Like much of the economy the arts are being hammered by the recession.
But this should come as no surprise. With the low level of quality and relevance in much of the arts today, it is no wonder that Americans are zipping their wallets because art is a last priority for most people, truly a frill. And one commentator wrote recently that possibly “this time it’s different”, that this recession may represent a permanent re-orientation that may leave the arts out in the cold for a long time to come.
It is important to think about how this situation evolved. Most so-called “artists” today are completely money-oriented. They have focused on the processes of being an artist – how to show their work, how to meet people, how to sell their paintings – while the undeveloped part is the art itself. It has often been bland, mediocre, unfinished and downright lame.
The reason is simple: The artists today mostly are ordinary people producing ordinary art. Nothing special, no big talent. But somehow they developed an outgrown sense of self-worth that is sometimes backed up by their incomes and their reputations.
From New York to San Francisco and everywhere in between, art became geared toward knockin’ out the product and gettin’ the big check. Some of the prices charged for some of the terrible art of the last 50 years are outrageous.
Today so-called “artists” are overwhelmingly liberals, which means they are money-oriented because liberalism is a secular and materialistic ideology. Money, money, money. Sell, sell, sell. Deny, deny, deny.
From Martha’s Vineyard to Aspen to Palm Springs and Seattle, from New York to Austin to Santa Fe and Missoula, from Nashville to Mobile and Miami, the arts blossomed in a wealthy America. Photographers set up shop in Jackson Hole and took routine nature photographs which commanded staggering sums from the rich clientele that they were pandering to. Painters have lived high in New England from the incomes they generated through their sales in resorts and big cities. Small towns surrounding New York City, and throughout the Northeast, developed arts colonies with a brisk trade. New York City itself became the commercial hub selling really bad art that set the tone for the rest of America.
But the arts today have become a substitute for the real economic development of the past as America has trended from industrial to post-industrial. Many towns came to base their whole identities and economies on art and tourism. Old mills and churches got snapped up for bargain-basement prices and have been turned into studios and personal shrines for individual artists. Where once they worshipped God or made cloth or shoes that were essential to the local or regional economy, they now make sculpture. “Look, I bought a whole factory building for $10,000!” says a thrilled artist.
Now the bottom has fallen out and it may not come back for quite a while. All those mills full of galleries and arteests may revert to their former lives as abandoned structures. All the painters, sculptors and potters who were making small fortunes passing off their workaday wares as visionary works of art now find a shrunken market for their product.
But this all gets back to the idea of who these artists are in the first place. As mentioned above, they are overwhelmingly liberals and they are overwhelmingly part of an arrogant leftist culture. They moved into small towns and took on the air that they are above the local rabble. In Vermont, for instance, the New Yorkers and the Ivy Leaguers moved in and set up a parallel society with that group living high on brie and Chablis while the natives did the hard work.
In New York City, for years you could see galleries passing off junk for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars and artists living very, very well. Artists nationwide got rich off the Reagan Boom of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s while decrying Reagan himself as a greedy agent of capitalism. Yet it is the artists themselves who represent the truly materialistic culture in America – money-loving socialists who were doing great while the going was great.
But now many are getting their heads handed to them economically, all part of their own making. Artists have been card-carrying members of the environmentalist/leftist/no-growth/anti-industrial culture that over the years has turned states like Vermont into economic basket cases. And finally the collapse has caught everyone in its snare including the know-it-all arteests who often themselves were in the vanguard of economic obstructionism and anti-capitalism.
Now funding for art purchases, exhibition spaces, dance troupes etc. has shrunk substantially. Artists suddenly are wondering what happened to their dream of a life of ease and pleasure in the rarefied air. In Crested Butte, Colorado, an artsy ski resort, the populace was utterly opposed to ski area expansion just a few years back. Now most want it. Desperation has set in. But there are no quick fixes, which the arteests do not yet understand because for years they saw magic emerge from their paint brushes. They still think Obama is going to rescue everything.
You could have seen all this coming. Artists no longer were just artists but they became activists and liberal demagogues. Art was once a fugitive endeavor based on passion because there was no money in it. But the wealthy postwar boom changed all that. Many artists were living high on the hog while the economic base of their towns – and of the nation – was slowly eroding out from underneath them. And now they are paying the price along with everyone else.
Back in the boom Bush years, do you remember the mantra of the Democrats? No matter how low unemployment got, no matter how high home prices soared, no matter how much money was flowing into state treasuries, Bush was evil because of “tax cuts for the rich”. Yet those very tax cuts financed the purchase of billions of dollars in art across the nation, fueling the high lifestyles of the left-wing art elites. Yes, they all hated Bush but they sure loved the tax-cut money because it is primarily upper-income Americans and “the rich” who were buying this stuff.
Now the situation has flipped and many artists are losing their shirts, their studios and their self-esteem. Now they wonder how to bring back the good old days of growth and optimism. They mostly all voted for Obama. And that is just the latest mistake in their culture of arrogance.
Perhaps what has happened to the arts should be a lesson for us all. The economy is going to bounce back eventually if Obama does not completely dismantle it. And then there will be a new flourish in the arts which probably will be significantly more muted than the last. But a lot of the older figures from the past 40 years will have thrown in the towel. After all, you can’t maintain your expensive studio and high lifestyle without an income.
Some of these older artists can weather the slump and get back into the world to try to re-establish themselves in a new and less familiar universe of galleries, critics, collectors and curators. But for many, time will have passed them by and they will suddenly see something very troubling. In the mirror they will glimpse a figure that is hugely less relevant than they once believed themselves to be. And that will be the hard life lesson that they can pass along to the next generation. If they dare.
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