The art world in the wake of COVID-19

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It’s a good thing that good art doesn’t need the art world.

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It’s a lot harder for professional artists to keep making art when they can’t make enough money doing it to, you know, actually survive.


Yeah so many people love to hate the art world but I don’t see them jumping in to hype anyone’s work for them. Leaving that job on the artist means you get shittier art made by those who are better marketers than artists. And… well it’s been that way for a while… but maybe eventually a supportive community or two will thrive again.


Not to mention all the people who seem to be laboring under the belief that True Artists® are driven by their love of creative expression rather than silly financial considerations.

You know, just like how master chefs at five-star restaurants let everyone eat for free because they’re just in it for the love of the game.


The depressing part of this current crisis (besides the obvious death and suffering) is all the good things that aren’t going to survive and all the shitty things that are going to get stronger. Every day seems to provide new examples.

Unfortunately a) that’s not entirely true, and b) all the shittiest parts of the art world are going to be just fine. The parts of the art world that I’d want to kill off are the parts that will not just survive but thrive and become even more dominant.


Well, and to be honest, there’s lots of bad art out there. And institutions that specialize in niche or really high-concept art have a hard time hanging on through the best of times, much less a catastrophe like this.

Lots of those places are also run like mini fiefdoms - crookedly high pay to execs and low-paid/ interns doing the actual work behind the scenes.


Hi Shuck, Can you be more specific about what you think is going to survive and what is going to fail? Your response is very vague and doomsy sounding but short on example. I have no doubt art, and its market, will adapt to any situation, like it has for thousands of years.

Futility Closet recently did a story about a master art forger, and then a different story about -of all things- wine forgery. And both types of crimes take a thing with very subjective value, and mess with that value some more.

This pandemic has a disproportionate effect on the poor. That it is also affecting wealthy people as well, only makes me wonder if fine art is going to get any less removed from the commoner’s world than it is now.

During more normal times, fine art serves to give rich people something to talk about that only other rich people can keep up with. Nowadays, that’s the last thing anybody needs.


The whole concept of art only being for the wealthy is such a horrible concept and I really wish it would die.

It’s not like we can’t understand and appreciate the finest art with our course, vulgar minds; that only the enlightened wealthy can truly appreciate such things. It’s not like you need to own a work to understand it. It’s not like owning a crate of paintings in a warehouse in a “in-between” place outside of any tax authority that no one has seen in years and that you’ll never actually lay eyes on makes you appreciate art more. It’s not like using art to launder money or your reputation actually makes it easier to see what the artist did. But all that, I can ignore.

What I can’t ignore is my friends who are artists who make art for people at prices which bring the accessibility of owning an original work of art into the budgets of those of us not born with a silver spoon in our mouths are hurt by this myth because if their art is affordable it’s obviously inferior; or the assumption that you just can’t afford it anyway.

Art has always been the domain of the people; and of all the things that the 1/10th of 1% has tried to take from us, it is perhaps the thing that cuts the deepest. We all need to have a connection to the arts; enjoying it, owning it, making it. Art is a base cultural bedrock; and to secede it to the ultra-wealthy is unfathomable.

Please. Make art. Make music. Express yourself. And support the people in your community who do this for us. And this art - folk art, pop art, just plain art - is every bit as important as “fine art”.


Hmm, if only there was some sort of article that explicitly discussed or alluded to the various elements of the art world that were being challenged - and failing - to survive, that I might have been commenting on…

TL;DR of what’s not going to survive:

Art museums (even some fairly large ones) take a lot of revenue from ticket sales; employees are being furloughed or laid off. At least some won’t survive.
Smaller non-profit art organizations, art fairs, etc. aren’t going to survive.
Small and medium-sized galleries likely won’t survive.
Art magazines are hosed.
Art schools are shutting down. Art programs at universities, already battered, aren’t being done any favors by a move to remote teaching. Expect to see some art departments eliminated by the time all this is over.
Artists. Leaving aside those who are actually dying, a lot of artists support themselves through the above, giving them time to make art on the side. There are going to be a lot fewer practicing artists as a result of all this.

What’s going to survive: big galleries, auction houses, brokers - i.e. all the elements commoditizing artwork and parasitizing the work of artists.

I could spend a lot of time talking about how that’s both ignorant and unhelpful, but it would make me angry, so I won’t.

Without a doubt, because what’s being hardest hit are all the things that make art more accessible to people (both in terms of education and just plain ol’ physical access). As a result of this, a larger portion of the “art world” will focus on rich people buying art as commodities intended to hold value (and sitting in some warehouse).


Sadly, I think the dilemma every business is facing right now, from the smallest single proprietorships to the largest enterprises, is how to balance protecting the business so that it survives and can re-open when all this is done (and employ their employees when that happens), and protecting the people who work for it.


It’s true, there are a lot of problems here shared by a lot of other organizations/industries. A lot of art organizations were already fairly precarious, though. Like the restaurant industry, a whole lot of these entities are just going to be gone by the time this is all over. There won’t be anything left to bounce back.


Sure as hell won’t be anyone bailing struggling arts venues out either. Corporate art is gonna be king for a while!


Don’t get angry, Shuck. Survival is about adaptation. If institutions fail, they weren’t equipped to adapt. That means other means of art making, marketing, education will take shape. Why get depressed about it? It’s evolution.

The economy is what’s getting hammered, not just art. As long as art is part of the economy, it will ride the wave with everything else.

I’m just trying to turn the conversation more constructive. So, what do you think? If you could pick one of those failing systems to save, which one would you pick, and what are your ideas on saving it?

I was careful to specify “fine” art in that. The art in, say, the science fiction fandom community for example- that is the sort of passion people will work, whether or not they get paid for it.

“Five Words in Orange Neon” is the sort of thing I wish would just die in a fire. It hangs in my publicly funded art museum. I’m sure the curators thougjt it was quite witty when they aquired it. I think it mocks the viewer, deliberately wasting our time.


I submit that art is one of the ways our species achieves a form of immortality that can outlast tragedies, wars, pandemics and cataclysms. Often it’s one of the key reasons we even remember those events. How many people outside of Basque country would know about the bombing of Guernica if not for Picasso’s Guernica?


Personally I’ve always seen art as a means to control/drive/contest/question a larger societal narrative… Which is why I think it matters. But then that is also why I find it depressing to deal with and probably why I just make things and either hide or trash them these days.


You can bet your last dollar that all sectors of “the economy” aren’t going to get equal support when it comes to stimulus packages and bailouts.

It would be nice to see a revival of the WPA Federal Art Project that created so many wonderful and enduring pieces of public art during the Great Depression, but somehow I doubt that’s going to be a priority for the current regime.


@anansi133 moved to passionate, emotional response by experimental modern art installation.”