Archive for the Decline of human culture Category

In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay. And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it.

–Ernst Fischer

In the wake of the recently announced demise of VACUM, the Art Newspaper posted a story on the forced death march facing arts journalism. Here’s some key info:

Arts journalism as we used to know it is sinking with the ship…. The problem is that the cuts [to newspapers] are deepening an already miserable shortage of resources, set against a cultural universe that continues to expand [emphasis mine]. We are past the tipping point: it has become acceptable to run a paper with just a skeletal culture staff. Specialised writers are giving way to generalists. Culture sections are being tossed overboard (standalone book review sections, in particular, are a dying breed). Article lengths and “news holes” (space for editorial content) are shrinking. All this has eviscerated newspapers’ ability to deliver quality arts coverage, which, as a result, must migrate elsewhere…. Many experts believe that daily newspapers will never find a way back to sustaining solid arts journalism. Magazines are doing marginally better, but they cannot shoulder the burden of timely local arts coverage, especially for non-specialist readers — and some are folding.

None of this is a surprise to me, of course. Whereas I once had no problem finding home to 30+ yearly articles (even as I struggled to keep up on a dayjob) in local and national magazines, newspapers, newsweeklies, and online magazines, this has for the most part gone away in the past year. Most of these formerly welcoming venues have folded or been forced to cut back their space for arts writing. In fact, I’m back to writing almost solely for the first publication that was brave and daring enough to accept my very first review back in 1997. This is less of a tragedy for me than it sounds. While I’ve enjoyed writing about and supporting local art, it has not been without its hassles. And arts writing has never been much of a money-making venture.

This downturn in fact has given me freedom to evolve. I’ve been dabbling this past few months — ever since my most recent online magazine venture folded for budgetary reasons — with other writing forms: poetry, journalism, essays, fiction, memoir,… not to mention my eccentric and self-absorbed blogging (blogging, BTW, seems to be what the Art Newspaper pins all future hopes, even as it acknowledges that a general lack of funding for the practice keeps it marginal and ephemeral).

What’s perhaps the only unfortunate thing about this death of arts writing is the effect of the decline of attention being paid (not just by me, but by other writers across the board) to local artists. As the article hints, cultural production continues to expand even as less public attention is paid to it. As evidence, I note that today I am receiving more notices from artists — in the mail, via email, on Facebook, etc — than I ever have. Artists seem increasingly desperate for someone to notice them.

Alas, poor artists. In response to all your notices, emails, and public interruptions, all I can say is: Sorry. I can’t respond to your art, at least not in any official published way, but hey, that’s the way it goes.

Blank

The promise of America is that nobody is born to lose, but who has never wondered, “Am I wasting my life?” We imagine escaping the mad scramble yet kick ourselves for lacking drive. Low ambition offends Americans even more than low achievement…. Failure conjures such vivid pictures of lost souls that it is hard to imagine a time, before the Civil War, when the word meant “breaking in business” — going broke. How did it become a name for a deficient self, an identity in the red? Why do we manage identity the way we run our businesses - by investment, risk, profit, and loss?
Scott A. Sandage, Born Losers: A History of Failure in America (2006)

In American culture, the market is worshiped increasingly as an ideology rather than being seen for what it is—a natural product of human social evolution and a set of valuable tools through which we may shape a healthful and equitable society. It is under the spell of this ideology—this new religion—the we have fallen into complacency. Personal profit is no longer the means to an end but has become the end in itself. America’s traditional immigrant values of resourcefulness, thrift, prudence, and an abiding concern for family and community have been hijacked by a commercially driven, all-consuming self-interest that is rapidly making us sick.
– Peter C. Whybrow, M.D., American Mania: When More Is Not Enough (2005)


(Regarding what fed the Internet bubble that burst in the early 2000s): “You had a lot of novice investors who got into the market looking for easy money, without any regard to the fundamentals. These stocks were running on fumes.”
– Bernie Madoff, Washington Post, Jan 2, 2001.

The Art Newspaper this past week has proclaimed that “speculation in young artists” is ending in the wake of economic worldwide meltdown.

The effect? I suspect that it will hurt the smaller galleries that sell emerging or non-blue-chip art the most. I suspect, but don’t follow it closely enough to say for sure, that it will also happen sooner or later with Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern art markets as well… It’s been kind of like buying internet stocks—and we know how that ended. With the high prices for younger art “established” by a speculative market where can they go, relative to demand, but down? But galleries never lower their primary prices, so these works will sit in gallery storage racks—with zero revenue-flow for non-brand name dealers. I call this the death spiral for art: sinking prices and sinking demand.

