Deep Thought Thursday: Art & consumerism

How do you defend Art
in an
anti-consumerism tidal wave?

. . . or do you?

Melissa Cole, Sweet Spot. Painting, 8 x 16 inches. ©The Artist
Melissa Cole, Sweet Spot. Painting, 8 x 16 inches. ©The Artist

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19 thoughts on “Deep Thought Thursday: Art & consumerism”

  1. (As encouraged, I am here to expand on my tweet!)

    I admit I find this question confusing. To me, art is inherently anti-consumerism… if it weren’t, why would it be such an effort to figure out how to price, market and make a living selling it?

    By nature, we respond to art as something without price… that price is in fact nonsensical when applied to it. Throughout history we’ve tried different models in acknowledgement that art is made by people who need to be fed and sheltered if they’re to continue making it… but that doesn’t make art and money any less strange as bedfellows.

    My opinion, anyway. 🙂

  2. Value
    Most of what we own will eventually be dumped. Sad to say. However, Art can be passed from one generation to the next. Surely there is art that is disposable, but Art of the highest quality will be a treasure for generations to come.

  3. Hopefully. I don’t know about you, but my giclees are less fugitive than my paints…! When I send letters out with my originals, I always caution people that gouache and watercolors will change character and eventually fade, particularly if not cared for. And those mediums hardly have the market cornered on fading/changing over time. So while I pray that my originals will get passed on with the generations, the truth is probably that unless people are extremely careful with them, they’re not going to last several lifetimes.

  4. I am not sure “tidal wave” is totally accurate to describe the anti consumerism trend we are seeing these days. Art never needs a defense.

    Keep in mind that very few artists are churning stuff out at a rate that can compete with disposable razors. The best works will take quite awhile to find their way to the landfills. But I am straying off topic.
    I think more than anti-consumerism we are experiencing a trend of making “thoughtful purchases” and art can only benefit from that. People want green, they want to know where their stuff comes from, they want things that will last, but they still want their stuff.

  5. Art is only one facet of our life, and although as artists we tend to focus only on this facet, for the buyers it’s never “just art”. Either it is connected with emotional levels of human beings, which do not care much about consumption, but about feelings. And “things” that make you feel good will always be in demand. Or, it is connected with the physical settings of our lives – the places we dwell in, our work environments, our places of worship. Buying the art, for most people, is directly influenced by where it will fit in. And most people don’t care much about minimalism… so art is required to fill the gap.
    If anything, the movement should encourage us, the artists, to produce our best and not saturate the market with below-average products, as well as to reuse materials, support green supply manufacturers, and find way to utilize virtual technology for our business to reduce physical consumption.

  6. Alyson Stanfield

    Rebecca: I specifically left out a time frame. I didn’t say that’s what’s happening today. It can, however, happen in pockets and among certain segments at any time. In other words, it can be a tidal wave within a narrow segment of the population. Yes?

    All: What about the desire to own more stuff? Is owning more art part of that mindset? Or is it different than owning more clothes, more books, more electronics?

  7. I would say it falls under the same mindset. Everyone has their own vice, or their own soft-spot for something. If someone get “control” over the need to have more, it will be over whatever previously he or she “needed”. Whoever advocate (now or in the future) for anti-consumerism will find your soft-spot and try to convert you there.

  8. This topic comes at an interesting time. I’ve just visited with several patrons who have been investing deeply in their homes. One of the things they’ve thought alot about is buying only original artwork from artists they know, or who are recommended to them.
    It seems that they are willing to share their wealth with individuals they admire or choose to help, rather than with corporations or big-box stores with whom they’ve never had a personal relationship.
    People are still spending, but differently, more thoughtfully and with an eye toward a deeper committment to themselves and others.

  9. Approach your life and actions with a sense of balance and you will not tip the scale of consummerism, over eating, depletion of natural resources, etc. Art balances all the stress and technology in our lives.

  10. I have no desire, time, or inclination to defend my art against, really, anything. I don’t create to defensively defend my work.
    Real collectors are such a small community and usually are comitted when they can afford to be. Sadly, the loss of 30%-60% or more of their net worth in a year period has made some of them a little nervous about purchases. As Alyson pointed out, this can and has happened during many periods of history. I’m sure art was stolen more then bought during WWII.
    Another way to think of what happened with the market is to think back when gas was at $2 a gallon and then skyrocketed to above $5. Did this change our behavior, yes. Did we use less gas, yes. But if the gas company threw in an easy wipe and a free bumper sticker stating that “I love oil companies” would that have made me buy more oil? No. I was cutting back, no matter what. It’s not personal and the tide will turn, but while you are waiting, create, create, create and be inspired.
    I know this is not what many want to hear when they are trying to sustain themselves as artists, but the reality is that the key is to stay focused on the creative process. The buyers will come and go, and ebb and flow, but the passion lies in the work.

