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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

Experiencing Chinese Society and Culture

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Today Chinese Culture and society is a combination of ancient traditions, customs, and modernized developed and also westernized lifestyle. The Chinese culture and traditions are ancient, its history has huge diversity and variety. Historically, Chinese society is rich in arts, science, and literature. The culture of china has maintained its unique identity till the beginning of western culture in the 19th century. The historical influence of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism is the reflection in Chinese society and culture. Confucianism spread the love and rituals to give respect for society and social hierarchy. The characteristics of Chinese culture unchanged over the period despite the influences and several invasions from the outside. The philosophy of Confucianism stressed that people could be good if they follow the moral principles and made the rituals that respected the gods. In the hard times and war times, Confucianists emphasized carefully follow the traditions that could maintain unity within the society. historically, several Chinese rulers have adopted the core principles of Confucianism. During the Hans dynasty, Emperor Wu had encouraged the hierarchical social structures, the Emperor believed these principles would bring and also maintain the social harmony within the Chinese society throughout history. The Confucius philosophy was dominant during the Hans dynasty in ancient China. during this period the core principles were flourished and reached within the societal structures. The state ideology was based on Confucius’s philosophy, it has improved the societal values and norms. During 500BC the teachings of Confucius have played an important role in shaping the character of Chinese society, shaping behavior, and the way of life of Chinese people. The main objective was to achieve societal harmony and social norms and values. Another core principle and value of Confucianism is forgiveness, compassion, and tolerance.  Even today, Chinese society and academicians give immense respect and also promote the core principles of Confucius’s philosophy.

Modern Chinese society and culture are rapidly influenced by western cultural values and traditions. It’s quickly changing nowadays with popular American culture and other cultures of the world. The youth in urban areas are more influenced by popular western culture. Their lifestyle although reflects their wish to adopt the world’s popular culture. This is the 21st century and era of globalization, no society in the world is pure now. The free flow of information through different sources of media has been influenced by the societal existing order. So the modern Chinese society especially in urban areas, developed cities are more likely to become modern, acceptance of new cultural values, lifestyles and easily adopt it.

Personally, it is my observation so far, I interact with general people in the market, train stations, shops, many other public places. The people more like to open to the world now. The youth want to interact with other cultures, curious to know about other people thinking, ideas. But in rural areas and the countrysides there still traditional societal norms and values exist. The people have strong connections with their family backgrounds and also the Confucianism. The strong family system, the hierarchy with the society, and obedience exist.

Here I want to share an example of Chinese modesty when I was doing volunteering in Wuhan railway station, the general people came to me and tried to speak, I just can speak, hello, thank you, bye-bye in Chinese, but still, they are complimenting on my excellent Chinese by saying that (your Chinese is very good). The Chinese people are excellent compliment givers and encouraging other people to learn. They never discourage, although they complement that, you are handsome, wow your nose is so big it’s beautiful. Indeed the traditional Chinese traditional food, delicious and also healthy. The hotpot, although its too much spicy but its interesting to eat in the winter season.

In the winter season, when chilly temperatures and frigid winds prevail over the land, people like to eat food that instantly warms their bodies and lifts their spirits. For that, the hot pot is a delicious and hearty choice. Families or groups of friends sit around a table and eat from a steaming pot in the middle, cooking and drinking and chatting. The hot pot is not only a cooking method; it also provides a way of eating, it is also a cultural mode.However China has opened its doors to the world now, it means that society is more sophisticated and also the acceptance of new ideas and thinkings. The youth want to interact with the world and also want to contribute to the peace and development of the world’s underdeveloped societies. The philosophy of Confucianism works here, dominance in every sector of society.

I would like to conclude by one sentence that yes there should be accepted for new ideas and values but also should promote their societal rich traditions and values to the world.

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Arts & Culture

Rising Pak-Turk Cultural Diplomacy: “Dirilis Ertugrul”- The Prime Catalyst

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Amid massive success of famous Turkish drama series Dirilis Ertugrul, also titled as Resurrection Ertugrul in English for Netflix, is both a fictional and historic story based on the life of father of Osman I; Ertugrul Ghazi- set in 13th Century made records across Pakistan in terms of its views and popularity. It gained massive fan-following among all age groups inspiring them to value integrity, steadfastness and have faith. The current Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Imran Khan urged people to watch this series to increase their knowledge about the glorious history of Muslims and true essence of Islam and learn from it. The high-budget drama got dubbed in Pakistan’s national language; Urdu, therefore reaching mass audience.

The viewership of the series shoot up primarily during the month of  Ramadan. As a result not only did the people of Pakistan get enlightened and entertained but also the state television earned huge profits. Most importantly it boosted cultural, media and public diplomacy between two Muslim countries; Turkey and Pakistan. The drama serial promoted people-to-people contact, join forces for mutual media and cultural ventures and promote Pak-Turk Tourism, and last but not the least – strengthen relationship between the Muslim countries purely based on love and mutual respect. Therefore, establishing a strong mutual alliance is raison d’être for these potential efforts by the both ends. Pakistan having a strong support-system in Europe and for Turkey to have in South Asia is a prerequisite for both to counter the future challenges – as it has become the need of times keeping the geopolitical dynamics in perspective. Speaking of challenges – Saudi Arab; with whom Pakistan’s relations are already struggling – expressed their reservations regarding the broadcasting of Turkishdizi (dramas) in Pakistan. Irked by the success of Dirilis Ertugrul – Saudi Arab has come up with their own counter narrative version of historical series titled, “Kingdom of Fires”, with an aim to combat Turkish cultural invasion and growing global influence. Fatima Bhutto, in her article for Foreign Policy, ‘How Turkey’s Soft Power Conquered Pakistan’, says that in contemporary times – Turkish dramas has come second only to American ones, otherwise it has toppled the previously most viewed languages in the world, such as, French, Spanish, and Mandarin. Turkish has now become the most watched language worldwide.

