Department of the Interior Museum, Washington, D.C. (image sourced from wikiedpedia)How does a recession impact on the art world?
- What happens to the way artists are employed and remunerated?
- What happens to the sort of art that gets produced?
- Does subject matter change or stay the same?
- Do sales patterns change?
- What actually sells?
On Saturday there was a really fascinating article by Dorothy Spears on this topic in the New York Times - Tough Times Call for Shrewd Artists - which is a RECOMMENDED READ.
This looks at various points in the history of the USA when the economy 'crashed' and highlights how artists and latterly the government responded.
I've summarised it below and I've also added in more points and links dug out from a variety of websites plus I've also provided links to what's been happening this month in relation to the economic stimulus package and support for arts jobs.
The panic of 1837
Thomas Sully (1783-1872 - born in Lincolnshire; emigrated to the USA) was a portrait painter. The impact on him was that people who commissioned portrait started to fail to pay up. It highlights how he went from painting Queen Victoria to more commercially oriented paintings
The crash of 1873
The 1873 was triggered by the weight of civil war debt and was followed by a long depression of 5+ years. Painter Thomas Moran (1837-1926 - born in Bolton, UK; emigrated to the USA) first made his name painting the monumental landscapes of the American West and was one of the foremost landscape painters of his day.
His paintings of Yellowstone are said to have been decisive in debate about the creation of the Yellowstone National Park and are important in the cultural history of the USA. As well as being a notable artist, apparently he was very business-like and attuned to commercial considerations and after the crash, he switched to more commercial smaller works - typically of Long Island and Manhattan and Venetian Scenes. (Small is of course relative when you've been producing paintings measured in feet!) . I also note from the NGA site that he started producing Prang chromolithographs of Yellowstone - which presumably made them more affordable - and illustrated Hiawatha.
Fully aware of changes in the market, Moran told a Denver reporter in June 1892, "I prefer to paint western scenes, but the Eastern people don't appreciate the grand scenery of the Rockies. They are not familiar with mountain effects and it is much easier to sell a picture of a Long Island swamp than the grandest picture of Colorado."
NGA website - Thomas Moran feature
A Long Island River (1908) by Thomas Moran
50.17 cm (19.75 in.), Width: 76.2 cm (30 in.)In later life Moran is reported as having produced paintings of the canyon that were used as promotional tools in hotels, offices, and railroad cars in exchange for rail passes and hotel accommodation. Additional images were distributed on calendars in guidebooks and brochures, even on stationery.
Private collection (image sourced from wikipedia)
Private collection (image sourced from wikipedia)
Do take a look at the excellent gallery of his work set up on the National Gallery of Art website to see his amazing landscapes of the West and to note the change in later years. You can also see more of his works on the Atheneaum website (sorted in date order) and here.
Wall Street Crash 1929 and Depression
The article comments on diverse responses to the Depression.
- The Museum of Modern Art opened its doors 10 days after Black Monday 1929. The article compares the attendance figures for its opening show of "fashionable" paintings Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, Van Gogh [MoMA Exh. #1, November 7, 1929-December 7, 1929 - 47,203] with those for the next show 2. Paintings by 19 Living Americans [MoMA Exh. #2, December 12, 1929-January 12, 1930 - 27,924.
- Prompted by the article I dug out the Archive of Exhibitions at MOMA 1929-1939 which indicate they were not only cultural - they were also linked to initiatives designed to help the economy recover such as the National Exhibition of Art by the Public Works of Art Project [MoMA Exh. #35, September 19-October 7, 1934] This link explains the Public Works of Art Project
- This link provides a history of the New Deal Art Projects and the article in Survey Graphic provides a great deal of detail about how projects worked and what was produced as a result
WHEN the CWA admitted artists suffering from the depression to a place in its program, last December, the federal government suddenly found itself fostering a burst of creativeness in the fine arts that is unique in the history of democracies.
Art Becomes Public Works by Florence Loeb Kellogg Survey Graphic, Vol. 23, No. 6 (June, 1934), p. 279
- The article also highlights how in the mid-’30s the Works Progress Administration emerged as a financial patron of struggling artists. The aim was to also make art more central to everyday life. It involced artists in creating murals
- commercial illustration was also identified as a way in which artists could make a living
When the Great Depression hit, president Roosevelt’s New Deal created several public arts programs. The purpose of the programs was to give work to artists and decorate public buildings, usually with a national theme.