  11. I personally feel that anti-consumerism phases (like you say, not necessarily now) are more about anti-mass-production than consumerism as a whole. Trends go to local, handcrafted, fair trade, etc. I think art falls into these categories on several levels – handcrafted, dealing directly with the producer of the work to support a local worker (or through a local gallery to support two local businesses!).

    But if we’re talking total anti-consumerism… people who love and buy art because they understand and appreciate the art, rather than just want a decorative item, see beyond the product of it and want to support the production – the creativity and the artist. In this sense it’s less capitalist and more socialist (hoorah!) and a purchase that contributes to both their social lives and the life of someone they consider important to society. Since those buyers will think art is relevent beyond just brightening up a wall.

  12. I just read all of the comments and still find myself slightly confused (as opposed to, say, bewildered). I have yet to fully understand the term “anti-consumerism.” Does it describe a tendency to purchase less no matter what the reason or does it mean purchasing with thoughtful consideration rather than merely rampant acquisition (quality vs quantity)?

    I’m fairly certain independent artists will fare better in an environment where people make their purchases based on their own tastes, desires and needs rather than on fashion trends dictated to them. That said, however, it is indeed the arts that hurt first when people are convinced times are bad (whether or not this is a valid outlook).

    Does art need defending at any time? This is, I think, a more apropos question because art in our society is less respected than, say, a bunch of guys slamming into each other on a fake grass arena. (Of course the work of firemen is also apparently less respected, but that’s another discussion.) Art does not need defending at any time. Rather the general public needs educating – and that’s a different perspective altogether.

  13. What an excellent question. During hard economic times, some people tend to think of art as expendable – a non-essential expense. I have always argued the opposite: that during trying times, art is more necessary than ever to bolster the human spirit. Finally, I heard one of the trend forecasters who agrees with me! Gerald Celente of Trends Forecaster gave an interview where he recommends buying buying art from local artists as an alternative to rampant consumerism during this holiday season, briefly about 7 minutes into the interview. It was very heartening. I don’t know if it would be proper etiquette to provide the link here, though …. Alyson?

  14. Good point, excellent blog!

    My name is Dan, I live in Moscow, Russia.

    There are some emerging names that aren’t known to the public. One of them is the young Russian painter Irina Gornostaeva.

    I am impressed by the radiant energy of her works, and by her rigorous academic training.

    The realist school is not popular everywhere, but it’s picking up here in Russia.

    The world is changing, reality is often more surprising than art, for better or worse.

    Realists who have good technique and substance, depict this change in a powerful and convincing way.

    Moscow, Russia

  15. I just looked up “consume” – to absorb, eat up, destroy, spend wastefully.
    I think that if you’re one of those people vacuuming up cutting edge art and warehousing the work for future resale maybe that would be “consuming” art.
    (BTW if you are one of those people, please feel free to visit my site)

    But I have to really want to live with a painting or sculpture before I will part with the cash. And if I really want to spend the rest of my life with a painting I will buy it. I am still haunted by the pieces that got away because I hesitated.

    It’s up to us as artists to produce life long experiences for our customers

  16. Such excellent comments here. Yes, I have encountered those beings who say *I don’t want to put one more product into the world* as their reason to reject what they choose to reject. I think it is a growing fad and fashionable along the radical lines of those who torch SUVs etc. (I don’t own a SUV, BTW). Sometimes they are against art too, and I don’t say anything to them at all. The peaceful extreme of that are the DIYers. I’ve been in shops ( in San Francisco) that stocked mostly handmade items–handmade clothes, books, wallets made out of duct tape(!) for vegetarians–rather than the mass-produced, animal based products. There is so much consumer junk out there on every level of society, even amid art suppliers. I have to sort through a lot of junk to find quality art supplies. Paints are full of fillers, and so I make my own.
    So I am sympathetic to anti-commerists– real art is handmade so fits that ethic…

  17. I cant fo the life of me remember the name of the female artist who used her art works to comment on consumerism. She created a shopping bag for women, her artworks used quotes and words, she displayed a message on the billboard in times square and also on the score board at half time in a basket ball game (something about women can play sports too?)

    When I was at school we touched on her work but I would love to study her in depth now.

    Can anybody tell me her name??

  18. My favorite insightful comment is the one by Tina Mamoser – although many excellent points have been made. What makes me happiest is the thoughtful buyer looking to help support a living artist whose work they love enough to live with. On Jenny Holzer: to me when art presents as words alone – no matter how cleverly – it’s morphed into something else: philosophy.

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