Friday, October 24, 2008

Bright spots in the gloom and doom

Autumn Plenty
photographs copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Well this morning started with the stock market crashing again because an announcement was being made that growth dropped in the last quarter. This means the UK is now halfway to an official recession.

Plus Greenspan has now conceded that he may have made a mistake about the economy and the effectiveness of the free market ideology. Even people in secure employment are tightening their belts. Spending on 'essential' commodities such as food is falling drastically while discretionary spend is under an even bigger threat. Concerns are being expressed in every quarter around the world that this recession may be very severe. I don't know of a country which is exempt.

Things to be cheerful about
I thought it was about time to start pointing out some of the things we can be cheerful about as artists. So here's my list of bright spots. I'm really sorry they're not all going to apply to everybody but there are very definitely some bright spots in all this gloom and doom
  • cheaper fuel: travelling to art fairs and galleries is something you won't have to think twice about as the price of a barrel of oil has now halved compared with earlier in the year. This should be reflected in pump prices soon.
  • cheaper technology: the next time you have to replace a computer, scanner or printer you are likely to be very pleasantly surprised by the prices - as sales are now way down and stores will be looking to slash prices to shift stock.
  • benefits from competition for online sales: I predict that one of the benefits of the downturn in consumer spending is that some of the websites which help you to sell your art online will need to rethink their strategy on fees charged to vendors. People will want sites to prove they can generate a good result. There will be undoubted cutbacks on spend on displaying artwork on sites which don't produce results. My expectation is that fee payments upfront will be cut to the bone or disappear altogether and fee payments with sales will become the way to do business. Watch out for much better deals on fees and/or better validation of the way a site helps artists to sell their work.
  • cheaper art supplies: you can expect to be able to pick up some products at much cheaper prices soon - if you're not doing so already. Art supplies count as non-essential for the vast majority of people who buy them - so expect to see some heavy discounting on some products for as long as the recession lasts. Bear in mind that it's likely that some products and/or manufacturers may well not survive the recession. If you're completely devoted to a brand which might be under threat start looking out now for good prices and stock up. After you've stashed your cash under the mattrees, this is what 'under the bed' is for! ;)
  • interest rates are coming down: if you have a business loan with a variable interest rate you should find it starts costing less to service.
Lean times, many observers point out, tend to lead to a surge in creativity
The Guardian - And now for the good news
  • a new stimulus to creativity: a number of observers are very confident that the recession could generate a plethora of new concepts and ideas for artwork. From a commercial perspective, those who create or 'tune in' fast to ideas likely to resonate with buyers may do very well as a result. Video and photography are expected to be media which will lead the documentation of a changing emphasis within society
  • a shift in the sort of art produced: It's possible that the art economy will begin to see a reappraisal of more traditional approaches to making art - a 'back to basics' if you like. Sponsorship is likely to dry up as every public penny spent is going to be under major scrutiny and a significant number of the investment banks which backed major art projects simply don't exist any more. (See Government seizes control of Singer & Friedlander).
"The idea of creating very expensive, ambitious installations and grandiose public projects and sculptures - by definition, during a recession that has to decrease," says Tim Marlow, director of exhibitions at London's White Cube gallery. "Artists will have to start thinking, 'Can we actually justify doing something that exists, will then be destroyed, can't possibly be sold, and gets lots of public money?'"
The Guardian - And now for the good news
  • changing the decor becomes the new treat: People who would previously move to upgrade are now likely to sit tight and upgrade their current property. I predict a resurgence of the DIY/home-making on a budget programme. Q. What do you need when you change the decor? A. New artwork for the walls!
The conjunction of economic earthquake with climate change seems to have startled many into a new consciousness. Vegetable seeds are outselling flower seeds in many garden centres. People are planning to grow food and cancel flights because they want to lead safer, smaller-scale and more controllable lives.
The Guardian - Consuming anxiety
  • fresh props for the still life paintings: Going green is the new Gucci! If you're now contemplating growing your own vegetables remember they can be even more cost-effective if you use them as still life models prior to reaching the chopping board. (I'm going to keep photographing veggies! Memo to self - think about a new veggie series!)
  • the dream studio may now be possible: Property prices are dropping and are likely to continue to do so for some time. Which means ones of two things. If you're middle aged and mortgage free and always dreamed of having a house with a studio, you might want to start thinking seriously about whether this might now be possible. Alternatively, maybe you have grown-up kids who haven't been able to move out because of property prices. After a spate of saving, they'll now be able to think about being able to afford a property - and free up that bedroom for you!
  • new places to hang or place artwork Look out for new opportunities to hang your work for sale. For example, restaurants will take a bit hit in a recession and may well be on the lookout for new ways of making their service offering look more attractive.
  • We're all in the same boat. Hopefully this means that we might get some sort of global accord out of this mess and some economic strategies which might avoid 'boom and bust' ever happening again
Do please comment below if you can think of any more bright spots on the horizon.

and finally..........

My contribution to all of this is a commitment to continue to promote genuine success stories in 'who's making a mark' each week. Sharing stories of your successes and how they came about is one of the ways that we can all feel re-energised and hopeful when the going gets tough.

If you've posted about your success story or a relevant story to cheer us all up on your blog and want to make sure I read it feel free to drop me a line with a link to your blog post or leave a comment below. This is how to contact me.

Links: Art and the Economy - Resources for Artists


  1. Oh I love you Katherine, your glass is always half full!!!!

  2. Thanks for lighting a path with a bit of cheer during a time it's too easy to feel buried in the darkness!

  3. Canadian Artist Walter J. Phillips (born in the UK) survived the great depression as a watercolor artist, and raised a family as well.

    He was a master of the watercolor woodcut, and perhaps this filled a niche market at the time.

    None the less, creative individuals will often find or create opportunities even in the darkest economic times.


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