One of the problems we have in the art world today is rooted in the so-called new art economy. It’s a problem in terms of the kinds of art we have, the kinds of arts we need, and the kinds of art we are loosing; and, that in turn is rooted in the kind of artists we want and the kind of artists we don’t know what to do with.
In the electronic age, art has been in a sudden, hasty, state of transition, (art is always in transition) but this new activity is a radical, spur-of-the-moment, shift and has wrenched the conversion rapidly instead of the leisurely manageable transitions we’ve become accustomed to.
Electric production, visibility, exposure, availability and delivery
Let’s be clear we are not talking about stylistic changes, they have settled in since the early 1990s as automobiles, architecture, clothing and music (with the exception of rap and possibly hip-hop) have not significantly changed. What have changed are the artistic processes of electronic production, visibility, exposure, availability and delivery.
All the artist need do is create the image and download it to any of a number of companies, giving the company the permission to make replications for the market and cut the artist in for a portion of the sale; usually the lower hind-end of the sale goes to the artist. The problem arises when you have to take the company’s word that they have or have not made replications and sold them. There have been several instances in the last few years where it has been proven that certain companies have sold replications without cutting the artist into the deal, even issuing forged and numbered Certificates of Authenticity with each sale.
Where an artist was once lucky to gain exposure on a local, or even regional, basis, today they can go global in a matter of hours with any of a significant number of online services and delivery devices. Companies that can take a single artist image and package it into a wide variety of large delivery on demand art prints on paper, canvas, and metal; and smaller reproductions as framed prints and postcards. Originals are marketed at $1000+; large prints start for under $100, and postcards for less than $10 each.
The great majority of artists are operating in the under $1000 market and a few are successful (successful in terms of making a full-time living income), and a great many more artists are totally ignored. Artists with no formal training, no juried shows or group exhibits to their credit, and no awards or recognitions are looking at the prices established artists are getting for a work of art, seeing how big it is (as the size seems to directly relate to the price), and then commanding that “if they get that much for that size, so can I”. Of course they are betting on the ignorance of the buying public to equate size and price to value and investment.
Seen only online. Does a wider web-based market further commodify artworks?
There are about a half-dozen large companies offering major original works by recognized ‘museum’ artists that command $5000 – $10,000 for each piece, and up in some instances. The premium price for a work sold through an online service has reached over $100,000 for a work seen only online.
There is also a new generation of computer based artists, image manipulators, who take an existing photograph, sometimes its theirs and sometimes its not, and exploit the image using computer programming; special effects, color adjustments, positive-negative management. On closer inspection, anyone with a working knowledge of art and art history can usually mention any number of established artists, styles and periods, and show how this generated image is simply a knockoff of someone else’s artistic innovations and creations.
Consumerism: Art defined by materialistic attitude
Production is now more mechanical and easier to manipulate, visibility is worldwide and exposure is regulated, controlled, by commercial companies in one form or another; while, availability has increased and the delivery system is far advanced verses only a decade ago, and the overall quality, value and worth, both socially and culturally, of a large percentage of contemporary art has diminished.
Eventually, artists and designers with capable hand-skills will again surface and find value on the market, similar to when machines replaced fine hand craftsmanship in the mid to late 1800s and it took approximately twenty+ years for craftsmanship and hand-skills to regain market value. Contemporary artists of great talent and abilities will again become recognized and the market may stabilize.
Note: A recent research study concluded that less than 4% of the artists on the WWW are making a living income from the web.