For the Last Time, the Recession is Not Good for Art

The argument I keep hearing goes something like this, “Now that all the idiots aren’t blowing hedge fund (or ponzi scheme) money on idiot art, all us here good artists can ascend to our rightful place.  People will now see the bargains on quality and everything will be OK.”

First, there’s the whole “quality” debate.  Quotation marks, I know… May I refer you to Dave Hickey in the February Art in America.  Honestly, if I didn’t fear the wrath of the Scathing Online Schoolmarm (were I to merit such attention) I’d have put both “good” and “art” in quotes.  Because, well, you know.

After that there’s tangible, social reality.

Alexandra Peers came down on my side in the NY Times http://nymag.com/news/intelligencer/55021/. Or, I came down on hers — whichever it were.

She offers a more level, fact-based argument.

I’d like to add a different two cents.

First, I happen to have first hand knowledge that bad art exists at all price ranges, as does good art.  I sort of chafe at the implication that quality is somehow being suppressed by hipsters and wealthy art fashionistas.  There’s a bit of Van Gogh-ism in it — a romantic mythology of geniuses enduring obscure squalor.  A direct to DVD Disney movie.

Next, let me ask, what makes you think that all the people guffawing over themselves for having dropped a now-aging YBA‘s name over a $30 coctail will be interested in your “real” art, anyway?

Those who have unloaded  unheard of assloads of cash on Takashi Murakami sculptures (go ahead, click it) or on Damien Hirst’s best efforts to transubstantiate pure marketing into concrete form are not really looking for the capital “A” art of such rumored low-priced quality.  Different people want a lot of different things from the vast diaspora of what we used to call art, that we still call art.  I find it difficult to believe that the high-rollers have all been duped.  Their relationship with a thing we spell “a-r-t” is something different, something more Wall St., more K Street, an exchange of ambition; an air of the old, old world of the Collector.  The objects they buy and sell do indeed carry meaning, just like art does.  I’m inclined to believe they’ve been getting exactly what they wanted from their objects, and I’m not of a disposition to try to deny them any of it.

The art world, or any subsection of it, is very much a dialogue about what we value.  And, the values run deeper than the objects that convey them.  To think that someone fawning over Shephard Fairey will suddenly drop cash for a deep, extended, meaningful engagement with a two-dimensional surface is sort of silly, isn’t it?  It’s like saying, “You like toast.  Man, have I got some tacos you’ll just die for.”

Barring the possibility that newly unemployed art collecting elite bide their time with art appreciation classes, the best I can imagine is that if the fast-flying spectacles of the art world do indeed ride out on a wave of unfundedness, no more ironically post-ironic boobies to condescend over, at least a bunch of us will be less irritated when we finally get invited to a vernissage.

Meanwhile, my government-supported job to create opportunities for visual artists and (eventually) open an art center will plod right along in defiance of any market drop that comes our way.