213: State of the Art Market

Trinchera Sky, 11″ x 11″, eight color woodcut
I get many emails covering a wide range of topics. A recurring question is how the art market is doing. I don’t consider myself an expert but I have contacts with many in the field and have tried to cultivate a wide view of trends in a variety of genres. Here is my analysis of what is currently happening in the art market:

MARKET CONTRACTION
Due to a series of global economic crises the traditional art market has contracted significantly from the 80s and 90s. Many patrons who used to buy regularly are now waiting for the market to improve. Some, like second-home owners, have downsized their assets and simply do not have the demand for as much art as in previous decades. Artists whose reputations were established previous to the new economy continue to connect with markets forged during the old economy. Newer markets, such as online gallery Saatchi Online, are proving difficult to exploit by the average artist. Traditional galleries are scrambling to exploit the internet economy but most are finding it easy to expend resources with little measurable return.

SUPPLY EXPANSION
The amount of people creating art has expanded significantly. Opening any art magazine is to discover a new crop of artists with amazing talent and impressive work. This expansion of available art is partly demographic as Baby Boomers finally have time and resources to develop their talents fully. Although much has been written about the increased division of the rich and the poor the reality is that the middle-class has never been larger and its expansion is a world wide phenomenon. Widespread prosperity is allowing more people the option of pursuing a career in art. Previously local markets could sustain local artists but now the markets are not local but global.

QUALITY INCREASE
Not only are more people practicing art professionally the overall quality is improving with each passing year. Information about how to paint better and improve faster is passing easily and quickly across the globe. Anyone pursuing a career in art has easy access to the best art instruction ever available in the history of the planet. This is an historic and unprecedented phenomenon and its ramifications are not fully realized.

DIGITAL DISRUPTION
Some genres, like woodcut, are no longer viable due to the confusion caused by digital printing. Works on paper, especially under glass, can no longer be easily determined to be handmade. Any work of art that is not easy recognized as handmade will be devalued in the post-computer printing market. Digital disruption will continue with the advent of 3D printing and reproduction of textured paintings further confusing the concept of original art.

This analysis might be viewed as somewhat pessimistic. But with every obstacle there is a countervailing opportunity to expand the artistic project. In times of change it is difficult to blaze a new path forward. But that is the ultimate function of creativity.

Brad Teare–January 2015

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Updated: 4th December 2020
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