Is there a silver lining in the midst of this gloomy forecast?

Perhaps a return to the importance of museums, critics and alternative spaces for validation and the introduction of new art.

Hm. A return to the importance of critics? That doesn’t sound so bad… (Except where are these critics going to publish their writing?)

Meanwhile…

On a completely different note, please come to the Art Happy Hour this Sunday, October 19, at 9 pm at the Red Stag Supper Club. (Art Happy Hour is the only true antidote to America’s ongoing Artistic Failure!)

I’ve been reading and writing about Canada’s ongoing national back-turning on its artists of late, which apparently is a huge subject up there because it keeps coming up of late. This most recent story, from the Oct. 11 Globe and Mail, is interesting because it discusses an arts event that was highly praised in Canada—the recent triumphant visit of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to a sold-out Carnegie Hall—and describes how impossible it is, in our modern business-oriented economy, for an arts org to be deemed a success. “…the tour was an artistic and critical success,” writes Simon Houpt, “[but] those viewing it simply through a prism of profit and loss would call it a failure: The performance fee paid by Carnegie Hall didn’t come close to covering even half of the orchestra’s $466,000-plus costs.”

The author then looks closely at the upcoming budget for Volcano, a Toronto-based theatre company, which took the unusual step of opening its books to The Globe and Mail, and examines point-by-point how what people are willing to pay for art is vastly outstripped by the expenses incurred in mounting arts programming. The problem with art has long been noted by economists: The cost for the products of our economy become ever more based on the efficiencies associated with mechanization and mass production, so that a product like art that is impossible to make more efficiently (a painting will always take so long to make, a symphony always will involve so many producers) are regarded as too expensive to support in relation to cheaply reproduced good and entertainment (crappy cable TV, for instance). The arguments that people make against arts funding fail to take into account the simple human costs for art.

It’s interesting too to have read this story from the past weekend, from my own formerly artistically “enlightened” northern home state of Minnesota, just south of Canada’s southern border, about the impending doom facing pretty much all of our former artistic treasures. Art funders here, according to the story’s author Mary Abbe, are “bracing for rocky times.” Major arts orgs like the “Minnesota Orchestra, Guthrie Theater, Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Institute of Arts,” who are seeing their endowments rapidly shrink, are “braced for the worst.” At the end she quotes Jacques Brunswick, chief administrative officer of the Guthrie Theater, as he makes an (unconvincing) appeal: “It’s a rough time. I think the arts need people’s money now more than ever.”

And in response (in the Strib’s comments)?

Time to get back to the basics

When many are faced with homelessness, hunger and a lack of health care, it is time to get back to the basics. We have to pay off massive governmental and consumer debt that is strangling the country before we can make much progress. Also, we need to ensure our kids and even adults are getting adequate scientific and technical training so we can compete again in the global market. Given all this, the upcoming decides need to focus on basics rather than arts.

posted by rebeccalhoover on Oct 11, 08 at 7:29 pm |

CTV’s website recently the following story, which provoked some interesting and telling comments (below):

Some Calgary artists played dead on Monday to try to raise awareness about cuts to national funding for the arts.

Protestors gathered at City Hall to say that Canada’s arts and cultural scene is on its deathbed.

The federal government recently cut 45 million dollars of funding and the artists say they already struggle to make a living and they worry it’ll get even worse if the Conservatives win a majority government.

The protesters want people to save the arts and vote for any party but the Tories.

Local theatre director Jamie Dunsdon says the conservatives have undermined the value of the arts in the community.

“I think it’s because we have politicians like Mr. Harper telling us that we don’t value arts which isn’t true, every day citizens do value arts. It’s on the walls of our dentists’ office, it’s on the radio. We do value arts, we just need the funding and we need politicians to recognize that we need the funding and the support,” said Dunsdon.

The Conservatives say they’ve boosted arts funding since coming into office.

They also say they’ve simply shifted some of that money into other programs, including sports and recreation.

SAMPLE COMMENTS:

Claudia.
When people are loosing their houses etc. it would be irresponsible for the Feds to put more money into the ‘arts’. Get real! Who else should the government bail out?


Glenda Bowser
I think the arts have survived very well on the backs of taxes payer. If they are starving I suggest they get a job like the rest of us,


Liz
Totally agree with the cuts - an elite group with attitude - what about extra funding for the underemployed,the wait staff, the retail clerks - everyone cud benefit from a hand-out. What makes the arts group so special!!! - talent - if they had any, they would not have to beg.