The first of these projects, the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), was created after successful lobbying by the unemployed artists of the Artists' Union. The PWAP lasted less than one year, and produced nearly 15,000 works of art.
It was followed by the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (FAP/WPA) in 1935, which funded some of the most well-known American artists.
Several separate and related movements began and developed during the Great Depression including American scene painting, Regionalism, and Social Realism. Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, Grant Wood, Ben Shahn, Joseph Stella, Reginald Marsh, Isaac Soyer, Raphael Soyer, and Jack Levine were some of the best known artists.
Visual Arts of the United States - New Deal Art
- Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975; taught Jackson Pollock ) is highlighted in the article as an artist whose response involved travelling around the country and making lots of sketches - recording life and the positive aspects of people's responses to the challenges of the Depression. Along with Grant Wood in Iowa and John Steuart Curry in Kansas, he was a founder of what came to be known as the Regionalism movement which is an American realist modern art movement that was popular during the 1930s. Wood wrote that Regional artists interpret the physiography, industry, and psychology of their hometown.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Regionalist art was widely appreciated for its reassuring images of the American heartland.
Wikipedia - Regionalism (art)
- others commented on how other artists documented suffering and endurance.
The story so far on the economic front has been and continues to be that we are at the edge of a systemic economic meltdown. Last week in the USA, the US House of Representatives and Senate finally approved the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 which is a $787 billion economic stimulus package which is the 2009 version of the New Deal (with a further $2.5 trillion rescue plan for the financial system!).
In the process of agreeing this stimulus package there was quite a debate about whether jobs in the arts were real jobs. The House of Representatives proposed a $50 million funding package for the NEA to support the arts and artists which the Senate initially rejected. Advocates involved in the debate included Americans for the Arts and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.
The House's version of the stimulus bill included the $50 million for nonprofit arts groups, with the NEA to send $20 million of it to state arts agencies, and distribute the rest via its own grant-making pipeline. The Senate's proposal contained zilch, incorporating an amendment from Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn that specifically excluded museums, theaters and arts centers from receiving stimulus bucks, lumping them among other "wasteful" and "non-stimulative" destinations for federal money aimed at saving jobs.This process of the decision-making was reported in some detail by the LA Times Culture Monster blog - as follows. The posts make a very interesting read.
Arts funding: a cliffhanger in Washington
- 30th January 2009: Artists and arts advocates go on the offensive - an interesting and wide-raning comment on the situation within a wider context
- 5th February 2009: Congress needs to pass a cultural jobs bill takes a more challenging stance on the need to create more cultural jobs
- 8th February 2009: SECOND UPDATE: Feinstein joins Senate majority in excluding arts from stimulus package
- 9th February 2009: Arts workers meet Dr. No
- 9th February 2009: Five reasons Congress hates the arts - amusing - no?
- 10th February 2009: Soprano's senator dad buries arts stimulus funding - On Friday (6th February), the Senate voted 73-24 in favor of Coburn's amendment "to ensure that taxpayer money is not lost on wasteful and non-stimulative projects," such as funding museums, theaters and arts centers.
- 11th February 2009: Arts jobs are real jobs - apparently it turns out that the argument is that real jobs are all the backroom jobs "at least 3 million arts industry workers are in support jobs —electricians, carpenters, seamstresses, janitors, accountants, publicists, etc."
- 12th February: Arts funding: a cliffhanger in Washington as uncertainty reigned
- 13th February: CM reported that House passes stimulus bill with $50 million for artists
- 14th February 2009: Arts jobs turn out to be real jobs The money is meant to fund activities that "preserve jobs in the nonprofit arts sector threatened by declines in philanthropic and other support during the current economic downturn."
So far nothing has happened in the UK which equates to this sort of package.
and finally - two questions for readers of this blog
In the credit crunch story of 2008/9/? associated with current challenges:
- What role are you going to play in supporting the arts and protecting jobs for artists?
- What's going to be your story about how the recession has impacted on your art? Will you be changing what you do and how you produce it?