The Art Market, Philistinism and the NEA

Art sales figures show interesting declines in the markets.

A Feb. 16, 2009 article in The Telegraph stated that Sotheby’s ($5.3 billion) inched ahead of Christie’s ($5.1 billion) in global art sales last year. Both figures, however, are down from the previous year, when Christie’s was ahead by $6.3 billion to Sotheby’s $6.2 billion.

“At Sotheby’s, auction sales from October to December fell from $2.18 billion in 2007 to $1.17 billion. At this rate, the figures suggest, 2009 sales could be nearly half those of 2007.”

Russian works were down 55% and post-war contemporary art was down 23%. The figures showed sales of Asian art were up 15% though the calculations are skewed because they used pounds sterling and the amount benefitted from the exchange rate. The article doesn’t clarify by how much however a Feb. 17, Bloomberg report states that research by ArtTactic Ltd. predicts a drop in Chinese contemporary art prices.

And a far more fascinating article on the state of the arts in America can be read on The World Socialist Website.

The CEO of nonprofit Americans for the Arts, Bob Lynch, told the Associated Press that some 10,000 arts organizations nationwide have disappeared or are close to ending their operations. This represents about 10 percent of the total, and the economic crisis is only a few months old.

The article goes on to mention the hotly debated $50 million in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts that did make it’s way back into the signed stimulus bill.

The money comes in addition to the annual budget of the NEA, which is a miserly $145 million. (The NEA budget in 1978 was $123,850,000; that would be almost 400 million in current dollars.)

All told, less than $200 million in federal funding will go to the arts.

The sum is less than the budget for a single Hollywood blockbuster.

It is a fraction of the amount spent on a new sports stadium.

It is less than the amount spent in Iraq each day for US military operations.

I’m fairly certain the current director of the NEA, the organizations and artists funded by them can’t imagine what it would be like to have a $400 million budget. Or maybe we can. As someone who has received grant funds and has also continued to apply for fellowships supported by the NEA and other foundations, I can tell you that the competition is fierce. Hundreds will apply for 23 slots. These programs help artists and writers become better at the business of their art and more successful. Which equals more money in the economy and maybe more jobs.

I agree with the World Socialist Website.

The situation of the arts in America in general speaks to the philistinism, ignorance and avarice of the ruling elite. Anything that doesn’t “make a buck” is considered a waste of time. More than that, the people at the top of American society have no interest in seeing themselves reflected honestly in art. The picture would not be a pretty one.

American capitalism leaves art and artists at the tender mercies of the market. With their wealth threatened, large corporations and wealthy individuals have less and less interest in contributing to cultural life.

Its the banks, the billionaires and Wall Street hedge fund managers and mortgage gurus who had the money to buy the same art collection and repeat it throughout the Park Avenue penthouses. We are at the mercies of the market. And the market doesn’t value these words. I write them here for free, for anyone to read.





2 responses to “The Art Market, Philistinism and the NEA”

  1. michael hurshman Avatar
    michael hurshman

    It is interesting that the author bemoans the state of the arts in a free capitalist society and agrees with quotes from a socialist source. Would the author prefer that artists be shills for the government that feeds them? Maybe our artists should be government employees!


    1. leannegoebel Avatar

      Artists as government employees seemed to work well during the WPA. At least they were able to earn a living and they produced some amazing murals and sculptures and work that we all enjoy today.


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