Pete
Lets see, a cut of less than 2% to the total arts funding. If thats catastrophic then these people have much more to worry about in the current financial climate when other people are trying to keep their real jobs that pay taxes and support these “artists”. Gravy train is over folks


Angelo
I always figured being an artist was a side job, since when am I, as a taxpayer paying for “art” that I wouldn’t pay to see anyway? Put down the paint set and pick up a hammer!


Michelle
I would rather my tax dollars go to HEALTH CARE, than some starving artist. While listening to them cry on the news about how they can barely survive now, I could not help but think…”Get a real job then!!!”


Davey boy
If that’s the best artists can come up with. Then please take there funding away


Sue - Calgary
I think people in the arts community should wake up and get a real job instead of perfoming meaningless plays that no one understands. I think our tax dollars can be better spent elsewhere.


Jane - A Calgary Taxpayer who is struggling
Well, if the artists were any good at what they do, they would make a good living at it in the free market. If they cannot support themselves, perhaps they could get real jobs like the rest of us! Welcome to the real world! If I like art, I will buy it or see it, otherwise, I am not going to pay for it. I am a good gardener, but the government does not support my hobby. Why would I, who am struggling to make ends meet, have to pay tax dollars to the arts? Funny how the artists have time to play dead, on a work day. I am at work. Making a living. Maybe they could try it instead of complaining and protesting.

A new story out in Time magazine discuss the inevitable news: As the rest of the world tanks culturally and economically, so apparently goes China.

At a Sotheby’s sale of 20th century Chinese artwork on Oct. 5, two-thirds of the 110 lots failed to sell, and many of the pieces that did find buyers went for below their estimated prices. By the close of the biannual sales of the world’s largest publicly traded art auction house, Sotheby’s took in about half what it had expected, at just over $140.7 million….

Many say the unimpressive results were a combination of already overinflated price estimates and the dismal economy. “Particularly with the fund managers, if they are concerned with things happening in the world, they may be inclined to hold on to their funds,” said Mark Joyce, owner of Koru Contemporary Art in Hong Kong.

That’s not good news for Sotheby’s. Following the poor sales, the auction house’s shares fell 14% on Oct. 6, hitting a three-year low. (Sotheby’s was not available for comment.) Nor does it bode well for the regional art market: the Hong Kong auction was its first gauge after the worldwide financial crisis hit last month. “Due to uncertainty in the markets, investors are making selective choices as to where to spend their money,” said Shirley Ben Bashat, director of the Opera Gallery Hong Kong….

Beijing-based artist Zhao Gang isn’t surprised. “Three years ago the prices started going higher and higher,” said Zhao. “Last year the price was pushed way too high, and it’s got to come down.” …

Still, the local art world isnt’ getting too depressed — yet. Says Bashat, the director of the Opera Gallery Hong Kong, “Many buyers see art as a safer investment in the mid to long term compared to other investments in the market.” Buyers may be turning away from contemporary Chinese art today, but at least they are keeping an eye on Asia.

As the deflated rich in this country wring their hands about how rapidly China is buying up U.S. bonds, securities, businesses, and land, I found it curious to find this story about attempts by Chinese artists who own the international fake art market.

Sept. 24 (Bloomberg) — In a village in southern China, Wu Ruiqiu is worried about the effect of an economic slump on the art market. He should be. Wu represents artists who make 60 percent of the world’s oil paintings. Wu is chairman of Dafen’s art association, which groups 8,000 artists in a suburb of Shenzhen, China’s biggest manufacturing hub. While employees in the city make cheap DVD players, computers and T-shirts, workers here produce Rembrandts, Monets and Warhols — by the millions.

Exports have fallen by a third this year, he said… About 85 percent of sales are exports, with the U.S. the biggest customer. A decline in demand has forced the smaller of Dafen’s 800 galleries to close. Others have slashed prices to compete…

Of the nearly 5 million paintings produced at Dafen each year, almost 75 percent are knockoffs (the locals prefer the term replicas). The rest are original artworks, said Fan Yuxin, vice director of the government’s Dafen Village management office.

Lan Xin, who runs a 100-square-foot gallery with Yue copies propped against the walls and hung on pillars, accepts custom orders. He clicked on an icon on his computer screen that expanded to show miniature images of paintings such as Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe portraits. Lan said he commissions freelance artists to paint pictures customers order….

