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The financialization of the art world and the cannibalization of creativity

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Kovach Imre* and Murray Hunter

For most people, the art world is an area of sophistication, finesse, and creativity, which takes a high moral ground in today’s society. It s acknowledged that art is one of the highest social achievements of people within society, placing the discipline of art on a cultural plane that is viewed as being pure and uncorrupted.

Art is therefore seen as one of the most highly valued artifacts of society, sitting magnificently in art galleries, museums, and collections around the world, which are unquestionably considered to be one of the pinnacles of human prowess.

Maybe this was true in the past, but the authors believe that this has all changed because art today is considered a valid asset class, just as real estate, stocks, bonds, and precious metals are. The leading auction houses and art galleries of the world have commoditized the art market. Institutions which traditionally had nothing to do with art, like banks and transnational corporations have set up art funds purely for investment purposes.

The art world has attracted a number of business opportunists who have set up funds to dabble in art trading. These dealers have very little appreciation of art as art and see it only as a means to make profits. Thus the art market is adopting the characteristics of any other tradable commodity market. The trading of art around the world today is in excess of USD66 Billion, and growing exponentially, as more and more institutions are becoming involved.

As stock markets are losing their values during 2015, the prices of art are rising rapidly.

Contemporary art today is seen by many as one of the best means of wealth preservation.

Ultra-wealthy collectors can’t get enough new art and are putting pressure of galleries to produce more art of the right names, which are like brands in this market. For the right kind of art, this means that post WWII and contemporary art has multiplier effects which has never been so high. Collectors are going into a frenzy over these rapid rises in values, driving the market even higher.

It is undeniable that the contemporary art market is on a high. Some say this is a bubble, while others say that it is not, as the ultra-rich are sheltered from the ups and downs of national markets and economies.

The best contemporary artists like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, who are two of the highest priced, are owners and directors of ‘art factories’. The typical creation of an artist within these art factories is usually done without the artist ever touching the art piece. The artist develops the concepts and represents it to his team of technologists, assistants, and art manufacturing experts. Most often a computer model is pre-made of the planned piece. The concept for many pieces are represented not by sketches or drawings by the artists, but by an object he selects from a store or any other place he finds them. Jeff Koons for example, likes to find souvenir items from gift and toy shops and style these pieces into extravagant art pieces using the latest technology. Thus the tiny toy becomes a 2.5 metre shinny stainless steel object which can be sold for tens of millions of dollars.  

Such art factories are extremely reliable in their production and can consistently turn out art products which are branded by the name of the artist. Therefore art galleries and collectors vie for such pieces even though their prices are astronomical.

Today even lesser known artists maintain factory style production for their galleries and collectors. Their pieces are even booked in advance in massive quantities.

There is an even newer trend that tries to exploit the expected multiplier with the works of very young artists. These young artists are drawn into full scale professional art production by galleries, right after they complete their MFA, possibly even before their first solo exhibition. These artists are thereby coached by the galleries, who very actively participate with the artist’s work in developing concepts, and arranging manufacturing, etc. The desired end can be reached with continuing rising prices and increasing profits for the galleries; a cycle of profit making.

Collectors happily buy in, possibility in the first and second rounds, expecting double triple or quadruple multipliers in subsequent sales of the pieces, which no other commodity market can generate.

In addition, the art of such emerging artists is often bought in bulk. One hundred, two hundred or even three hundred pieces at a time, with the hope of massive profits on the successful ‘branding’ of these young artists.

In such climate of art production, art is created as a commodity, where the production is completely finance driven for the sole purpose of creating profit.

Art is no longer bought for appreciation but rather bought for resale.

The definition of good art is that it is saleable and the definition of a good artist is that he/she is marketable. In the finance art world today, those artists are considered the best.

This of course completely distorts the valuation of art and takes away the whole purpose of the creation of art, replacing it with financial aspirations.

Today’s art is finance driven. The creation of artistic style equals the creation of a brand, i.e., brand Andy Warhol. Such finance driven art over the last few decades has shown truly incredible growth with a new asset class that produces more profit than any other known asset class today.

