Saturday, June 24, 2006

Reminiscing over the "good old day's."

The art market's preference for young artists has been a recent topic on a couple of other art blogs. Edward Winkleman has an open thread, Hatin' how they love them Youngins and Lisa Hunter has picked the theme up on The Intrepid Art Collector blog with Deja vu all over again.

I started to respond to Lisa's remark "... doesn't anyone besides me remember the 80s? It was the same when we were 20. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Jeff Koons -- they were all in their 20s when they got famous…" but my thoughts rambled on to long for a comment.

(Lisa) You're right with the personalities, this was true also in the 60's Johns, Rauschenberg, Stella, Poons were all young as well. It might be generational. Typically artists near the age of 30 are the ones making the waves, setting the new stylistic trends. There are some big differences in how the art educational system and the business of art itself has changed over the last 40 years.

In the 1960's, the idea of being an artist as a "career" didn't really exist. By "career" I mean something akin to being a engineer at IBM, or an accountant, where if you got a college degree, you would get a job and a rung somewhere on the corporate ladder. By contrast, art schools, including the few universities which even had an MFA program, primarily taught art fundamentals and art history, the techniques of the trade, any mention of survival after graduation was anecdotal.

In the 1980's, partly as a result of the success of Minimalism, POP Art and Conceptual art, along with the appearance of new magazines like ArtForum, young artists came out of art schools with some idea that being an artist was a career. I think that in the mid 70's some of the art schools at least made an informal attempt to educate their students on what they should do to enter the system. That if you did the "right things" and made decent work, you could get a job (gallery) or even dream of being on the cover of ArtForum.

Fast forward, at the present, in addition to art fundamentals, the art schools also cover, either directly or indirectly, topics more directly related to establishing an art career including "art theory". The MFA has become a variant of the MBA and the "best students" from the "best schools" will get the "best jobs" This appears to be currently true.

The second major difference concerns the art business itself.

In the post WWII period, starting in the 1950's, with the shift in focus from Paris to the US (New York), the art business has grown substantially. Each of the three periods I outlined above, was marked by an increasing amount of capital purchasing "new art" As this trend developed, it became apparent that there could be a substantial return on investment if a collector purchased the early work of an artist who later became prominent. (hot)

This may seem like an obvious conclusion but it is not quite the case. In Los Angeles in the 1960's, the Irving Blum Gallery gave Andy Warhol his first exhibition of the Soup Cans. I think a few were slated to be sold (at around a $100 each but I could be wrong about that) when Mr. Blum decided that the set of 30 (??) paintings should be kept together and bought them himself. In essence he became a collector rather than a dealer. A collector, not a speculator, for he held the paintings for at least 30 years (I vaguely recall they may have finally been donated to a museum, I'm not sure)

The 1980's saw the birth of the art speculator, as a class of clientele, and the use of the "auction" as a method of establishing or raising prices. Prices of "emerging artists" were "augmented" through the auction market. Artworks were bought from an artist or dealer, sometimes by 2-3 people who each owned a "share", put up for auction and bought back by another collector who wanted the "unavailable" work, obviously pricing took a big jump and the "art speculator" was born.

A rising price has an interesting psychological affect, it creates demand. In the late 1970's, Phillip Guston's dealer could not sell his late new paintings (the ones people today love) at a price of $10,000. Even though they were great paintings, it seems that there was not much interest, collectors wanted paintings in his "established style". On day, his dealer told him over the phone, "Phillip, I've just doubled the value of your inventory" and doubled the asking (retail) prices, the rest is history.

At the present, none of the above observations have been lost on either side. Young artists are taught/encouraged to develop "a body of work" and the means of marketing it as a product. (there is a wide ranging definition for the word "product") As long as the art market stays firm, the speculators are prepared to take advantage of the situation by snapping up the work presumably with the intent of selling it later.

The fact that artists have become careerist, in the corporate sense, helps reduce the purchase risk. I suspect that, in a hot market for an artist, access to the work becomes somewhat constrained and is afforded to the "best clients". Again this is not unusual, with the exception that the speculators have a decided interest in seeing prices appreciate and may help things along where possible.

