What I’m not saying about the arts

The issue of Art and Economy (that’s right, I capitalized both as if they’re proper nouns. You scared yet?) is a daunting one. And that’s why I’m not going to address it head-on. Because not only do I know very little about art, I also know very little about the economies, either internal or external, of the art world.

Why is it that art is a luxury? Or why, to rephrase, does art seem like a luxury?

Art is communication, the foundation for language and thought. Art is by the people, for the people. So shouldn’t that make it the most democratic thing we’ve got going?

Ok readers. Now raise your hand, those of you who own original art (not made by you or anyone in your immediate family) that is in your home. I see a couple hands at the back…oh, you were just scratching your ear?

It’s a tricky thing to wrap your head — and your hands — around. Even the most early-career artists, the ones who have a gallery but not yet a fan-base, sell works that cost more than of year of all my groceries. Works that cost more than a year of my East Van rent. And thus, works that I don’t have a fighting chance of being able to afford (Yet. Yet? Yet!)

Ok, so art is in fact a luxury item aimed at those who can afford it, not just those who love it. And that’s ok, because as long as there are people (even people I don’t know) who can afford the big-ticket items, I’ll be able to visit those pieces in galleries and museums. And I’ll be able to read about it online, and look at works as jpegs. Me, and a bunch of other regular folks with regular jobs and regular salaries, and a regular interest in contemporary art.

I admit I’m slightly uncomfortable with the allusion I’m making to the state of contemporary arts and culture consumption. I don’t think that access should be limited to a priveleged few. On the other hand I do also think that some aspects of high-culture will only appeal to a few, especially when the price tag is greater than the total of what most people earn in their 20s.

I’ve heard a lot of talk about the state of the arts, the way it was a few years ago. It was totally unsustainable, tons of cash being thrown around willy-nilly. Then the bottom fell out. With the economy in the toilet and many people out of work or forgoing low-paying jobs to go back to school, I am really curious to see what the products of art and culture will shift to in the coming years.

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