However this new financial high has created a morel abyss. The new buyers of contemporary art who come from the business world are based in completely different skill sets to the art world. So consequently, they have brought with them completely new techniques of management and money making to the art world, used in other fields like real estate, and commodity trading, etc.

These practices in many cases are not on the ‘up and up’. They can be construed as being incompatible with cultural activities.

These unscrupulous methods used like bullying or coercing artists into one-sided contracts, using legal and other administrative devices which the artist cannot cope with, or out-right cheating of artists, are not in the interests of young artists. Some very ugly cases are coming to light about how the so called collectors are treating the artists.

The old time appreciation and respect that existed between collectors and artists is a thing of the past.

Many of the new comers to the art market are there only for the money and not the appreciation of art. These go getters think that it OK to do anything and everything in their power to get the booty. This causes unnecessary hardship on the creative artists who are coerced and pressured into very disadvantaged contracts, or are cheated out of the possession of their own artwork, and/or its copyright, the collateral products, multiples of their artwork, and don’t receive any financial rewards.

Today a number of cases are coming into light, showing the dark-side of the financialized art world.

However, there is an effect with influences the core of our culture and the immune system of our society. Artists as a rule ever since they emerged from the shamans and healers of the old age have always been investigating the nature of the world, been the seekers of truth, and the philosophers of life. As such they often represented the highest form of intellect and culture in society like the famous Sufi poet Rumi, who was also a religious leader.

Artists always attempted to go beyond the bounds of normal art to unbound the secrets of the world, depict the true meaning of life, and ponder on the true purpose of existence. Many Chinese calligraphers were Daoist sages who practiced meditation, yoga, and perfected the art of living a long and virile life, including lifestyle as a whole, gastronomy, and even sexual practices.

In Europe, Durer, Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Parmigiano, and many others were involved in alchemy, mysticism, scientific research, and medicine. In general we can say, they had open creative minds which very few people had in their respective societies at the time. Even though they received payments for their art, their art was not a financial commodity.

The Turkish calligraphers were not just artists, but wise-men, who were often teachers and advisors to the Sultans, and we know of several Sultans, like Sultan Abdulmecid who were excellent calligraphers. In China, calligraphy was considered the highest art and the core of wisdom. Calligraphers were often teachers of Chinese Emperors, who respected calligraphers, often asked for their wisdom and advice, and many of them like Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty, were excellent calligraphers and painters in their own right. The emperors of the Toba Turk Wei Dynasty in China customarily had to have a profession which was usually that of the sculptor. The greatest Zen teachers of Japan communicated the unspeakable through their calligraphy to their disciples. Their calligraphies and painting like that of Hakuin are among the most highly valued treasures of Japanese culture.

The same cannot be said of an MFA graduate who is coached and instructed by a gallery for the sole purpose of making saleable art for a profit. It is significant that many of the new galleries led by ex-curators are becoming integrally involved in creating artwork which is way beyond the role of a gallery. They give curatorial guidance to the artists which in many cases gives the upper hand to the curators, where the artist becomes a mere executor of the curator’s concepts.

It is telling that artists themselves cannot apply to the Venice Biennale, where only curators who bring their artists can.

The curators know art and artists, and also know the buyers. Hence they are the key figures, the active agents of the financialization of art.

What does this all mean?

Putting it simply, the financialization of the last segment of society that had the potential to produce creative free thinkers, who are not directed by profit making financial intentions, is being wiped out in front of eyes.

Why does this matter?

This matters because only free thinking people can be the ‘compass’ of society. Artists through the ages have always made comments upon the ideas, aspirations, and events going on around them. This is being lost where the last bastion of intellectual freedom will have been commercialized by the ultra wealthy and sectional institutions within our society. The creative people who have the potential of free thinking is now controlled by financial interests, as soon as they have any professional success.

What will this lead us to?

We are all going to be passengers on a boat with perfect technologies, perfect crews, and perfect stewardship leading us. However in this perfect world there will be nobody who can question the bearing and direction that the boat will travel.

(*)Kovach Imre is an independent spiritual teacher, thinker, calligrapher, painter, and sculptor.

