Friday, April 29, 2011

Art vs Eating Out



Funny how things come together…in the last few days I chatted to gallery owners, I read a contemporary blog on the internet, and perused an old book and got the same message from all. Not a happy one, either.

As I talked to the gallery owners, who havn’t been able to sell any of my work and precious little of anyone else’s, they all said business is dire, maybe things will pick up, it must be the recession. Well maybe…but maybe not? Perhaps we blame too many things on the recession.



In his blog Charles Lewis discussed whether art galleries were a thing of the past. Again the recession is considered to be a factor, but clearly there’s a much wider problem. Most people do not consider art to be important or relevant in any way; few people have any art hanging in their homes – maybe a poster or a calendar or a family photograph at best - but no significant, original, hand made art.

Lewis thinks there are several reasons why art is not selling. One factor is that apparently fewer than one in a hundred persons ever even thinks of going into a gallery. But another is that even if they do venture in, they are often put off by disinterested sales staff and ugly galleries. Now this latter possibility may be true of the more edgy urban galleries, I don’t think it’s generally the case in the kind of galleries that show fiber art. What is more important, of course, is the complete lack of demand, the total disinterest. Now there’s no shortage of people buying anything that begins with an “i-“, perhaps if I had “i-quilts” for sale I’d be mobbed!! People are buying fancy phones, electronic “books” (i.e. very small tv screens with writing on them), large tvs and eating out +++. They are out there, and they are spending money and it’s not all on essentials (though of course I’m fully cognizant of the fact that even essentials are beyond some people’s budgets and I certainly don’t begrudge them the odd little treat).

When we see the frightful homes shown on tv where people drool over granite counter tops (hard to clean), stainless steel appliances (show every finger print), laminated wood floors (noisy, cold and susceptible to spills), and fussy over furnished rooms, you never see any art work on the walls. And the potential buyers never say “oh our Elizabeth Barton quilt would look wonderful on that wall!”. Or anybody else’s work for that matter. It would be lovely if having an art piece as essential as the latest fixtures and appliances!

Lewis also points out that much of the art that is for sale is either very bland, “bright, harmless and decorative”, or is not displayable in a home (imagine trying to cram Tracy Emin’s “Bed” into your living room!, or Rauschenberg’s goat into the kitchen), and is often too edgy and dire. I love Rachel Brumer’s work and her series based on the birthdays of children who died in concentration camps, but could I live with that in my bedroom? I’ve had one of my own quilts up on the wall for a while, it’s based on a burnt out building and while the composition of the beams and empty windows onto the sky really intrigued me when I was making it, I do wonder about the liveability of the colors and textures. I was in fact horrified to notice that I actually had incorporated some of the colours that Lewis finds objectionable!!! (mud and blood!). So “cutting edge” doesn’t sell, but happy and cheerful is so bland and forgettable that no one even looks at it either.

One could blame television (as well as the recession) but I was surprised to come across very similar concerns in an old book (Art and Anarchy) of Reith lectures first delivered in 1960 by Edgar Wind. There are some really striking parallels in what we encounter today with his observations made over 50 years ago.


Wind pointed out how important owning a piece of original art was to a Renaissance patron: for them art was an indispensable as food. Imagine if you walked into a restaurant today and said to the customers “sorry, you can’t eat out for a month, but in exchange you can have a very nice piece of original art which will beautify your home for as long as you want. And it won’t be totally absorbed within a few hours, leaving only unwanted traces of overindulgence around your middle!” How many takers d’you think you’d get? You’d be lynched in seconds!!

Wind felt that if “art were as indispensable to us as it was to them” we would not see the galleries empty. Furthermore, the Renaissance patrons were much more interested in both art and the process of art, would often buy a piece before it was finished and they wished to participate with the artist in the creative process. He stated that “the pressure of our artistic climate is lowered by the absence of an active patronage”. It could be a vicious circle – without patrons, art cannot grow stronger; without strong art, there are no patrons. He also felt that in 1960 the lack of support for art was evident in many ways: little attention being paid to lasting beauty in any area of design. Architecture, streets and roads, green areas, furniture design, all ugly and functional. And today I notice that this is even true with television: if you compare what you see to beautifully designed examples from other countries, many of our adverts are crude and objectionable, if not insulting. No wonder people find composition difficult, their senses are insulted with a constant barrage of egregious visual cacophony!

