Posts Tagged ‘art’

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An arts degree costs $120,000 but the typical artist only makes $25,000 a year.

That’s one of the many facts about the situation and composition of artists in New York City generated by the collective BFAMFAPhD (which includes my friend Susan Jahoda) [ht: ja].

Here are some others:

  • Only 15 percent of the people in New York with an art degree actually make a living as artists. The rest? 16 percent work in sales and other office occupations, 15 percent work in various professional fields, 11 percent are educators, 10 percent are managers, 10 percent work in service jobs, 9 percent have not worked in the last five years, 5 percent are working in business and finance, 3 percent work in various blue collar occupations, 3 percent now work in science, technology, or engineering, and 2 percent now work in medicine. (See this chart.)
  • As it turns out, while the poverty rate in New York City is 20.8 percent (and the national rate is 14.9 percent), 10.1 percent of people with an art degree live at or below the official poverty line. (See this chart.)
  • New York City’s population is 33 percent white non-Hispanic, but 74 percent of people in the city with arts degrees are white non-Hispanic and 74 percent of people who make a living as artists are white non-Hispanic.
  • New York City’s population is 23 percent black non-Hispanic, but only 6 percent of people in the city with arts degrees are black non-Hispanic, and only 7 percent of people who make a living as artists are black non-Hispanic.
  • New York City’s population is 29 percent Hispanic (of any race), but only 8 percent of people in the city with arts degrees are Hispanic, and only 10 percent of people who make a living as artists are hispanic.
  • New York City’s population is 13 percent Asian non-Hispanic, but only 10 percent of people in the city with arts degrees are Asian non-Hispanic, and 8 percent of people who make a living as artists are Asian non-Hispanic.
  • Of the people who identified their primary occupation as artist in the 2010-2012 American Community Survey in New York City, 55 percent were male, even though only 42 percent of people with art degrees are men.

The portrait that emerges is an artist (or someone with an art degree) who, demographically (in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender), does not represent the larger New York City population and who mostly has to earn a living doing something other than creating art.

As A. O. Scott recently observed,

Nobody would argue against the idea that art has a social value, and yet almost nobody will assert that society therefore has an obligation to protect that value by acknowledging, and compensating, the labor of the people who produce it.

 

Off today to give a talk on “Culture Beyond Capitalism” in the opening session of the 18th International Conference on Cultural Economics, sponsored by the Association for Cultural Economics International, to be held at the University of Quebec in Montreal.

I plan to start my multimedia presentation on how “culture offers to us a series of images and stories—audio and visual, printed and painted—that point the way toward alternative ways of thinking about and organizing economic and social life” with the original 1928 version of Harry McClintock’s “Big Rock Candy Mountains.”

Where they hung the jerk
That invented work
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

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There’s probably a story here but, for the life of me, I don’t know what it is.

A nude portrait of University of Cambridge economics fellow Victoria Bateman [ht: ja] has gone on display in London’s Mall Galleries as part of an exhibition by the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. Commissioned by Bateman in celebration of her own birthday, the portrait was painted by Anthony Connolly.

Best I can tell, Bateman is an unremarkable economist (with an econometric paper [pdf] on grain prices in early modern Europe and a book, Markets and Growth in Early Modern Europe, on a related topic). And her own comments on the portrait are not particularly insightful (in terms of either the aesthetics of the painting itself or the context for exhibiting the portrait). But kudos to her for citing the work of Dobb, Hobsbawm, Brenner, and Wallerstein in her paper (since they’re rarely cited in mainstream economic history), and for having the courage to present her portrait to the public (how many academics, let alone academic economists, would have the nerve?).

As for myself, while there aren’t a lot of mainstream economists I’d like to see in the nude (whether represented in painting, photography, or some other artistic medium), I do think that, after the crises of 2007-08 and in the midst of the Second Great Depression, the lot of them should be disrobed and hung in a gallery.

The rogues gallery.

 

Watch this magnificent performance by Rebirth, a poetry ensemble of high-school-age Chicago teens, featuring Simone Allen, Semira Allen, Maya Dru, Adam Ross, Onam Lansana, and Nile Lansana. They are affiliated with the community arts program at the Logan Center.

“Money Has No Heart” was performed on 8 March 2014, during the 2014 Louder Than A Bomb teen poetry festival, organized by Young Chicago Authors. The Olympics-style poetry competition started with 120 teams from the city of Chicago and the suburbs.

