A Currrent Perspective for Visual Artists
The Auction Houses, now privatized, are setting record-breaking sales and profits on artwork from the last century however well beyond the likelihood that will have any effect on your immediate future.
The museums and galleries, once the only foot-in-the-door for emerging artists are closed, their revenue is dwindling, and laying off employees many of whom are artists dependent on a bi-weekly income. The museums remaining budgets are earmarked for management salaries, collections and building maintenance. Most of the commercial galleries are facing the same predicament, paying rent on premium storefront properties, also closed to public while the average collector is forced to limit their spending on necessities.
Sadly, it doesn’t appear that on-line exhibits and sales are making up the difference as artist collectives and cooperatives are likewise facing an uncertain economic crunch due to Covid-19 restrictions and a generally poor economy overall. (Who wants to attend a virtual art opening when the dominant activity wasn’t looking but being seen?)
Art Schools and University Art Departments are laying off teachers and adjuncts while the remaining teachers have yet to renew their contracts – the consequence being a loss of academic credentials, a loss of subsidized studio spaces within the institution, and a loss of income for those artist/teachers who would use a portion of that income for studio rent, materials and labor for large projects, if and when those opportunities might resume.
Arts Agencies and Foundations responsible for disbursing monies for public arts projects and individual merit are also likely to be facing the same staff and budget cuts.
So… what are individual artists to do without the promise of an income from their work or exposure to potential collectors? (A promise that never held any potential for a sustained income for all but a handful of artists even in the most lucrative years of art market sales.)
Can artists expect to see emergency government subsidies for the arts? Again, not likely. Governmental funding for the arts rarely goes directly to artists. And even if there were a push to fund artists in such an emergency that is certain to go to commercial artists with a proven business record (or academic credentials), not to everyone who claims to be an artist with a minor record of exhibitions.
One scenario will be that many artists will simply throw in the towel; give up art making and look to other less demanding, more stable means of income. Fine Arts departments will drop studio classes for lack of enrollment and replace them with those who seek careers in arts management, curatorial studies, art therapy and cultural history.
Another more positive scenario dependent more on the artists own initiatives could be as simple and cost effective as actual solidarity; foregoing the competition for individual success for the joy of mutual accomplishment, sharing resources and materials, building community within existing communities for active long-term support opposed to pandering to outside agencies for one-time awards or to anonymous collectors for a token sale. – making art to actively spite false hopes, fantasies of artworld success, and unrealistic expectations never intended or offered for sustained fruition.