Wednesday, April 30, 2014

My Milkshake Brings All the Boys to the Yard

I'm hoping this post will be approached with an open mind by both artists and collectors. It's not meant to close the, er, gap between fine art and toothpaste, but rather possibly to spark a conversation about something the entire art-selling industry seems to be struggling with: encouraging more people to spend their hard-earned money on contemporary art (thereby supporting working artists [and dealers :-)]).

The video in the link below has prompted me to wonder whether all the strategizing on how to get, for example, Silicon Valley's nouveau riche to warm up to collecting, has been going about it the in wrong way. If you're allergic to discussions about how to increase the numbers of people who buy art, you might skip the rest of this. If you're not, have a look... it's a short video:

Milkshakes — Understanding the Job
Mind you, the focus of that video is on how to improve existing products, but the central insight has made me curious about how it relates to collecting and how fine art is marketed and sold. In a nutshell, it made me wonder "What job do people hire fine art to do?"

I'll concede this is treacherous territory. Discussing art at all as if it were just another consumer product will naturally upset artists (and believe it or not, most dealers, who tend to see their jobs as a "calling"), but let me be clear that I don't feel this has anything to do with changing what artists want/need to make. But I do think it's helpful to consider this question in terms of breaking through what seems a resistance on the part of too many people to see themselves as someone who buys original art. 

And so, without further caveat, what job DO people hire fine art to do? Here's my off-the-cuff list (in no particular order) of how we have generally answered the essence of that question in the art world. They hire a work of art to...
  • Support a living artist (philanthropy)
  • Surround themselves with things that make them happy or inspire them
  • Decorate their homes
  • Bestow social status upon them (including Communicate their particular level/type of taste and Communicate their particular level of wealth) {side note: don't miss this amazing article by Rhona Lieberman in The Baffler}
  • Fill an addiction
  • Launder money
  • Flip it and make money
What I learned from that video, however, is that none of those answers (which might be accomplished via a wide range of other purchases) are as specific to the "job" of fine art as the study in the video eventually found was the very specific job of a milkshake (versus a banana or bagel, etc.). What does fine art do that cars or jewelry or other collectibles don't do?

Joseph Duveen hit upon the answer that seems (or used to seem) most convincing here: fine art bestows as close a connection to immortality as humans are capable of attaining. Other treasures that might make you happy or bestow social status or even support those with high aspirations but limited resources will less likely be treasured or preserved as far into the future as fine art will. 

But immortality is all but immaterial to a generation fully immersed and seemingly consumed by the "now." One needs to care, let alone think, about the future before immortality becomes of any personal interest. And, so, perhaps the job those current non-collectors would hire fine art to do has nothing to do with immortality any longer. 

I'd like to believe we hire art to help us, in this blur of a race to our final finish lines, perhaps relearn how to slow down. Again, though, I'm not so sure how material that is to the majority of people living today.

And so I open it up to suggestions. What job do people today hire fine art to do?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only Art that matters and survives represents the Truth.

There is so much fucking noise , the most noise in the history of humans. The internets / media / cellphones ect is a perpetual motion noise machine.

I avoid large groups of people as much as possible.

Most of you cant handle the truth.

4/30/2014 11:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Larry said...

This goes back to the preceding discussion of what pieces of art have "long-term value" and why. If much new art is ephemeral and may not stand the "test of time," how does it "bestow a connection to immortality"? On the other hand, a piece of original art becomes expensive and perhaps valuable because it is one of a kind (as opposed to that old favorite word "fungible"). If I buy a piece of art, I acquire something unique that makes me happy, in part because I love the work, but also in part because I know I have something in my home that no one else does. Of course as you know, Ed, a piece of art that costs $2-3K is a stretch for me, while to any of the fat cats who buy Koons, Hirst, and Co. that would be a cheap lunch. But still the feeling is the same when I look at the Dan Zeller, Shane Hope, Eric Fertman, and Julie Evans pieces in my modest
collection. I don't know if they will stand the test of time, but I think they're pretty damned good. I have enjoyed finding my Dan Zeller on the Internet and telling friends that the original is in my hanging on my wall if they care to visit.

