Funny how things come together…in the last few days I chatted to gallery owners, I read a contemporary blog on the internet, and perused an old book and got the same message from all. Not a happy one, either.
As I talked to the gallery owners, who havn’t been able to sell any of my work and precious little of anyone else’s, they all said business is dire, maybe things will pick up, it must be the recession. Well maybe…but maybe not? Perhaps we blame too many things on the recession.
In his blog Charles Lewis discussed whether art galleries were a thing of the past. Again the recession is considered to be a factor, but clearly there’s a much wider problem. Most people do not consider art to be important or relevant in any way; few people have any art hanging in their homes – maybe a poster or a calendar or a family photograph at best - but no significant, original, hand made art.
Lewis thinks there are several reasons why art is not selling. One factor is that apparently fewer than one in a hundred persons ever even thinks of going into a gallery. But another is that even if they do venture in, they are often put off by disinterested sales staff and ugly galleries. Now this latter possibility may be true of the more edgy urban galleries, I don’t think it’s generally the case in the kind of galleries that show fiber art. What is more important, of course, is the complete lack of demand, the total disinterest. Now there’s no shortage of people buying anything that begins with an “i-“, perhaps if I had “i-quilts” for sale I’d be mobbed!! People are buying fancy phones, electronic “books” (i.e. very small tv screens with writing on them), large tvs and eating out +++. They are out there, and they are spending money and it’s not all on essentials (though of course I’m fully cognizant of the fact that even essentials are beyond some people’s budgets and I certainly don’t begrudge them the odd little treat).
When we see the frightful homes shown on tv where people drool over granite counter tops (hard to clean), stainless steel appliances (show every finger print), laminated wood floors (noisy, cold and susceptible to spills), and fussy over furnished rooms, you never see any art work on the walls. And the potential buyers never say “oh our Elizabeth Barton quilt would look wonderful on that wall!”. Or anybody else’s work for that matter. It would be lovely if having an art piece as essential as the latest fixtures and appliances!
Lewis also points out that much of the art that is for sale is either very bland, “bright, harmless and decorative”, or is not displayable in a home (imagine trying to cram Tracy Emin’s “Bed” into your living room!, or Rauschenberg’s goat into the kitchen), and is often too edgy and dire. I love Rachel Brumer’s work and her series based on the birthdays of children who died in concentration camps, but could I live with that in my bedroom? I’ve had one of my own quilts up on the wall for a while, it’s based on a burnt out building and while the composition of the beams and empty windows onto the sky really intrigued me when I was making it, I do wonder about the liveability of the colors and textures. I was in fact horrified to notice that I actually had incorporated some of the colours that Lewis finds objectionable!!! (mud and blood!). So “cutting edge” doesn’t sell, but happy and cheerful is so bland and forgettable that no one even looks at it either.
One could blame television (as well as the recession) but I was surprised to come across very similar concerns in an old book (Art and Anarchy) of Reith lectures first delivered in 1960 by Edgar Wind. There are some really striking parallels in what we encounter today with his observations made over 50 years ago.
Wind pointed out how important owning a piece of original art was to a Renaissance patron: for them art was an indispensable as food. Imagine if you walked into a restaurant today and said to the customers “sorry, you can’t eat out for a month, but in exchange you can have a very nice piece of original art which will beautify your home for as long as you want. And it won’t be totally absorbed within a few hours, leaving only unwanted traces of overindulgence around your middle!” How many takers d’you think you’d get? You’d be lynched in seconds!!
Wind felt that if “art were as indispensable to us as it was to them” we would not see the galleries empty. Furthermore, the Renaissance patrons were much more interested in both art and the process of art, would often buy a piece before it was finished and they wished to participate with the artist in the creative process. He stated that “the pressure of our artistic climate is lowered by the absence of an active patronage”. It could be a vicious circle – without patrons, art cannot grow stronger; without strong art, there are no patrons. He also felt that in 1960 the lack of support for art was evident in many ways: little attention being paid to lasting beauty in any area of design. Architecture, streets and roads, green areas, furniture design, all ugly and functional. And today I notice that this is even true with television: if you compare what you see to beautifully designed examples from other countries, many of our adverts are crude and objectionable, if not insulting. No wonder people find composition difficult, their senses are insulted with a constant barrage of egregious visual cacophony!
Now there is also a lot in Wind’s lectures that we might disagree with, or at least shake our heads in wonderment – for example the assertion that artists who create very large works do so to verify their own existence. Well….some maybe! Although…now I come to think about it…..
The problem of general disinterest in art, alas, is therefore longstanding, but does that mean we shouldn’t make it? In a recent radio broadcast (kindly sent me by a reader), participants discussed (amongst many other things) what made us happy. Apparently current research focuses particularly on two main things: relationships and being able to make things. As quiltmakers we are so fortunate in having both right within our grasp! And if only 1% of the population would ever be interested in what we made…well that’s still a heckuva lot of people..now if we could only get them to stop buying i-products and meals out…..….
If you have been, thanks for reading…and do weigh in (on either side of the scales!) with your comments and ideas. Elizabeth