A lot is written about the market in regards to art and somewhat deservedly so, however, the market for art has been around since the Dutch Golden Age in various forms and guises. Previously to the artist being unmoored from the patronage of Church, Royalty or the Political elite, well you had the Church, Royalty and the elite supporting artists and those artists had to work within confines of subject matter and materials, a certain amount of lapis lazuli might be required, etc.
With the Dutch Republic came the artist out marketing his talents. If you were Vermeer you were a minor painter; Hals, Rembrandt and others painted the Burghers, the New Wealthy middle class and you had a beginning to what we now call genre painting, landscape, still life et al.
Come the French and the Industrial revolutions and traditional patronage is shattered. You have Courbet and Manet setting up their own exhibitions outside of the official salon (the original DIY?) and others, the Salons of the Impressionists, the Independents, etc. etc., all vying for attention and all hoping to sell their wares and make a living. Reading the accounts, letters and various journals, correspondence and fictional accounts from that time illustrates that it was not an easy time for artists if you were not officially sanctioned and deemed of import.
I touched briefly on this in current obsessions.
What distinguishes today’s market versus those of the not so distant past, is that there seems to be no valid cultural ambitions or artistic motivations that, at least for me, address the concerns of art as a vehicle of personal or cultural import.
We no longer have the shadow of movements, for better or worse. Me, I am ambivalent about movements, maybe even hostile. Ab Ex, Pop, Conceptualism, Minimalism, Body Politic, Earth Art, blah blah blah. Each one of those “movements” has some wonderful and amazing stuff and more than a fair amount of dreck.
Arts importance is gone, if it was really ever there to begin with, as far as the general public is concerned. Before the time of absolute visual gluttony, artists worked on a variety of levels. Painting of course but also doing what we now call design work for festivals, coronations, engineering, what ever was needed in regards to visual production.
The advent of the printing press and cheap forms of photographic reproduction with offset printing and then the growth through technology of film, television and now video cameras and cheap gear galore has completely “democratized” production.
But this democratization hasn’t raised standards, the ‘standards’ that were, dropped dramatically. Look at the amount of tumblr’s, youtube videos and the incredible variety of blogs (perhaps mine included) and then add to that the array of illiterate comments, especially in political blogs and you can see for yourself that we live with a lot of trite shit that looks, smells and voices the same. If I had a nickel for every young person I’ve met over the last ten years who was in marketing or branding, well I would be living on the coast of southern France.
But back to the Market…
When the last gasp of Post-Modern societal critique was exhausted in the 90’s so was the death of ‘movements.’ And with the death of movements, which for the most part are or were attempts to codify or “Brand” a certain way of thinking or visual style, the art world at large, the galleries, the museums and sadly to say a lot of artists were free to address what their prime concern was, MONEY.
Is it any wonder that we have so much tired, lame, poorly conceived and for the most part visual literature or illustration, if one can be so bold to call it “literature” more like some trashy beach read, bad visuals for poor uninformed thinking, exists?
The last bastion of this is the repeated ad nauseam “Institutional Critique”, because that is all they have left in their arsenal to prove their cultural worth, when at the end of the day, the art fairs, the biennials, the triennials, the documentas, etc. all they provide is the circus, just like the official salons of 19th century France.
As an artist, who, partial disclosure, was briefly active in that circus I say BOLLOCKS. Is it depressing at times? Certainly. Does it affect my studio practice? NO.
The point of art is to be art and what we have passing officially as art is nothing but window dressing, hence Meissonier, one of the most celebrated and financially successful artists of the 19th century, whither him now?
Same as it ever was.