In our currently volatile global economy, a high-risk investment such as art can be seen as a burden. As an investment it is illiquid, opaque, unregulated, has high transaction costs, is at the mercy of erratic public taste and creates short-lived trends according to Deloitte’s art investment division, which also claim that the art markets are also currently virtually ‘unhedgeable’.

Author Boris Groys states, “The relationship between art and money can be understood in at least two ways. First, art can be interpreted as a sum of works circulating on the art market and secondly, contemporary art functions in the context of permanent and temporary exhibitions”. Buyable art often takes the form of traditional paintings, which are easy to transport and manage and can hold value for a long period of time.

”The disparity exists due to a stark difference in funding – private collectors can afford to direct the production of art, while the artists in the public sphere have to struggle to make ends meet’’

Art presented in the public sphere is predominantly installation based and in many cases can’t be transported or won’t make sense in a different setting. Such art is often seen to direct public discourse most recently seen in Grayson Perry’s rendition of the gender bias in the financial sphere, presented as a giant phallus covered in bank notes and a picture of George Osborne. Hence, there is a subconscious development of a taste disparity – that between the expensive, private taste of the collectors and the broader social impact of public art installations. The disparity exists due to a stark difference in funding – private collectors can afford to direct the production of art, while the artists in the public sphere have to struggle to make ends meet. The most important thing to note in this scenario is the capability of the collector to own works suited to their own taste, while the public consumes the artist’s underfunded musings.

”This brings us to the burning question: can art actually exist without money?’’

Obviously, this is in no part the fault of either the artist or the public. To achieve success, an artist has to create works commissioned for specific purposes and perhaps there is a beauty in the challenge of working on a brief, but unless you are a Damien Hirst, you will have no leeway in the pursuit of production. Once an artist is established, their name alone can garner funding, but to get there, one has to make some serious compromise. This brings us to the burning question: can art actually exist without money?

More often than not, artists have to rely on public exhibitions to display their works. Conceptual art is produced to avoid the monumental cost of material production. Money is the most important factor in the student’s production process. Artist Emily Simpson, who is completing her MFA degree at Nottingham Trent University, says, “Finance definitely limits production as there are ideas I wouldn’t even consider making because I know they are not financially possible. The strange thing is that this often functions on a more subconscious level, so you never ‘allow’ your work to develop in a way that might require a high production value – the work is inhibited before it can begin”.

Students already function on tiny monthly budgets and factoring in extra investment for materials can sometimes lead to difficult decisions. On the topic of material sourcing, Emily says, “Materials like wood, metal, paper, paints, fabric etc, may look affordable, but can be too much of a stretch on an already tight budget, and cost more per week than a food shop”. These expenses don’t account for equipment, which are on a whole new level and essential for production.

Jayce Salez, another student on the MFA programme, says, “I have never made any money from my artwork, so when I need to ‘invest’ money into the making of one, I have to get it from other sources, which is limiting because you can’t do anything too monumental or too costly because of course, budget has to be taken in consideration when you think about making the work”.

”The art industry is full of part-time workers who juggle polar opposite vocations to make ends meet’’

According to a survey conducted by Artists’ Interaction and Representation, almost a third of visual and applied artists earn less than £5,000 a year and 57% of the 1,457 respondents said that less than a quarter of their total income was generated by their art practices with 16% paying into a private pension fund. The art industry is full of part-time workers who juggle polar opposite vocations to make ends meet. This is mainly due to a trend of under-funding from government resources, which leads to underpaid artists.

The other repercussion is the issue of diversity. Students from poorer backgrounds may find it getting increasingly harder to break into this industry without a constant financial sponsor. This creates a blatant divide and is in part responsible for the public image of the British artist as an upper-middle class, white person.

Given these circumstances, it can be argued that without proper financial backing and a strong support system, being an artist can be extremely difficult, but there seems to be a silver lining. Artists who present public works are in a position to be producers as well as spectators. They have the power to conduct important social conversations through their work and can also be a lightning rod for other areas of creative production like filmmakers, musicians, poets and even philosophers.

Questioning the existence of art without money is not so simple. An idea would not be considered a work of art until it manifests into something audible, visible or tangible. While the idea itself may be art on a philosophical level, it simply needs to exist to be consumed and that production needs money. Hence art can exist without money on a philosophical level, but its physical manifestation definitely needs financial involvement.

Sanchari Banerjee

Image: Celeste Lindell via Flickr

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