Now there is also a lot in Wind’s lectures that we might disagree with, or at least shake our heads in wonderment – for example the assertion that artists who create very large works do so to verify their own existence. Well….some maybe! Although…now I come to think about it…..

The problem of general disinterest in art, alas, is therefore longstanding, but does that mean we shouldn’t make it? In a recent radio broadcast (kindly sent me by a reader), participants discussed (amongst many other things) what made us happy. Apparently current research focuses particularly on two main things: relationships and being able to make things. As quiltmakers we are so fortunate in having both right within our grasp! And if only 1% of the population would ever be interested in what we made…well that’s still a heckuva lot of if we could only get them to stop buying i-products and meals out…..….

If you have been, thanks for reading…and do weigh in (on either side of the scales!) with your comments and ideas. Elizabeth


Anonymous said...

This observation (that 'art' is not really important to contemporary daily life - art in observation, not in the making) goes along with my personal goal to pursue creation as an end in itself.

I'm very, very glad that I do NOT have to make a living by making art! For me, pursuing my artistic ideas is a personal growth and spirituality issue, not an economic one.

I think the only people making 'art' who can pursue it as a career and get a living wage must have made a living in some other way while they built up their repretoire/portfolio/reputation. That or they are graphic artists by day and creative 'art' makers at night (btw, I do NOT believe that graphic arts are not able to be 'art'). :)


Vicki W said...

I think lack of interest might be some of it but I would go back to the statement about galleries being inviting. I may not look like I have money to spend but I do. I can't think of one gallery I have been in where I have been welcomed or where the staff talked excitedly about the art or artist. They are run by snobs who expect their customers to seek them out and they have absolutely no interest in investing any time in educating or in creating excitement about their products with potential customers. We buy i-things because electronic companies invest the time in showing us why we "need" the newest model of our i-thing. Art galleries are irrelevant because they are lazy, they stereotype their customers and the don't really care about their artists.

But that's just my opinion. I don't make art to sell. I base my opinion on my experience as a buyer. I never buy art in a gallery. I generally buy it directly from the artist....once I discover an artist I like.

Faith said...

I think that the problem has always existed. There will always be people who couldn't care less about art. Even among the interested, there are those who who are interested only because a style or artist is "in." But Vicki W made a very good point. If artists had admen instead of galleries, maybe more people would have art -- as long as the price was not too much more than the non-art equivalents. I have the time to make a quilt. I don't have the funds to pay for someone else's time to make one, much as I'd love to have some of the beautiful quilts I've seen. The same is true for other arts. I have small paintings and photographs and mixed media art because I simply can't afford the bigger stuff. All sculpture I've seen is beyond me. And that begs the question "Where would I put it?" Modern homes are short on wall space and the average home is not usually large enough for more than one or two sculptural pieces, if that. If I were more organized, I could rotate what I have on my walls (mostly real art). Occasionally I do switch things around. But then... the TV home designers would hate my house, anyway. It's full of bright bold color on the walls and elsewhere.

Deb Lacativa said...

It is a matter of time..

Appreciating, buying, hanging, having art all takes time - the time that has been eaten up by the I-things.

From what I can tell, the majority of people see art as merely decorative. They will spend a great deal more time choosing that hardwood flooring or granite counter top and leave the "sofa paintings" choices to the decorator because they can take the time to go through all the choices possible when it comes to art for the walls.

Elsie Montgomery said...

Last week I read the results of a survey that concluded people do not think very deeply about anything anymore. We live in a superficial age where faster replaces depth and the latest replaces taste and quality. Why is this so? One theory is that modern media (music videos, television, etc.) is designed to leave us wanting more... and thinking we need to buy something to be happy. Add to that superficial thinking and the something becomes "stuff" instead of that which calms our thirsty souls. Artists, our world has been duped!

Jackie said...

We have long since removed art and art education from the schools. More and more the curriculum is strictly dictated and teachers are not allowed to introduce art to students, though not all would anyway.

