January 27, 2009
A number of artists have been asking about the current economic downturn. More
than anything, they want to know what's going to happen to us creative spirits.
While I'm no economist, there's evidence of a hard truth.
Art follows money.
While art still gets made in an economic downturn, the commercial acceptance of
art is neither consistent nor predictable. At the present time, the indulgences
of the past decades where easy money chased anything slightly artistic have
I'm laptopping you from the economic miracle called Singapore. This city-state
of skyscrapers and tree-lined boulevards is also suffering. Government workers
are accepting wage reductions of 12 to 20 percent just to keep their jobs, and
city fathers are looking over the horizon to find the next infusion of capital.
Yesterday I visited a factory where piece-workers hunch over grindstones cutting
chips of jade and other semi-precious stones. Other workers skillfully place the
stones onto composite dioramas depicting landscapes, birds, animals and historic
deities. The factory shop is long on product and short on customers. Downcast
salespeople stand idly by, puffing on thin Malaysian cigarettes.
In our current environment, potential customers are easily
more critical of art.
Throughout history, the production of art has followed wealth and leisure. Great
civilizations--Egyptian, Sumerian, Greek, Roman and, yes, the American
Empire--have been built on it. Other yet-to-be-heard-from civilizations will
To get an idea of when we are coming out of our current setback, you need to
look next door to see when that young family thinks they have enough left over
to buy season hockey tickets. A healthy, well-regulated economy is the key. When
the general population is well fed and well entertained once more, there will
once again be enough for art. In the meantime, like for those workers in the
Singapore factory, it's important to keep busy.
PS: "Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men's stupidity, but
your talent to their reason." (Ayn
Esoterica: Based on experience in previous recessions, three strategies are
available: (1) Maintain your prices--increasingly prove the investment value of
your work and honour those customers who have invested in you in the past. (2)
Continue to make first-rate work. In recessions, the bottom end can fall out
completely. If anything, aim to improve quality and try to produce more
important and challenging work. There will always be collectors of quality work.
(3) If you can afford it, grab any opportunities to improve.