Innovator and entrepreneur. Notable author, thinker and prof. Hat Yai University, Thailand Contact: murrayhunter58(at)gmail.com

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Arts & Culture

Squid Game, Style influence and Sustainable consumption

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Photo source: Netflix

Have you heard about the recent South Korean drama blockbuster named Squid Game yet? It was released on Netflix on Sept. 17, 2021, and has quickly earned a worldwide audience. Since debuting, it has been viewed by more than 100 million people and has become the no. 1 trending in top 10 lists in 94 countries around the world.

Not only topped the list, but the South Korean drama has also created a trend that has influenced fashion style around the world and dominated the online platforms such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, and several online shopping websites: Amazon, eBay, Shoppee, and so on.  On Google.com, you will find more than 223,000,000 results in only 0.53 seconds; on Amazon.com, the term “Squid Game costume” has also become a top finding, even when you have just typed only two characters “sq”, the full term “Squid Game costume” will appear and you can find more than a thousand of results about this kind of clothes. 6,150 results for Squid Game costume appear when searching on eBay. On Instagram and Facebook, the hashtag #SquidGameCostume has recently become the most popular key hashtag and could be the influent style this winter.

Unlike trending superhero movies like Captain American, Avengers, with characters wearing specialized and inconvenient costumes for daily use, “Squid Game” is full of players wearing banal teal-green tracksuits. And this style of wearing tracksuits has been promoted by luxury fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton and Channel in recent years, because of its convenience and full of fashion, suitable for almost everyone from children, young people, and adults. That’s why the seemingly simple tracksuits in “Squid Game” turned out to be more trending.

The green tracksuit will likely become popular because of its convenience and ease of production, but it’s not the only known outfit, one that’s probably even more sought-after is the set of hot pink boiler suits and black masks watch the spectacle. Halloween is just around the corner, this type of costume has the potentiality to become another “red jumpsuits and Salvador Dalí masks” – a phenomenon that comes from the previous hit Money Heist.  Clearly, Squid Game costume could be a perfect choice for the one who is looking for the new and trending Halloween costume, and fashion influencers may have to queue in line after Squid Game this Halloween and winter.

With marketing strategies in all aspects that an ordinary person can reach just by picking up the smartphone, it is not difficult for “Squid Game” to be accessible through advertisements, and finding a way to win in marketing could be more easily for fashion companies and even companies that are not engaged in the fashion industry. Netflix even sells Squid Game t-shirts and hoodies on its website, and it seems that marketing the products of trending movies will become the marketing trend in the future.

However, from the environmentalist or sustainable consumption supporters’ perspective, the influences of the fads can go against what they’re pursuing. Sustainable consumption is the use of services and related products, which responds to basic needs and brings a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as the emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations. Sustainable consumption is closely related to sustainable production and sustainable lifestyles. When thinking about the relationship of a hot trend like Squid Game and its influence, we could see the 4M plus model (4M +) including Mass media marketing -Mass outfit obsession – Mass production – Mass consumption, and the plus could be the Mass damage for the environment. It may seem to be not a kind of mass production if it only happens once in a blue moon and only happens for one movie/show, but in fact, it is an unstoppable game that every director wants to win. Fashion’s influence could be a tool to reach the top trending show of the year and also be a push for the fashion industry and consumption later.

So, is the top trending show doing well in marketing and promoting fashion consumption by creating style influence, definitely Yes, but is it promoting sustainable consumption? I am not sure.

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The winner of the All About Photo Magazine contest is a picture of a happy Nenets family

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Photo: Yulia Nevskaya, "Tundra people"

The work of the Russian photographer Yulia Nevskaya “Tundra People” – a photograph of a happy woman from the Russian northern region of Taimyr surrounded by three children won first prize in the All About Photo Magazine travel photography competition. This photograph’s victory is particularly noteworthy for the UNESCO-announced Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022–2032), which will focus on the rights of native speakers of indigenous languages.

All About Photo is a free and independent magazine that has become one of the most vibrant portals of photography on the web. Moreover, All About Photo result is one of the most far-reaching online magazines where you can find everything related to photography.

