26 January 2009

After the bubble

There have been several articles recently about why the financial crisis/recession/Even Greater Depression will be good for the art world (see here and here). These tend to take the same form: the art world has got bloated and decadent, and the recession will get rid of the dead wood and make it all strong and pure again.

As a somewhat extreme counterexample, take the Weimar Republic. It was also portrayed by conservative critics as bloated and decadent, what with its cabarets and jazz and modern painting and all. Then came the Great Depression, and people found out what getting rid of the dead wood and making everything strong and pure again really means.

Sure, there is a good case to be made that the recent art market has been a classic investment bubble. Clearly, regardless of the recent record prices for contemporary art, we haven’t been living through a golden age of art. How anyone ever thought the market value of an art work is in any way related to its (for want of a better term) aesthetic value is beyond me.

However, the idea doing the rounds seems to be that, if a strong art market equals lots of bad art, then a weak art market equals lots of good art. This is ludicrous.

There is no guarantee that tough times equal better art. Only breezy columnists with a deadline too close for considered thought would suggest so. Tough times guarantee tough times. The good artists went their own way when the art market went mad, and they’ll carry on going their own way now that it’s gone bad. It’ll just be harder.

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