Buying a piece of art - any piece - also lets you get to know it far more intimately than you might seeing it in a museum. Museums are such huge warehouses of stuff that the temptation is to spend only a few minutes or even seconds looking at each piece, there's so much to see. It's not like work that moves in time like a symphony or play where you are immersed in one or just a few works for an evening. (One Harvard art professor insists that students view a single painting for three hours; I wonder if they're allowed to take a break to pee.) But the museum in my home is restricted to several dozen pieces, so I know every nook and cranny of each the way I could not from a public collection.

But as far as "immortality" goes, I can easily buy good mass-produced texts of the complete plays of Shakespeare and mass-produced recordings of the complete quartets of Beethoven for a fraction of the cost of even a modest original work. And if either of these mass-produced artifacts cost more than $100 I would think it overpriced. So if I buy a fungible artifact of this kind I have acquired something with long-term value that has stood the test of time and bestows a connection to immortality, but it is not unique. The situation would be different if I were to acquire the autograph manuscript of Mozart's G-minor Symphony (which was once in the possession of Brahms), or the Leonardo Codex purchased by Bill Gates and shown to huge crowds at the Met, or the manuscript of King Lear if it were ever to surface. There you have the sort of thing the fat cats would out-do themselves in spending, as did JP Morgan for his library.

4/30/2014 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Thanks for the thoughtful and thought-provoking response, Larry. I too turn to literature (not so much classical music) for that connection to immortality, but sitting down to read Hamlet is still a much more time-consuming proposition than stopping, again, to study the Rouault print on the wall. Literature takes a different type of time and work than visual art in my experience.

So, although you've given us some very generous insights into your thinking, could you summarize: What job does hiring a work of art do for you that music or literature does not? Any?

4/30/2014 12:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rouault makes me cry so does Rem.

My first solo show opening night in NYC there will be no cellphones, booze or talking allowed. I wont be there either.

4/30/2014 12:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Ed, in brief I’d have to say first that the visual arts almost never arouse in me the same degree of emotion I get from music, theater, or literature. Even “Guernica” seen live does not “shatter” me the same way as King Lear or the St. Matthew Passion. Maybe that’s just me, but on the other hand when I find a piece of art I truly want to buy or return to often in a museum, I am delighted by the sense of composition, the use of space and color, the fine detail that bespeaks expert workmanship, etc. One thing that amazes me from my Dan Zeller and Rodger Stevens drawings is their faultless ability to create intricate asymmetrical lines and shapes without the slightest smudge or false move. I take the same delight in Indian and Persian miniatures, the busy canvases of Breughel such as the harvest scene at the Met, the almost photographic portraits of Ingres, or the beautiful free craftsmanship of Cowper at his best (such as “Boy with a Squirrel” in Boston’s MFA, which is so much more free and accomplished than the usual stiff art from colonial America).

Does that help? (Gotta get back to work.)

4/30/2014 12:55:00 PM  
Blogger lee kaloidis said...

A work of art is an icon that encapsulates the existential complexity of what it is to be human. But an icon made from the perspective of an artist, not an engineer, hunter, politician, scientist, lawyer, philosopher, etc.

Artists have a particular way of experiencing life and expressing it that is unique to them and them only - and, IMO, that is what makes art different from the other things we fill our lives with.

I heard Chomsky say a few days ago that humans fundamentally are no different today than they were 40,000 years ago. So that if you took a newborn from 40,000 years ago and placed it in a contemporary home, you would end up with a contemporary human being. What changes is knowledge, belief and value systems, cultural structures, etc. IOW, the cultural software, not the human hardware.

So the question is really about what art is and what it does.