With attention spans a nano-second long, many people no longer ponder anything. But somehow, instead of placing blame, we artists need to find a way to touch people, to engage and pique their interest.

I have and enjoy i-things and they don't keep me from making art at all. They help me to share my art and entertain me while I'm doing some of the mundane tasks of creating a quilt.

Thank you for inciting a conversation--that's what we need more of!

Anonymous said...

I'm with Vicki on this. Although I do visit galleries, I don't think I have ever bought anything in one. Everything in our home which might be counted as "art" - paintings, ceramics, textiles - has either been made by someone we know or we have found the artist through an art/craft fair or open studio event.

We are fortunate to have lots of these in our area and some fantastic artists who participate - there are things for every budget (except possibly the extreme diamond-encrusted-skull-end of the spectrum).

They are exciting occasions with plenty of "buzz" and none of that eerie silence you encounter when stepping into a deserted gallery...

Kay said...

Maybe marketing would help, but I don't agree with the anti-art gallery comments. I'm not rich nor do I look rich, but I've always been well treated in galleries and have bought art in them. General ignorance of art is more likely the problem. After all how can people know or care about art when it is hardly taught anywhere?

Typed on an I thing.

Nina Marie said...

I would like to say that even though my family only hangs original art on the walls. . . we find going to galleries intimidating. I find that we, all 3 of us, gravitate to shops that sell commission works, but also other things. They are beautiful, interesting shops that are VERY inviting. After listening to a lecture from a gallery owner in Philly, I thought - gee no wonder middle class America doesn't feel comfortable going into galleries and investing in art. I have sincere doubt that a lot of gallery owners even WANT to understand what people will hang in the average home. I feel like they are always trying to tell me what THEY think is interesting and decorative. I'm thinkin' that they might have to change their attitudes if they hope to survive in the long run.

Tracy said...

I think we (all us individuals) have been snookered by advertising which promises happiness, contentment, love and sex if only we have the gleaming stainless steel appliances and so on. I love that happiness research shows that relationships and making things bring happiness. The rub is that both take patience, time, perseverance and hard work (at least at times.) Truly, "making" is one of the best feelings. How to get the word out? I don't know.

nandas said...

wow... i think agree with a lot that has been said... education being at the base of the problem is a great point. i learned to appreciate art in school from art history etc... ever since i was young i was in the arty crowd who went to galleries... painters poets actors...whatever the medium it was something wonderful to experience. i now live in a mid size city where there is some pretty good art and the galleries are nice to people who are interested. there are also lots of other venues for art. we have several art schools in out town so there is always something way out there to see... (and not want to put on our walls usually!), but that it is there to observe is a great privilege... so i think some of what the issue is stems from what community you live in. whenever i leave home to travel to the east coast, i am shocked at the differences...not only in art appreciation.
that said the problem of selling art is really difficult. prices in general are so high... everywhere... the rental space, the wages that have to be paid, etc. and then because of the lack of education people are afraid to invest large amounts of money in a piece they don't understand...which is so much of modern art these days. so due to the lack of education... poorly designed tv that has to move really fast to keep peoples attention... the fact that people don't take the time to read and they want everything in sound bites, they don't take the time to learn. so how to make art accessible ? and to whom do you make it accessible? and which criteria do you use? all these things have to be addressed. some people feel there is high art and some low art...which group would you want to be in? or have on your walls? why does there have to be a division? if you want not to play that game you can sell your own art or just make art for yourself which is what i try to do. when i buy art, i have my own criteria which i have put a lot of thought into. how much money do i have available? is the artist trying to make a living at their art making? is it something i think will hold interest for a lasting amt of time? do i want to live with it? does it inspire me, intrigue me, console me? does it have emotional meaning? unfortunately now... will it fit in the space i have...(not aesthetically so much as actual square feet of wall space! at this point i have to take something else down to put anything new up. in addition to buying art i have a son who is a painter and a husband who is a photographer. as for myself... i pursue my own art for my pleasure. i am happy if something sells but its not what motivates me. i really respect people who do try to earn their living through art. its just very difficult. it seems to me in the end that in order to sell you have to play so many games. and i haven't even touched on the difficulty of having fiber art accepted in the art world though i do see signs of it happening.