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[ht: cwc]

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Special mention

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In the end, about $1.1 billion of contemporary art were purchased during the two-day sale at Christie’s and Sotheby’s.*

I argued at the time that the auctions were a perfect “illustration of conspicuous consumption and the rise of inequality in the New Gilded Age.” Well, Georgina Adam seems to agree:

Driving their prices higher and higher are a group of ultra-wealthy buyers, who are indulging in a form of gladiatorial combat to win the most glittering trophies. Owning a major Bacon, Freud, Basquiat or Koons immediately sets them apart from other billionaires, giving bragging power as no other possession can. Displaying such a prize in their penthouses, luxury yachts or private museums is the equivalent of hanging a cheque on the wall, asserting that they can afford these multi-million-dollar baubles.

The pool of these mega-wealthy buyers is growing; they come from Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and India, and have entered the fray alongside the more established American and European collector base. The market is now so global that taste has become homogenised: billionaires across the world know who are the top artists and want the same recognisable things – pushing up prices even further. Two Asian bidders, for example, went after the Bacon at Christie’s, one pushing it right up to its final price. . .

But that’s not all:

There is no doubt that investment – and speculation – is also driving this market. With stock exchanges unpredictable and interest rates pathetic, the blue-chip artists are seen as a safe place to park money. As the prices rise, so does the incentive to buy more – and bidding up works by a name already in your collection increases their value even more, which might be really useful if you want to use it as collateral for a loan one day.

Is there financial manipulation going on as well? A small group of dealers and collectors are certainly encouraging this inflation, by giving so-called guarantees on works sent for sale. Under this system, they promise to buy a work of art at a secret price, so ensuring it will sell. If it goes over their bid, then they share in the extra money generated. So the work is sold even before it hits the auction block. The system has become a fearsome weapon in the auction houses’ armoury when they are fighting for consignments: many blame it also for inflating prices. Christie’s sale this month was underpinned by no less than 22 guarantees, some given by outside investors, others by the firm itself.

So at the upper reaches of the market, buying the top names is also a pretty safe bet. Today, the world’s richest people are worth multiple billions, so putting even a sliver of their fortune into art will hardly dent their bank balances – and buying art is a sure-fire entry ticket to what has become a very exclusive, billionaires’ playground.

*Dan Colen’s “Holy Shit” was auctioned at Sotheby’s for $341,000.

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It just so happens, in class this week we’re finishing up our discussion of Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class and beginning Joe Stiglitz’s The Price of Inequality.

Is there a better illustration of conspicuous consumption and the rise of inequality in the New Gilded Age than what transpired at yesterday’s auction of contemporary art at Christie’s New York? Not only the record prices but also the sale room itself:

It did not seem especially hard to sell work last night, only a matter of diverting large amounts of cash. Kelly Crow of The Wall Street Journal called attention on Twitter to a new structure in the sale room for all the “discreet $$ coming in,” a sort of ground-level sky box with “one-way glass [that] looks like a duck blind.”

As for the rest of us, who are not members of the leisure class, the best we were able to do is view the Christopher Wool retrospective at the Guggenheim (which I did a couple of weeks ago) and take some “‘selfies’ and ‘Instagram images’ during the brief period in which [Jeff Koons's] Balloon Dog was installed at Christie’s before the sale” (which I didn’t).

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Käthe Kollwitz, Deutschlands kinder hungern! (Germany’s children are starving!) (1924)

Michael O’Hare is forced to turn to Käthe Kollwitz in order to cope with the Dickensian decisions to cut national food-stamp benefits and, in some states, to refuse the expansion of Medicaid.

May your dreams be haunted with sick, starving children, you swine.

 

Lou Reed and Arthur Danto couldn’t have been more different. One used music to make us feel the contradictions occasioned by the desperate situations people find themselves in, while the other used philosophical language to make us think about what constitutes a work of art.

But they were also connected, at the very start: The Velvet Underground & Nico was produced by Andy Warhol (in 1967), while Warhol’s Brillo Box was the object that led Danto (in 1967, pdf) to argue that art is whatever the artworld says it is.

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I can’t say I was ever fully satisfied by the answers Reed and Danto offered but my encounters with the work of both of them led me to feel and think about life, music, and art in new, unexpected ways. And the world is now a less interesting place without them.