I have published poetry and been a musician and I think I can say - at least for myself - that all art comes from a similar place in people and, regardless of medium, essentially tries to do the same thing. So that, IMO, there is no good reason why the music you love shouldn’t reflect the visual art you love, the poetry you love shouldn’t reflect the music you love. And make, too. I used to say to people who visited my studio/gallery that it made absolutely no sense to get home from work and put Jimi Hendrix on the stereo but have Lawrence Welk on the walls. There is a huge disconnect there.

So what, IMO, should art do?

* It should get you in touch with that 40,000-year-old inner nature that is impervious to cultural and social structuring
* It should rebelliously fight against predictability, conformity, and loss of freedom
* It should captivate with its narrative, challenge with the depth and breadth of its reach, and fill you with satisfaction after the initial challenge that it presents you with so that you know there is something actually beneath the complexity, not just a superficial obscurity and novelty and bullshit
* It should instill respect for its mastery and stubbornness and integrity
* It should shock you with its inventiveness and freshness
* It should inspire you and wake you the fuck up
* It should also serve as a reminder that it is not actually about the art, but really about the artist and the values he or she holds, which are human values that are transferred to the work, and then are transferred to the viewer and ultimately to the world. Art isn’t just made to be appreciated, it also teaches.
* It should be cleansing like a baptism and not filthy like sewage, which is not to say the content should be clean, only the motives and honesty of intention
* It should give you hope and instill aspiration and make you want to go on living
* And it should do all of this in a way that nothing else on the planet is capable of doing, which is why you should want to have it in your life.

4/30/2014 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger waynestead said...

Hi Ed,

This is an interesting exercise.

The job I hire art (that I own/collect) to do:
- Show me something new (of some aspect of the world)
- Articulate what has difficulty being explained
- Bring me pleasure (rarely by being pretty/light/'fluffy')
- Connect me to the artist and their thinking
- Help me think about God or theology or faith in new ways (including critically)
- Help me think in a particular way (e.g. poetically, visually)
- Challenge my assumptions
- Speak to mea about beauty (I have a somewhat rigorous concept of beauty)
- Support the artist

The job I hire work I create to do:
- Help me see something of the world differently
- Help me think about/process some issue
- Financially support myself and family
- Connect me to conversations with other artists
- Connect me to a larger community/audience
- Help me think about God or theology or faith in new ways (including critically)
- Help me think in a new way
- Articulate what has difficulty being explained

4/30/2014 02:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

I see I wrote "Cowper" above. I meant "Copley"; Cowper was a poet. I must be really losing it.

4/30/2014 08:29:00 PM  
Blogger Mars Eve said...

Fantastic replies Waynestead & Lee Kaloidis!!

To me, the art that I enjoy is like:
. a psychic conversation between me and the artist
. encouragement (smile)
. inspire me to make bad-ass art myself
. meditation, some art is like a maze that your eye creeps through & finds new and amazing treasures

When I make art, its like an exorcism

5/01/2014 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Linda Eichorst said...

Gee, Ed, This is a wonderful post.

The art in my house serves my soul in many ways. When I pause in front of a piece, I can get most anything my soul needs at that particular time--beauty, quiet, comfort, peace, appreciation, and even a connection to our creator.

A piece of art is so very complex. There is so much to see and learn and consider.

My art makes my home mine. It's very personal, almost intimate.

This is such a complex subject I could go on and on. Thanks for bring this subject up, Ed. I appreciate my modest collection more than ever now.

5/01/2014 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Original art is to intrigue us and connect with something inside. It is to sustain us over time being the external manifestation of something indefinable and perhaps secret, hidden in us. It intrigues us that some other soul expressed it. We want art to represent us, please us, and "be there" for us like a comfortable old slipper but to be of designer quality as if made for only us.
Betty Pieper, artist

5/01/2014 01:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this post is response to a blog from five years ago, not about this post. But i figured if i wrote this post on that old thread, you would not see it. EW, you wrote a blog in 2008 about artist and galleries severing their relationship after Nancy Baker had posted a blog. can i ask you a question in here regarding a personal situation based on that blog? thanks

5/04/2014 08:43:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home