controlled the concept of art were not as I used to think they were. I used to think art was uncontrolled and ungoverned, but ArtNet Magazine is suggesting there is a shift of how we value art and that art is now controlled by auction houses, galleries, collectors and what is popular.
Living in a capitalist country, this is what capitalism is all about, the dollar. But is it really? Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned. Capitalism is also about the choices we make. So, I ask, “Don’t artists privately own their ideas and thoughts that they create from?” The answer is simple; no, they don’t. Frequently, an artist’s ideas and visual form are focused on thoughts and ideas for others. The problem today is how to identify a unique idea, a one of a kind idea, and call it your own. How does an artist keep their unique selves and at the same time, survive within the industry?
Haven’t I always addressed art as an individual pursuit? Shouldn’t this individual pursuit be part of the value of art? Isn’t this why so many folks want to understand the arts and be a part of them, not only as ArtNet news claims as an industry, but for the pure sense of uniqueness and individualism?
There is something concerning in the notion of art as an industry for me, and that is the concept of collectivism: in collecting. Markets thrive on collectivism. But those who are at the top thrive on independence and individualism. How do artists remain at the top and not lose their independence, their individualism or their soul if they choose to survive through industries and markets? I think of Jean Michel Basquiat and what happened to him as an excellent example of losing one’s soul and becoming part of the market.
If the value of art is based on the dollar and as ArtNews suggests, it has become an industry, a collective industry. Then, I am very concerned for what will happen to the concept of art in the future. Will it still exist as unique and individual? Does someone collect because they, too, are individuals and can relate to a work that was created by an artist? Or does one collect based on financial numbers?
I have written in the past about minimalism and where historically, splashes of color fit in the art arena. When color fields were first created by artists, they were concerned with the origins of an art work, its beginning. Today color fields are created to be a splash of color on the walls and the splash of color is color coordinated with other colors in a room. These forms of art or “want to be art” are perhaps what are driving some of the numbers ArtNet News is talking about. Granted not all of them. They quoted numbers for Van Gogh’s and Picasso’s. Why or why can’t there be numbers like that for artists living today? Why? Because there are very few unique and one of a kinds around.
I do believe the collector, the museum and the art gallery need to lose the notion that the value of art lies in what is different, what is new, and what is shocking, which were linked to the discourses surrounding the modernists. Arts uniqueness for a while was based on those ideas. That is the thing, art is unique, individual and independent and if that is what the art industry represents all I can say is, “Yea.” But, I didn’t get that impression with this issue of ArtNet news.
Since the 1960’s so many artists have entered the “art” arena. Not all their work will be seen by the markets that ArtNet news uses as examples for art as an industry. Does that make their work less of an art object? Or again, does capitalism win? This time not in a good way for art, this time, it would be about survival of the fittest. So, does that mean the artist, (I mean an artist whose work is individual and unique and their hand can be seen in the work), needs to now learn how to market their work? When they do, will they lose the uniqueness that shines through their work and be caught up in commodity and the collective?
Nothing has changed. The battle to keep art uncontrolled, ungoverned, and unencumbered appears that perhaps ArtNet News is right, artists need to enter the arena of art as an industry. Yes, at the same time for sheer survival they must know themselves and remain true to themselves and create “art”, not décor.