If you are an unknown artist — possibly newly attracted to the creative arts — I have unsettling news. The statistics are against your becoming recognized for your work. According to a recent report by the National Endowment for the Arts there are only two million of you out there, concentrated mostly in San Francisco and Santa Fe, but also in the larger cities of Las Angeles and New York. These types of art break down into 11 specific categories.
True, the competitive atmosphere is in your favor, if your work is excellent, but the market is flooded with the standard fare of drawings, sculptures, illustrations, and fashion designs. It’s like seeing yourself as you might birds in flight: they pass as they move toward their destiny, but leave no trace. The many products I see look pretty much like flying birds.
Moreover, job opportunities for artists are terrible. About 40% of the employed artists are in commercial areas, such as fashion design. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that the annual pay is a lousy 45K, and the artist has little freedom to innovate. Try living on 45K a year in San Francisco or Santa Fe.
Added to these bleak statistics is the recent fall in selling prices of famous and not-so-famous art work. Sales at the biggest art action houses like Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillip’s are falling like a stone. In early 2016 the Dow Jones Industrial average and the S&P 500 were down about 10%, but the art houses were down about twice that. The Wall Street Journal of February 12 drew this conclusion:
“Collectors have become pickier, bypassing less spectacular pieces in favor of colorful decorative scenes or iconic works regarded as safe bets.”
The art market for more typical pieces that you and I might produce seems to be hit equally hard. Although the overall market is crumbling, geniuses and mad people either believe that their unique style or their ingenuity will prosper. Some, of course, don’t care as long as they can eat, get a good night’s rest, and produce endless art.
There is one other obstacle artists face. Like everything else common gallery exhibits have been politicized. No longer can artists show Christ on the cross, aggressive behaviors, deviant acts, wars, or socially unacceptable gestures. There has been a convergence of acceptable art pieces that, as I see it, emphasize beauty but no beast, social justice but no class distinctions, cooperation but no aggression. Half of human and animal behavior has virtually been excluded from view, leaving a lot of pretty scenes done in soothing pastels devoid of controversy.
What is completely missing is the expression of deep thought and profound revelations. If you are disinclined to present a beautiful canvas with positive social messages your work is not acceptable in today’s contemporary galleries. You have been completely axed out if your ideas lead the viewer to a new and dangerous idea. What’s left are puny representations of common notions. Birds in flight.
Real art emerges only when the marks you make are true to your nature and are not compelled into existence by the standards of others. Art must touch the fingers of universal traits or it is nothing. Instead of teaching and encouraging political correctness that leads to only superficial and decorative art pieces, we should be encouraging the expression of those artists who live with the dark side of the brain or at least with a brain that is free to illuminate our deepest secrets.