Or is it the economy and the muse? When individuals are fighting tooth and nail for a living, they look on the arts as a thing apart. Has our affluent society today carried over some of this disdain into a time in which it really needs the artist and can gain from him as from the product of science and research?
There has always been a traditional relationship between art and economics.There is none. Even grave drawbacks if for example, someone in the business world or the academic world of business holds a passion for the arts and a morbid disinterest in the ordinary manifestations of material well-being. If someone in this position, a captain of industry, lived in evident contentment in a modest house, say heated by unconventional or novel means, they would be dimly viewed.
Art has nothing to do with the sterner preoccupations of money, banking and the economy except for its commodity price. The artist’s values, the splendid and often splenetic insistence on the supremacy of aesthetic goals, are subversive to the straightforward materialist concerns of an economist, the Sumners and Geithners adising the President. Art makes these money men, the Bob Diamond traders come to mind, feel dull, routine, Philistine and uncomfortable, and perhaps also sadly unappreciated for their earthly concern for bread and butter, including that which nourishes the artist. The two worlds only meet when the former subsumes the latter, but basically, the regret in each is negligible.
This alienation, although unregretted, is unfortunate. The economist can perhaps say something to the artist about his environment and what is agreeable to the artistic imagination. And the artist stands in far more important relation to economics, and indirectly to politics, than we have yet realized. One of the most important problems of our day, American trade deficits, Budget shortfalls, and the complex of foreign and domestic issues which follow in its train, is partly the result of the alienation of the artist from our economic life.
When you refer to the artist, it also includes those for whom their language has meaning. This is the community which shares the artists imagination and responds to it. Its size and the depth and discernment of its response are matters of much importance; the aesthetic response.
The economic myth of the artist is that of an individual devoid of material baggage and indifferent to pecuniary reward. It is not a myththat can be reconciled entirely with reality. In the Graeco-Roman epoch, the painter or sculptor soiled his hands at a wearisome and hence unbecoming toil. Accordingly, and unlike the poet, he was identified with the artisan and the slave, and his pay was that of a worker. This was only slightly less true of the early Renaissance artists: Arnold Hauser describes them in his Social History of Art as “economically on a footing with the petty bourgeois tradesman.”
However, by the latter part of the fifteenth-century, the great painters, financially speaking, come into their own. Raphael and Titian lived handsomely on ample incomes. Michelangelo was a wealthy man; it was because of his wealth that he was able to decline payment for the design of St. Peter’s. Leonardo ultimately received a handsome salary.
In later times it is difficult to make a rule. The Dutch masters, as a consequence of heavy overproduction, had a hard time. Rembrandt, Hals and Vermeer led a financially precarious existence. For what we now call reasons of economic security, Van Goyen traded in tulips, Hobbema was a tax collector, and Jan Steen was an innkeeper. In more modern times, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec were vagabonds because this was implicit in their alienation from bourgeois civilization.
But interspersed through the history of Western painting from Rubens to Picasso have been others, including Americans, who have earned great fortunes. Copley was rich enough to speculate in real estate and owned much of Beacon Hill. Winslow Homer lived a very comfortable life. The most popular of the abstract expressionists did extremely well. Warhol is self explanatory as well as McCarthy, Koons et al. It is not clear that wealth has been or is an insuperable obstacle for the artist.
What is not in doubt is that the aesthetic response is nourished by secure well-being. From classical Athens through the princes, bankers and popes of the Renaissance, the Dutch bourgeois of the seventeenth century, the courtly patrons of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to the collectors and connoisseurs of modern times, wealth has been the unmistakable companion of art. Perhaps it has not always brought a discerning interest. But if it has not been a sufficient interest, it certainly has been a facilitating one. The artist may transcend hunger and privation- conceivably their senses are honed by suffering. But not so their audience. It turns to art after it has had dinner. At first glance, such Philistine type assertions seem suspect. But, subject always to individual exceptions, it will hardly be argued that the aesthetic response has been as strong from the poor and the insecure as from the rich and established. Edward D. Stone once remarked that, “great periods in art have traditionally come with stability in government, with prosperity and leisure.”
(see link at end)…I will suggest that the irrational exuberance of the contemporary art market is about the breeding of money, not the fertility of art, and that commercially precious works of art have become the organ grinder’s monkeys of money. They exist to increase the generative value and staying power of money — the power of money to breed money, to fertilize itself — not the value and staying power of art.
Money supposedly has no value in itself, that is, it is valuable for what one can exchange it for, but I will suggest the surge of art buying is money’s parthenogenetic way of saying that it is valuable in itself, indeed, value distilled to purity, the quintessence of value in capitalist society.
Many years ago Meyer Schapiro argued that there was a radical difference between art’s spiritual value and its commercial value. He warned against the nihilistic effect of collapsing their difference.Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/kuspit3-6-07.asp