Posts Tagged ‘art’

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As we know, rising inequality, especially the hollowing-out of the middle, has undermined the financial viability of retailers and other merchants of consumption that, during the postwar period, catered to the middle-class—and boosted the prospects of particular lines and whole businesses that target those at the tiny top and growing bottom of the distribution of income. As the New York Times reported in February,

In Manhattan, the upscale clothing retailer Barneys will replace the bankrupt discounter Loehmann’s, whose Chelsea store closes in a few weeks. Across the country, Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants are struggling, while fine-dining chains like Capital Grille are thriving. And at General Electric, the increase in demand for high-end dishwashers and refrigerators dwarfs sales growth of mass-market models. . .

Investors have taken notice of the shrinking middle. Shares of Sears and J. C. Penney have fallen more than 50 percent since the end of 2009, even as upper-end stores like Nordstrom and bargain-basement chains like Dollar Tree and Family Dollar Stores have more than doubled in value over the same period.

Now, that same unequal distribution of income seems to be destroying the foundations of the postwar era of middlebrow culture. As A. O. Scott explains,

The middlebrow is robustly represented in “difficult” cable television shows, some of which, curiously enough, fetishize such classic postwar middlebrow pursuits as sex research and advertising. It also thrives in a self-conscious foodie culture in which a taste for folkloric authenticity commingles with a commitment to virtue and refinement.

But in literature and film we hear a perpetual lament for the midlist and the midsize movie, as the businesses slip into a topsy-turvy high-low economy of blockbusters and niches. The art world spins in an orbit of pure money. Museums chase dollars with crude commercialism aimed at the masses and the slavish cultivation of wealthy patrons. Symphonies and operas chase donors and squeeze workers (that is, artists) as the public drifts away.

Universities and colleges, the seedbeds of a cultural ideal consecrated to both excellence and democracy, to citizenship and to knowledge for its own sake, are becoming either hothouses for the new dynastic elite or training centers for the technocratic debt peons of the digital future.

In the hectic heyday of the middlebrow, intellectuals gazed back longingly at earlier dispensations when masterpieces were forged in conditions of inequality by lucky or well-born artists favored by rich or titled patrons.

Social inequality may be returning, but that doesn’t mean that the masterpieces will follow. The highbrows were co-opted or killed off by the middle, and the elitism they championed has been replaced by another kind, the kind that measures all value, cultural and otherwise, in money. It may be time to build a new ladder.

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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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