Friday, January 16, 2009

Thinking About Art

Janis sent me a "care" package recently that had a lot of my magazines, including a couple of issues of Art in America.  Even though I'm working as a program manager right now, I still consider myself an artist first and foremost.  This State Department job is just a temporary assignment, not a career change, and I have intended from the beginning to go back to my studio when this is over.  So I keep tabs on what's going on in the art world.

But going through the December issue of Art in America was a bit unnerving, to tell the truth.  It has a lot of ads trying to get people to visit Art Basel Miami Beach, or Art Miami, or Pulse Contemporary Art Fair.  It also had some words here and there about the turmoil in the art market ("turmoil" here meaning "nobody's buying anything").  All of which gave the magazine an air of desperation.  

The art world is always the first to get hit when there's an economic downturn and the last to recover.  During the last downturn, the art market started heading down in, oh, early 2001, and tanked after September 11.  The recovery from that was really odd.  Remember, many people lost their jobs early on, but then we had that "jobless recovery" in which few of these jobs reappeared.  I noticed at the time that there were a lot of people who had always harbored a dream to be an artist, and when they lost their jobs, they decided to go into art full-time.  So there were suddenly a lot of new artists applying to galleries and art festivals and so on.  The art world was able to absorb the newcomers, more or less, since the downturn wasn't very severe.  That's definitely not the case this time: when the Wall Street Journal is regularly using terms like "crisis" and "possible depression", then I seriously doubt that people will go looking for careers as artists.  Even flipping burgers at McDonald's can start to look pretty good.

For me, what goes on in the art fairs and galleries has only a tangential effect.  My paintings are not the kind of works that galleries clamor for.  They're pretty serious works about not very cheerful things, and they're definitely not the sort of works that somebody buys to hang over their couch.  (Not unless they've got a really strange couch!)  So at the time my opportunity to work with State came along, I was pursuing a very different line of marketing.  But even this approach needs a healthy gallery scene to give the corporations and NGO's I was (am) targeting some confidence that art is a good investment.  And, of course, that's pretty much gone now.  

Bummer.  On the positive side, I picked a helluva good time to find employment!  But I'm still planning on going back to my studio and painting pictures that few will probably ever buy.  It's what I do.

Okay, enuf doom and gloom.  There is some good news out of the art world every now and then.  One of my teachers at UNC Asheville was Virginia Derryberry.  Her paintings have always been strong, but over the past six years or so, they've reached a whole new level.  Now she's got a web site where you can see them.  Go take a look:  I'm putting a link to her site in the "artists I like" section, too.


Shea said...

I read that magazine too, and over the last few months has grown more and more depressing, almost desperate as you have said.
I read that art news blog on the web, and it's a lot lighter, and sometimes funny.

It's just a painting said...

Hey, Good food for thought. I keep trying to remember I'm in for the long hall.