Art in hard times

October 7, 2008

 

Robert Genn

 
Dear Rodney,

During the past couple of weeks this inbox has been overflowing with emails from artists concerned about the economy. "Things have been bad for a while--now they are going to get worse," they say. "What can artists do?"

I'd like to thank those who put their trust in me to make a few recommendations. In actual practice most parts of the world have been through a relatively prolonged period of happy times. With loose money lying around, as there has been, irrational exuberance has prevailed and even sub-prime art has passed both critical and commercial muster.

Now with bank credit drying up, home values heading south and the stock market tanking, the decorative art market will suffer along with the general economy. On the other hand, it's been my experience that in times of recession, collector and investment art can continue to thrive.

Just as unpleasant regulations had to be brought into economies rife with greed and profligacy, artists, who have no creditable regulating body, must bring in more self-regulation. This may involve longer hours, better work habits, better processes and more attention to quality. This also ties in to fair dealing and realistic but progressive pricing to go with the better art. My guess is that many borderline galleries will go under during the next while--just as many inadequate or unprepared artists will look once more to other employment.

Many years ago I had a solo show on the evening after a significant stock market crash. Fearing the worst, I showed up late only to find that the show had sold out. Fact is, when times are good people throw money at art, but when times are bad they turn to art as a possible life-enhancing investment. Funnily, it was a bunch of stock brokers who took home most of the art from that show. Funnily, I thought, people must need art more than other stuff.

Recessions are blessings. Historically, recessions and depressions have been times when "important" work gets made. Realistically, our financial outlay for equipment and art materials (unless your medium is gold) is relatively minor. In hard times artists need to get themselves as debt free as possible and invest in the joy of their vision.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: "Money is always there but the pockets change; it is not in the same pockets after a change." (Gertrude Stein) "Live like a poor man with lots of money." (Pablo Picasso)

Esoterica: Do not let yourself be blindsided by xenophobic myopia. Artists may act locally but are of the world and need to be on the world's stage. Further, attitudes about art and collecting vary from country to country and even from city to city and town to town within countries. The operative word is "change." Both adversity and good times invite change. In our case it has to come from within. Q: "How many psychiatrists does it take to change a tire?" A: "Only one, but the tire really has to want to change."