Many professional artists I know base some, but not all, of their income on art sales. Hopefully, they will be able to tighten their belts, attend fewer residencies, and create works on paper. However, even those who teach are going to face a reduction in opportunities. I can see it already. Grants for ‘special’ programs aren’t being granted, and this affects everyone who isn’t tenured faculty. Art Galleries are closing and this is sad in itself, but also means fewer exhibition opportunities for artists. The mad cycle that is the art market is slowing down. On the bright side, maybe this means less second-rate art fairs?
Art is still a good investment, probably better than the stock market. We all saw Enron sell off their last, most valuable asset to pay back employee pensions – the art collection – when that company folded. Art Collectors will continue to buy, but will stick with blue chip artists for their collections, rather than unknown emerging artists. This, in turn, will affect who galleries are showing – safe stuff. And I am sorry, but Sol Le Witt does not need another show, last time I checked.
You can see where I’m going with this. But, I am trying to look at this whole thing as a ‘correction’ rather than as a depression. I am trying to see this downtime as a natural, and even good, part of the cycle. I am trying to see this as an opportunity. But for what?
I think we can all admit there were too many bad works of art selling for top dollar. When you read about art auctions in the big NY art houses, everything now is selling for well under the ‘established’ value and people seem shocked and outraged. I think the values were inflated, just like the real estate market. I think we were all a bit too obsessed with selling and the market. This should never supercede the making of good art, but sometimes it does. Sometimes a deadline overtakes inspiration and this is evident, whether we like it or not, in the work.
Maybe we all need to do less running around and less exhibiting. I know I do. One possible outcome of this recession is a hunkering down, an inward search, and actually having time to work in the studio. Another outcome is that art communities will jump on the ‘fresh and local’ bandwagon which is overtaking food — from the top down. If Baltimore institutions and top collectors can no longer afford to buy in New York, maybe they will invest in their own communities of fantastic artists right here. Opportunities for Baltimore artists like the Sondheim Prize and the Baker Artist Awards will take on an even larger role, in terms of supporting and growing the arts here in Baltimore and keeping young artists here.
It’s not as if Baltimore ever had an out-of-control art market anyway, but it could use a dose of reality just the same. Artists will keep making work because they have to and it is what they do. But hopefully they will become more discerning about where and when they put the work out there. Showing work is great, but making good work that satisfies and challenges is much more important. I predict an increase in quality, and hopefully in honesty, in the next few years of art-making and buying.
We don’t have to give up, but we will have to get more creative. As it says in The Grapes of Wrath, “the corn could go as long as something else remained.” What is that ‘something else’? I am pretty sure the Joad family was not talking about flat screen TV’s. I keep hearing that we all need to buy things to improve the economy. I think this is backwards. The ‘something else’ is most likely something you can’t even buy.
We artists are creative and resilient. We don’t need no stinkin’ bailout plan from outside ourselves! But we do need that certain ‘something else’ to find our way through new challenges. Luckily, it appears we will have the downtime, an opportunity, to search.