“The paintings here are cheap, they are good, what’s there not to like?” said Houston, Texas-based Judy Berckman, browsing the stalls of galleries for “abstract art.”Foreign companies think the same. The village’s products line the walls of casinos in Las Vegas and Macau…

Dafen’s prolific fakery roused complaints from original artists and their estates, prompting the government to introduce intellectual property rules that bar galleries from selling copies of works by living artists and those dead for less than 50 years.

Fan said an anti-piracy squad inspects galleries “once a month or once a week” and confiscates works that violate the rules. Still, he said the onus is on buyers and people who commission paintings to clear copyright issues.

“Painters just do as they are told,” Fan said. “Their obligation stops when they deliver the goods to customer satisfaction.”

A walk around Dafen’s galleries, full of copies of works by China’s bestselling contemporary artists, shows that the rules aren’t strictly enforced.

An article in the National Post of Canada, titled “The working man’s case for arts funding,” reveals some exciting news from that quiet country to the North: Canada has, politically speaking, finally reached the 1990s. Canada has at long last discovered the great golden age of the American “Culture Wars.”

According to the story’s author, John Moore:

(Prime Minister) Stephen Harper’s campaign has been all about easy points. Teens with guns; lock ‘em up. Average families (we all think we’re average); give ‘em a tax cut. Arts funding; let the sushi-eating, bow-tie-wearing snobs pay for their own meat dresses and urine-soaked crucifixes. Earlier this week, the PM took a gratuitous swipe at the arts, cleverly widening the perceived divide between “ordinary working people” and the “elites” who make their living in creative endeavours.

Ah, such warm and gentle memories this evokes in my hardened art-loving heart. Jesse Helms. The NEA Five. Piss-Christ. Pat Buchanan. Rudy Giuliani. Oh, it’s so fun to demonize the arts and terrorize artists! So much fun!

The author continues with some good points (that puts some of the blame on the artists themselves):

It’s not easy to make a case for the arts, which is precisely why they are such a ripe target. And artists don’t make it any easier. Most Canadians don’t really have a warm and fuzzy impression of Wendy Crewson or Margaret Atwood. Outside of their books, sets and performance venues, artists have a frustrating inability to connect with anyone but each other.

No, it is not easy to clarify why the arts are important to protect, nurture, and support. I’ve tried to do this for years, and I sometimes feel I’m no closer to any answers than I’ve ever been. Moore, for his part, gives the examples of Cirque du Soleil, SCTV, and a full host of Canadian art stars — all of whom received small token amounts of important governmental support when they were struggling to get established. Without such support, he suggests, these institutions that have entertained and thrilled so many people would simply not have been able to survive and thrive.  Because of this, he argues, small amounts of leg-up money from the government ultimately benefits all of us, not just some untouchable elite.

It’s a tough sell, no doubt. Good luck with your wars, Canada. Having been there-done that, I don’t envy you. At the very least, however, I can say in all sincerity: “Welcome to the 90s!”

Been distracted with late-summer shenanigans lately — so posts have been relatively scarce on CAFA. I did manage to post a piece earlier this week on The Thousandth Word.

It’s a rant – called “We Choose to Go to the Moon” – about how whimpily risk-averse we’ve become in this country and about how we need to go back to the age of John F. Kennedy. (These were thoughts that popped in my head after stumbling on a public art piece in Brackett Park in Mpls.)

Here’s a sample:

Certainly, the Brackett rocket offered an important object-lesson to any kid who managed to climb into the exalted, rarified nose cone: If you overcame your fears and dared to make the climb, then you were rewarded — especially if you lived to tell the tale. I wonder if the same could be said today about a country too long pampered and protected, about privileged citizens living ever-cushier lifestyles, about politicians who fear administering any sort of necessary, but vote-draining, pills — have we simply grown afraid to face the numerous challenges of the future? Does anyone other than me wonder how John F. Kennedy might have suggested we deal with any of our sundry contemporary dilemmas: Unaffordable housing and health-care, a devaluing currency and ever-ballooning trade deficit, a looming energy crisis, rising ocean levels and increasingly environmental stress, loss of industry and job, increasing inflation, a growing divide between haves and have-nots, and on and on?

What’s great about this new incarnation of the Brackett rocket is that the sculpture has the power to evoke the spirit of a bygone era and point out every important difference between then and now. It hints at a better version of ourselves — the nation of risk-takers and achievers who made, despite the great dangers surrounding the country, “know how” and “can do” everyday expressions, and an everyday approach to living life.