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Arts & Culture

The financialization of the art world and the cannibalization of creativity

Prof. Murray Hunter

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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

The feminist inspiration of Mona Lisa

MD Staff

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This year marks the 500th anniversary of the death of the Italian genius, Leonardo da Vinci, who died on 02 May 1519. On this occasion, UNESCO highlights some of the comments concerning the origins of one of the most famous paintings in history: Was Mona Lisa painted in a feminist spirit?

The thesis of the American art lover William Varvel highlights the links between feminism and the painting. According to his findings, Mona Lisa would represent a figure in the fight for gender equality. Why? William Varvel insists on “the theological rights of women” claimed through the vision of the famous painting from the Renaissance Period. These rights are linked to the status of priests, which women do not have access to. Therefore, the painting representing Mona Lisa would have for true desiderata the possibility for the women to have access to the priesthood. William Varvel assures that “Mona Lisa is a kind of declaration for the rights of women”.

To support his argument, the author of The Lady Speaks: Uncovering the Secrets of the Mona Lisa explains how Leonardo hid clues in the painting: in total, not less than “40 symbols, taken from the 21 verses of the chapter 14 of the Book of the Prophet Zechariah” in the painting.

Therefore, there is a link between religion, the painting of the Italian master and his feminist commitment. It is precisely this link that William Varvel wishes to highlight in order to allow a reflection on the subject. A new definition of the place of Mona Lisa in the artworks from the Renaissance is necessary to apprehend the political and feminist scope of this masterpiece.

UNESCO

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How UN cultural treasures helped set the stage for Game of Thrones

MD Staff

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From King’s Landing to the Iron Bank, so many of the breath-taking backdrops seen on the smash hit Game of Thrones television series are available for future generations to enjoy,  thanks to a key, but little-known role played by the United Nations cultural agency.

Established in 1945, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has worked to improve dialogue and understanding between civilizations, cultures and peoples. One of UNESCO’s methods of doing this is by designating and preserving World Heritage Sites, defined as having outstanding universal value to humanity, which it inscribes on the World Heritage List to be protected for posterity.

To date, there are 1,092 natural and cultural places inscribed. The diverse and unique treasures range from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to the Pyramids of Egypt and the Taj Mahal in India.

Since 2011 UNESCO’s work has become inseparable with the magnificent film locations of the wildly popular Game of Thrones series.

For those tuning in to the show’s final episodes, here’s a look back at the Seven Kingdoms with a nod to the UN cultural agency.

Capital of the Seven Kingdoms

Long before it became known as King’s Landing – one of the Seven Kingdoms and seat of the mighty Iron Throne – the old city of Dubrovnik in Croatia was an important Mediterranean seat of power from the 13th century onwards. Severely damaged by an earthquake in 1667 and by armed conflict in the 1990s, UNESCO is co-coordinating a major restoration programme.

Dubrovnik joined the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites in 1979.

Old City of Dubrovnik (Croatia).UNESCO/Francesco Bandarin

Battle of the Blackwater 

You may recall the fiery Battle of the Blackwater, or scenes where King Robert Baratheon rules from the Iron Throne in the Red Keep, overlooking Blackwater Bay: Fort Lovrijenac, outside the western wall of the Croatian city, actually played an important role in resisting Venetian rule in the 11th century.

Cannon in Old City of Dubrovnik (Croatia).UNESCO/Silvan Rehfeld

Private retreat for House Martell

It is easy to see why Doran Martell called the Water Gardens of Dorne “my favourite place in this world”.  Actually located in the heart of Seville, the Royal Palace of Alcázar is imbued with Moorish influences that date back from the Reconquest of 1248 to the 16th century. UNESCO points to it as “an exceptional testimony to the civilization of the Almohads as well as that of Christian Andalusia”. 

UNESCO inscribed the Royal Palace of Alcázarin in 1987.

Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville (Spain).UNESCO/José Puy

Daenerys’ journey through Essos

When you look at the Medina of Essaouira in Morocco, perhaps you can image The Khaleesi lining up The Unsullied eunuch slave-soldiers in the city of Astapor before renaming Slaver’s Bay,  the Bay of Dragons. But for UNESCO, Essaouira is an exceptional example of a late-18th-century fortified town in North Africa. Since its creation, it has been a major international trading seaport, linking Morocco and its Saharan hinterland with Europe and the rest of the world.

The Medina of Essaouira joined the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites in 2001.

Medina of Essaouira, formerly Mogador (Morocco).UNESCO/Leila Maizaz

Yunkai: ‘A most disreputable place’

In the Yellow City, Daenerys’ language skills are useful with the Yunkai’i, who speak a dialect of High Valyrian. But in Berber, the village of Ait-Ben-Haddou was a popular caravan route long before current-day Morocco was established. The crowded together earthen buildings surrounded by high walls offer a view of a traditional pre-Saharan habitat. 