Acknowledging the blockbuster success, the lead actors visited Pakistan receiving a warm welcome, immense praise and love from people. The actors too expressed  their gratitude and happiness. Several lead actors of the super-hit series namely Engin Altan Duzyatan aka Ertugrul, Cavit Çetin Güner aka Dugan Bey, Nurettin aka Bamsı and Ayberk Pekcan aka Artuk Bey etc.on their short visits met selected Pakistan’s media personnel henceforth expressed their willingness to strengthen the cultural bond by collaborating with each other in future media-based projects and bring together the people of the two nation. Rumor has it – both the Muslim countries are already in talks to come forth with a Pak-Turk TV series; a Pakistan-original with joint efforts for the project by Ansari Films and TRT Films named, “Lala Turki”, commemorating the Khilafat Movement – with an ultimate aim to aware the unaware about the legacy of Islam.

It must be mentioned here that it is not the first time that any Turkish drama series had been aired in Pakistan. The trend was set few years back by URDU 1 channel which ran mostly Turkish dubbed dramas in Urdu so that people of Pakistan would also get a taste of Turkish flavor of serials. It gained massive popularity. Thereon, the trend to air Turkish productions became a new normal. Another series that gained massive popularity was “the Magnificent Century” locally known as “Mera Sultan”. This was run by the channel Geo Kahani. The trend of Turkish dramas never seized till date. However, what “Dirilis Ertugrul”managed to do in this past year can’t be matched. This is the only drama that started involving the two nations on diplomatic level and opened up new ways for collaboration among the brother countries. It helped people realize that not only the flags but the hearts of the two nations are also very similar united by a shared magnificent past and a hope for an incredible future.

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Arts & Culture

New European Bauhaus: Commission launches design phase

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Commission launched the design phase of the New European Bauhaus initiative, announced by President von der Leyen in her 2020 State of the Union address. The New European Bauhaus is an environmental, economic and cultural project, aiming to combine design, sustainability, accessibility, affordability and investment in order to help deliver the European Green Deal. The core values of the New European Bauhaus are thus sustainability, aesthetics and inclusiveness. The goal of the design phase is to use a co-creation process to shape the concept by exploring ideas, identifying the most urgent needs and challenges, and to connect interested parties. As one element of the design phase, this spring, the Commission will launch, the first edition of the New European Bauhaus prize.

This design phase will lead to the opening of calls for proposals in autumn this year to bring to life New European Bauhaus ideas in at least five places in EU Member States, through the use of EU funds at national and regional level.

European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “The New European Bauhaus is a project of hope to explore how we live better together after the pandemic. It is about matching sustainability with style, to bring the European Green Deal closer to people’s minds and homes. We need all creative minds: designers, artists, scientists, architects and citizens, to make the New European Bauhaus a success.”

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth said: “With the New European Bauhaus our ambition is to develop an innovative framework to support, facilitate and accelerate the green transformation by combining sustainability and aesthetics. By being a bridge between the world of art and culture on one side and the world of science and technology on the other, we will make sure to involve society as a whole: our artists, our students, our architects, our engineers, our academia, our innovators. It will kick-off a systemic change.”

Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira commented: “The New European Bauhaus is about how we live together, our values, our common spaces of work and leisure, our collective and private experiences. This is a project for all regions and territories in Europe. In promoting affordable solutions, it should contribute to social cohesion and to solving housing problems. If we want to bring real change around us – for a more beautiful, sustainable life together, we need to think about how the New European Bauhaus can bridge the generation of new ideas with implementation in physical places. We are therefore exploring across the Commission how our tools could be mobilised to launch a first set of concrete New European Bauhaus actions.”

Background

The New European Bauhaus is a creative initiative, breaking down boundaries between science and technology, art, culture and social inclusion, to allow design to find solutions for everyday problems. 

On the dedicated website launched today, artists, designers, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, architects, students, and all interested people can share examples of inspiring achievements for the New European Bauhaus, their ideas about how it should be shaped and how it should evolve, as well as their concerns and challenges.

This is the beginning of an innovative co-design process. Organisations that want to put more effort into their engagement in this process can become ‘Partners of the New European Bauhaus,’ by responding to the call on the website.

In the coming months, the Commission will award prizes to existing examples that represent the integration of the key values of the initiative, and that may inspire the discussions about, and the transformation of, the places where we live.

In the next phase of the initiative – the ‘delivery’ phase, five pilot projects will be set up to co-design new sustainable and inclusive solutions with style. The objective of the third phase – ‘dissemination’, is to spread the ideas and concepts defining the New European Bauhaus via new projects, networking and sharing of knowledge, in Europe and beyond.

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