I suppose one should view this as a win-win situation for all concerned, the gallery, the collector, the speculator and of course the artist. On the consumer end, I believe this is true a good art market and appreciating prices is beneficial. For the artist, I suspect it may be a double edge sword. On the one hand, for artists with a degree of emotional maturity, the financial success may allow them more time to develop their artwork, more time to experiment and confidence, which should not to be underestimated as a developmental force. On the other hand, the pressures of financial success may weigh on the young artist by creating constraints, stylistic and otherwise, for which they are not prepared.

Whatever, it is what it is. As long as the art market stays firm, good or bad, I suspect the situation will continue. Further, an historical precedent has been set, and even if the art market crashed, the situation will be the same when it arises from the ashes again.

Today is some young persons "good old days"


Anonymous said...

To further illustrate the differences of timing, I came out of an MFA program in 1992 in NYC. Any talk of the "business" of art, or even survival skills was taboo. I supported myself doing art delivery for the handful of galleries that were in business at the time.

Fast forward to today where my intro students already have strategy for the careers as artists.

George said...

Good observation. I think the psychology of the time has an effect on attitudes. In the period at the end of the 1970's, the economy was in an economic depression because of the oil crisis and high interest rates. The gallery system was in shambles, most marginal spaces closed. I believe one of the reasons Conceptual Art gained a foothold, was that certain artists felt (intuited, or just didn't care) if there were no economic prospects, why not just go ahead and explore an idea without translating it into a marketable product.

The early 1990's was another slow period in the economy and art market, and the attitude you describe fits the period. I suspect that when the potential for the future is not clear it is less likely that one would develop overly optimistic expectations, or even if one did, one would keep it to oneself.

Currently the situation is just the opposite. At least until now the art market has been unbelievably strong, stronger than any period in the last 100 years. So I am not surprised that artists are more optimistic, the possibilities for economic success seem to be a foregone conclusion and as one would expect many artists will try to exploit the situation to their benefit.

You noted "... students already have strategy for the careers as artists" I'll take your word for it, I suspect it is probably true.

A footnote to the "strategy for a career" might ask if one has a "strategy" for the art, a personal vision extending beyond whatever is "hot" at the moment. Styles and tastes change, it is the "fashion cycle". You're hot, then you're not, the real test comes when "You're not" I have great respect for artists who have stuck with the commitment. It is all about the art, not the money.

closeuup said...

"It is all about the art, not the money."

That means you have money!

Anyway, I like yr blog alot . Rawk on.

George said...

LOL, I wish that was the case.

no-where-man said...

the psychology of the time has indeed changed - along with the rent & the price of artskools - but the spirit remains maybe it is just not in the 'mainstream' - but isn't that always the way it was? most Artists i beleve in right now are not gallery Artists but rather hybrides

George said...

True, but that line "along with the rent..." is the killer.
I think it is important for an artist to live in an an art center even if only for awhile. Look at a chronology of Van Gogh's work, there is a clear evolution in his style after he visited Paris and met the other Impressionist painters.

NYC was a viable center for years, rents were cheep and space was plentiful. Since about 1990, the conditions have changed dramatically, I suspect rents have doubled since then. Coupled with artschool debt it's a tough nut to make every month for a yound artist without a trust fund. It leavs less time in the studio at a time in a career when it is the most important.

It is one of the reasons why Europe has become a major art center again. Knowledge of a foreign language should be a MFA requirement.

no-where-man said...

i < heart > nyc - i love it here you don't see the hybrides

poppy said...

shhwweeet blogorama
i be back checkin it out fo sure.

Angela Ferreira said...

The problem with many Universities is that the Lecturers want you to follow them and sometimes that can be a bit close minded no matter how talented and innovative you can be. If you don’t do what they want you sure can’t go far…
Picasso was famous at young age, but ‘Les Mademoiselles D’Avignon’ for example was despised and criticized a lot when he made the masterpiece; the canvas was rolled up for years and sold for a bargain forced by his later wife who hated it.
The Art critics and gallery owners are mostly older age group; personally my bigger followers and admirers of my work are my own age, youngsters and visionaries … I am just waiting for the next generation to take over!
I love your blog George Rodart I shall come to visit often!

Lisa Hunter said...

This is a very astute analysis, George. Lots to mull over.