Nevskaya worked a lot in the north of Russia, including with small peoples: the Nenets and the Sami. She took many photographs in one of the most interesting and northern cities of Russia – Norilsk.

This is how she described her trip.

“Norilsk is an industrial city, there are many industries that are harmful to the environment. This city was a revelation for me. I expected to see a smoky sky and an oppressive atmosphere. But the city turned out to be full of light, a combination of shades of white and blue against the background of the silence of the Arctic, “Nevskaya said.

The main enterprise of the city – Norilsk Nickel – has been actively cooperating with the indigenous people of the region for a long time.

The Taymyr Peninsula is a peninsula in the Far North of Russia, in the Siberian Federal District, that forms the northernmost part of the mainland of Eurasia. Administratively it is part of the Krasnoyarsk Krai Federal subject of Russia.

Nornickel has been cooperating with the Indigenous Minorities of the North for more than 30 years.

The photo shows Angelina Wanga with her children Denis, Linda and Dima. The picture was taken at the end of April. Snow in the tundra will melt only at the beginning of summer.

In July, at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, with the support of Norilsk Nickel, the exhibition “The World in the Faces” of the famous Russian photographer Alexander Khimushin was held. The author personally presented a collection of more than 170 artistic photographic portraits of representatives of different peoples of the world, shot in authentic national costumes in places of residence. The exhibition was dedicated to the upcoming International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People and Their Languages. It is a celebration of multiculturalism and our incredible ethnic diversity at its best.

In 2018, Khimushin went to the Russian Arctic – Taimyr. The result was a series of portraits of the region’s indigenous inhabitants – Dolgans, Nganasans, Enets, Nenets, Evenks.

Khimushin became the first Russian photographer to have an exhibition at the UN headquarters in New York. Works from The World in Faces project were exhibited at the University of Lille in France, and for six months were broadcast on the screen of the world’s largest digital art center in Bordeaux.

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Arts & Culture

Landmark report highlights untapped potential of Africa’s film industry

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Nigerian film actress Toyin Abraham was among entertainers who helped the UN share messages to address myths surrounding COVID-19./ Toyin Abraham

Africa’s film and audiovisual industries could create over 20 million jobs and contribute $20 billion to the continent’s combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the UN cultural agency, UNESCO, said on Tuesday in a new report highlighting this untapped potential. 

The African Film Industry: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities for Growth is the first-ever mapping of the sector, which currently employs some five million people and accounts for $5 billion in GDP across Africa.

Making creativity viable

Audrey Azoulay, the UNESCO Director-General, presented the report in Paris alongside esteemed filmmakers Abderrahmane Sissako and Mati Diop.

“This landmark publication reflects on the importance of strengthening international cooperation to enable all countries, in particular developing countries, to develop cultural and creative industries that are viable and competitive both nationally and internationally,” she said.

The report aims to help the African film industry, and decision-makers, to take stock of the current landscape and plan strategically for future growth.

Africa’s potential as a film powerhouse remains largely untapped, despite a significant growth in production across the continent, the report argues. Nigeria alone produces around 2,500 films a year.

Even though affordable digital film equipment and online platforms allow direct distribution to consumers, opening new avenues for content creators, Africa is the most underserved continent in terms of movie theatres.  Currently, there is only one cinema screen per 787,402 people.

Lights, camera, piracy

The film industry also faces the significant problem of piracy.  The UNESCO report estimates that 50 per cent to over 75 per cent of revenue is lost to piracy, though precise data does not exist.  Additionally, just 19 out of 54 African countries offer financial support to filmmakers.

The report outlines further challenges, including limitations on freedom of expression, as well as education, training and internet connectivity.

Films as ‘public goods’

This year marks two decades since the adoption of a UNESCO Declaration that upholds cultural diversity as being as necessary to humanity as biodiversity is to nature.

Ms. Azoulay said in commemorating the anniversary, “we must raise our voice to reaffirm that films are indeed ‘public goods’ that require public support and investment to ensure equal access to creation, production, distribution, dissemination and consumption.” 

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