IAM Encounter: On the art market

This post is information derived from my experience at IAM Encounter 2009, although it wasn’t all necessarily a part of the program. Remember, conferences are mostly about networking.

In his latest blog entry titled Trout, the Dow and our Bottom Lines Part II, Mako Fujimura quotes a Lewis Hyde book titled The Gift:

    It is the assumption of this book that a work of art is a gift, not a commodity. Or, to state the modern case with more precision, that works of art exist simultaneously in two “economies,” a market economy and a gift economy. Only one of these is essential however: a work of art can survive without the market, but where there is no gift, there is no art.

Mako repeated the quote in the IAM Encounter keynote. I like the quotation, although I must admit I don’t exactly understand it yet. I’m guessing Hyde’s book elaborates on the idea (particularly since it’s titled The Gift) and I’d do well to read it some day — after I get through the stack of books on the arts I’ve already started, and haven’t finished. Mako’s post elaborates on it some as well, though I haven’t come to understand his explanation either (and I’m not finished reading the entry).

What I can understand is that a work of art is not just a commodity, and that if an artist sets out to create a song or painting with the intent of creating a commodity the artistic integrity, or even basic integrity, of the work will be questionable. In this context it’s easy to question the integrity of Thomas Kinkade’s paintings, although it’s never very wise in my opinion to judge the motives of another artist (even as blatant as Kinkade is with his marketing machine).

And a second thought, via a YouTube video shown to me by someone I met at the conference, by renowned Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang. He’s speaking here on the emergence of an art market in China, something that has only occurred in the past 15 years or so:

    Previously we didn’t have an art market. We didn’t even know what an art market was. Since such a market has emerged, I think it’s more positive than negative for China. But it’s definitely a double-edged sword. While it gives opportunities to some artists, it may also be ruining others. But art definitely needs a market. I think this contradiction is very normal.

Playing off of Hyde’s quote, when Xiaogang suggests here that a thriving market for art is ruining some artists I take it to mean that the market possesses the potential to steal away the gift (whatever this is exactly) in a work of art. His emphasis of the contradiction is important. See the entire video below (note that it’s the first of a three part series).



About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

One Response to IAM Encounter: On the art market

  1. Jonias says:

    This starts to make sense to me in the realm of my work – architecture – and especially residential design. This field is one of the most commodizised (I don’t think that is a word) I know of. The market side of a home far outweighs the gift side. And when we do “gift” our homes it seems to be portable in nature (pictures, colors on the wall, fancy chair here, etc.), personal to us as individuals but not really part of the home itself. Of course, one may state that a home doesn’t need to have an art component. It’s primary purpose is one of function and its sustainability is resultant of its ability to be sold again and again. However, then we introduce the problem of staying power derived from identity and the development of a deeper quality of community. Is not the goal to have both the art and the market? They are not mutually exclusive, are they?

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