Ait-Ben-Haddou was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Ait-Ben-Haddou (Morocco).UN News/Jing Zhang

Theon returns to Lordsport Harbour

County Antrim envelops UNESCO-designated Giant’s Causeway and Causeway coast. It is also home to the small fishing harbour of Ballintoy, known to fans as the port of Pyke, home to the Iron Islands of the Greyjoys. Located in real-life Northern Ireland, the Causeway consists of some 40,000 massive black volcanic rock columns sticking out of the sea. Over the last 300 years, geographical studies have greatly contributed to the development of the earth sciences.

The Causeway coast was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986.

Giant’s Causeway (Northern Ireland).UNESCO/Stefano Berti

Cersei’s ‘Walk of Shame’

The iconic scene in in which Cersei Lannister is forced to walk naked through the streets of King’s Landing began atop of the baroque Jesuit Staircase, which leads to the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola and Jesuit College in the UNESCO-desnigated Old City of Dubrovnik .

The Jesuit Staircase is located on the south side of Gundulic Square in UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old City of Dubrovnik.UN News/Mita Hosali

Kingslayer for gender equality

The connection between the United Nations and Game of Thrones does not end with UNESCO’s inspiring  sites.

While Jaime Lannister is the twin brother of Cersei and slayer of the Mad King, Aerys II Targaryen, real-life actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Development Fund. Passionate about ending discrimination and violence against women, the father of two girls is focusing his considerable talents on drawing attention to critical issues, such as gender equality – encouraging everyone to be agents of change.

Mr. Coster-Waldau was appointed a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador in 2016.

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Baku forum to push back against ‘rise of hate’ with strong call for cultural and religious tolerance

MD Staff

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Just off a plane from Sri Lanka, Miguel Angel Moratinos, United Nations High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations (UNOAC), said on Wednesday that tomorrow’s 5th World Forum for Intercultural Dialogue is opening at a “very timely” moment.

Speaking in Baku, Azerbaijan, ahead of the UN-backed Forum, Mr. Moratinos told UN News about his “emotional visit” to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, where he paid his respects to victims of the suicide bombings that took place on Easter Sunday which killed more than 250 people at churches and hotels across several cities.

“Sri Lanka has been an open country with different religions and cultures, and suddenly there was this massacre”, he said, adding that it had dealt a “tremendous blow to a country that is trying to live together in peace.”

While social intolerance is not new, Mr. Moratinos was concerned about what he called “the return of hate.”

“Hate is the word that mobilizes certain communities to destroy”, he said, adding: “It drives people past the point of not being able to live together to the direction of exterminating their opponents and that is very dangerous.”

“This Forum is important to send a strong message to the international community that it is possible to live together, that we can respect each other and that we have to better understand different cultures and religions,” he told UN News.

Complex situations need clarity

He said that as the world is becoming more complex and uncertain, a global strategy for intercultural dialogue is ever more important.

“Solutions sought through financial, military and political means take a simplistic view”, he stated, noting that sustainable solutions require a social-cultural approach that digs deep into the roots of different societies to bring clarity.

“Unless you understand the mentality of your neighbor, the history of an issue, how you come to this situation, what the consequences are and the relationship is, it is very difficult to find sustainable solutions,” he maintained.

The High Representative is taking up this approach wholeheartedly, using it as a new tool “to explore and develop in the near future”.

Mr. Moratinos also spoke about the message of interfaith dialogue and tolerance on which both the Grand Imam of Al Azhar and the Pope agreed.

He said the historic declaration that Al Azhar and the Vatican had produced was about “brotherhood, mutual understanding and overcoming past controversies to look toward the future”.

“And it is not only between Islam and the Catholic Church, they want to go larger, to ask other religious faiths to join them”, he said, noting that is provides “a good basis for discussion and for interreligious dialogue”.

Turning to the global plan of action to safeguard religious sites – a fresh mandate given to UNAOC last month by UN chief António Guterres in the wake of the horrific mass shooting at two New Zealand mosques – Mr. Moratinos told UN News that while working on the draft, his Officer was “shocked by what happened in Sri Lanka”, stressing that those attacks further demonstrated the urgency of developing a plan.

He detailed some of the work his team is doing to this end, such as in Sri Lanka, where they reached out to the Congress of Religions and “went into specific elements”, including on how national legislation should be adapted “to meet new challenges” and the work needed to “put an end to social networks of hate and discrimination”.

The High Representative shared his hope that by end-July a draft plan should be ready for adoption and implementation.

The 5th World Forum, which will open in Baku tomorrow, 2 May and through Friday, will examine the critical role of intercultural dialogue as an actionable strategy for building human solidarity and helping localities counter the violence and discrimination in diverse communities.

Running under the theme Building dialogue into action against discrimination, inequality and violent conflict, the Forum will also host the 2nd High Level Panel of the Heads of International Organizations and the Ministerial Panel, in order to build synergy and partnership among political, economic, financial, military, humanitarian and social organizations along with other stakeholders to elaborate a common roadmap for assisting public, private and third sector organizations in building inclusive and sustainable societies through promoting intercultural dialogue and human dignity.  

The Government of Azerbaijan, in partnership with the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), UNAOC, the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the Council of Europe and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) is the host of the Forum.

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