Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Art for art's sake

Art dealers have been reduced to mere "commodity brokers" as the super-rich have lost interest in the aesthetic value of major works and instead obsess about their monetary worth, according to one of the industry's most experienced auctioneers.

Anthony McNerney, head of contemporary art at Bonhams, said: "Many more people talk about art as an investment. A lot ask: 'Is this investment potential? Can we see it as an asset class?'...A lot of us were frustrated, it is always about the estimates and the deal, not the art. We wanted to talk about the works of art. It's whether the art works are important...When I started at Christie's many years ago clients would ask me about the work of art or the artist. In late 2007 they started asking: 'what's it going to cost me and how much will it be worth.' That's when you become a commodities broker."

Art market adviser Tania Buckrell Pos agrees. "A lot more buyers with an investment point of view are coming into the market,"

Collector Charles Saatchi has also criticised the new "super rich art-buying crowd" who just wanted "big-brand name pictures".

Art is an institution as well as a massively profitable industry, worth billions of pounds every year. This institution has a number of functions, none of which would be particularly welcome in socialism, or particularly feasible. Currently, it defines what art is, and consequently blocks what it does not consider to be art. It promotes a cult of the individual artist as gifted genius whose brushes we are not worthy to clean. It finances profitable art and refuses to finance art from which a profit cannot be realised regardless of its quality or importance. Because the practices it engages in are inherently antisocial, divisive and procapitalist, no such organisation could survive the transition from capitalism to socialism.

Socialism may well prove to be an artistic renaissance in which more people produce more art than in any previous time in history. The things which historically have prevented them creating art will no longer exist: schooling, the art institution's failure to take seriously some forms of art, the art industry's failure to see beyond the profit motive, and people who may think that there is little point creating art unless someone is prepared to cross their palms with silver. Socialism may generate a a people's art renaissance, at a level which touches everybody and to which no one is denied access. But that does not mean that socialist art will be good art. In socialism, art will be complementary not competitive. Some artists may acquire small-scale status, but socialism contains no mechanism to allow individual artists to acquire privilege or power. So with no art institution which effectively decides what art is and isn't, and no art industry judging the quality of a work by its cost, people may be encouraged to create art. something like folk art or "people's art" will emerge, that is art created by the average person without state sponsorship or the support of the institution, and created not for purposes of individual gain or acclaim, but for other reasons such as self-expression, ornamentation, beautification and so on. The person who creates such art may not even be called an artist.

There are The Greats: the Old Masters, the Pre-Raphaelites. These comprise a small minority and their works are highly revered and among the best-known. Galleries and museums seem more like temples to the idols of art. Then there is all the rest: the vast majority of artists and people creating art whose output is either ignored or unrecognised. Because the people who create this art lack the privileges and advantages of the artistic elite, their work is considered substandard, if it is considered at all. It is also unknown to the wider public. Historically, artists of the greatest skill would be more likely to find patronage and success than those of less talent. Art became conceptualised as an activity of high skill restricted to a few gifted individuals of supreme talent. The art of the overwhelming majority of people, who were equally capable of producing art but who lacked the privileges of the Great Artists and whose work was inevitably of a different standard, became marginalised as rough and ready "folk art" and not a serious aesthetic form.

Art, if confined to a small leisured class, did not deserve the title of art.

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