For centuries, the arts have been identified as an integral aspect of being, but that began to change with the introduction of the Internet, cellphones, and other high-tech gadgets.
Most people today expect instantaneous gratification and no longer arduously study paintings, antiques, and the arts. Thus, their understanding is minimal.
Since the Egyptian empire, people have gravitated to art because it has represented the finest and the worst of times, and upon reflection, it has been instructive and stirring.
As long as it is considered germane and personal, art teaches, goads, and motivates; but if the populace begins to believe that art no longer prophetically “speaks” to common people, or its purpose is to make wealthy an entitled few, people will begin to reject art as extraneous and seek other forms of enlightenment.
Past art enthusiasts did not commonly seek shortcuts to attain knowledge. They regularly rejected counterfeits as worthless trash, applauded the unearthing of artifacts and data, and appreciated stylish technical originality for art’s sake, because they were open minded and free enough to accept as monumental another person’s artistic work and incorporate it as an evocative part of their lives.
But in today’s market, where lavish auctions and gala art fairs run rampant, the commodization of art is turning it into an investment or asset vehicle and connoisseurship is deteriorating.
During the last 40 years, computer technology and the Internet have altered drastically the ways people communicate, feel, behave, assimilate ideas, formulate thought, and spend time.
Stress, anxiety, responsibility-overload, fatigue, and hopelessness help to eliminate leisure and mental calm, and time has become a precious commodity. Art buyers have shorter attention spans and rarely spend hundreds of hours learning about art or viewing it at exhibitions on a regular basis and that does not benefit society or its arts.
Artistic freedom and its purpose may become extraneous if the masses begin to overlook or reject as superfluous its arts. If a society identifies the creative process as useless for any reason, it is a kiss of death.
Though the 1980s, avid studious collectors knew how to identify the meritorious from the commonplace and only a few were concerned with making financial profits from sales, because they had no intention of selling the treasures they owned. They wanted to enhance environments, hand down an artistic heritage, or donate to public institutions.
That was when it was less of a hassle to find and buy quality paintings. Supply was readily available and art prices had not yet reached eight figures. Because the quest to grow intellectually and aesthetically was earnest, collectors developed sophisticated taste and amassed esteemed collections.
By 1990, too many buyers identified art as a lucrative commodity (not an invaluable aesthetic) and untutored investors flooded the marketplace. Their demand to purchase for profit clashed with the desire of purist collectors to keep art.
As supply diminished, a feeding frenzy to own the best painters’ work critically altered the way professionals evaluate it, conduct business, and share data. Many connoisseurs stopped collecting because they were offered forgeries or questionable pieces and top quality authentic items at affordable prices became rare.
When the masses bought the ad that a hidden masterpiece worth a fortune might be in a basement or attic, thousands of fly-by-night dealers with no credentials began to sell merchandise on the Internet. When cable TV and antique-road-shows with get-rich-quick-messages stimulated people to look at art as a moneymaking new form of entertainment, art began to lose its impact as an inspirational resource.
After thousands of amateur sellers set up shop on dot-com auction sites, offerings to legitimate dealers plummeted and millions of art buyers stayed at home to shop online.
As retail clienteles shrank, galleries and shops closed, and the opportunity to scrutinize firsthand fine merchandise offered by experts became limited.
The new trend is to attend extravagant art fairs, where hundreds of high-pressure sales people try to convince uneducated buyers that their high-priced art is a good investment. Some is. More isn’t!
Unfortunately, art’s influence on society seems to be subsiding because what is real rarely is taken from experience or physical substance. Seductive infomercials, video games, the Web, cable programming and instantaneous, up-to-the-minute sensationalized reality shows and newscasts probably impact society more than all of its artistic masterpieces.
To make matters worse, financially strained galleries and museums find it difficult to find cutting-edge masterworks and have begun to discard past exhibition standards to display and sell inferior art and call it “exemplary.”
Catering to an ignorant public, few question their claim that artists separate from the avant-garde are great creative geniuses.
Because commercialism has anesthetized the art world and the public’s mindset, many artists paint pleasing images and make thousands of prints of them, rather than attempting to outdo today what was achieved yesterday. Stroking the wants and needs of the unaware to satiate greed causes artists to focus on easily earned money, rather than to attempt inventiveness or keep artistic integrity intact.
If the art world is to advance and remain relevant, its leaders need to value innovative artistic achievement and factual accuracy above financial gain, and vigorously applaud visionaries who dare to stalk the razor’s edge to become one with the unknown and make it celebrated.
Patricia Jobe Pierce is a freelance writer, art historian, art dealer-consultant, certified AAA appraiser, public speaker, photographer and American art authenticator for museums, auction houses and collectors. She graduated from Boston University with a BFA in 1965, is owner and director of Pierce Galleries, Inc. in Nantucket and Hingham, Mass., and is author of many works, including, "Art Collecting & Investing: The Inner Workings and the Underbelly of the Art World." For more of her submissions, Click Here Now.
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