Republic Windows employees celebrate getting everything they asked for, after sit-in
taking over the factory
After writing up my report of what was said by others at last Thursday's panel at the X Initiative I asked myself what I thought about the question implied in the program's title: "After the Deluge?; Perspectives on Challenging Times in the Art World". I've decided to continue the discussion I had with myself in this space.
As far as the economy is concerned, I think things are going to get pretty crazy out there, and they may perhaps stay pretty crazy for a long time. In spite of the optimism coming from Washington and in much of the press in the last few days, I still think we're sliding into another great depression. I'd say they've really broken it this time. I'm especially concerned because I'm not hearing anyone who is supposedly in charge really admit it.
If the U.S. population is a little more than 300 million and the total amount of the so-called bailouts and capital infusions remains no more than the estimate of $9.9 trillion published in an article in the Times two months ago (which now may seem a very optimistic assumption), those numbers equate to more than $32,000. for every single American. And yet it may not do the trick. The country, and the whole world, might still collapse into chaos.
Under both best- and the worst-case scenarios, there will be changes in the way we all live.
But let's put aside the doomsday bugbear; it seems there's something else going on, and this phenomenon just might turn out to be a good thing. People are not just worse off than they were one year ago, or perhaps eight or even thirty years ago, as we're now learning. People are mad; they're *really* mad; and it's not just about the AIG bonuses. It's about the selfishness, the greed, the arrogance and the pure stupidity of those who have been given those bonuses, as well as all the other financial tycoons, and their fellow-traveling politicians too. They have together created the disaster which is taking from people their jobs, their savings and their hopes, while mortgaging their future and that of their children with the trillions of dollars stuffed into the pockets of those same tycoons and politicians, in transactions which remain opaque today.
For what it's worth, we can be sure this debacle won't look anything like the last one. When things like wars and depressions come back, when historical things are repeated, they actually never do "come back", and they really never are "repeated". World War II looked nothing like its almost-equally infamous namesake. We can also be sure that Great Depression II will end up looking nothing like the first one, which seemed to have defined the 20th century almost as much as totalitarianism, genocide and industrial progress.
One thing we do know is that nothing was ever quite the same both during and after the Great Depression. I think there's a good chance that nothing will survive the current crisis in the same form in which it existed just one year ago, including the current arrangements within the art world. I have no predictions about galleries or other institutions, but the relationship between the artist, the gallery and the public may be altered. It's probably safe to assume that while some will certainly survive and eventually flourish once again, any space which today we think of as on the leading edge will almost certainly be supplanted in that role by others not yet in business, and the old edge will become the middle ground.
But assuming we don't end up tearing each other apart over scraps of food, maybe we can look forward to "interesting times" as for artists and the people who love them and what they do. I've assembled a far-from-exhaustive list of developments which I think we're likely to see just ahead of us, if not already. It does not include trends which would seem to be unrelated to the economic depression, like digital experimentation. Also, most are not entirely new concepts or developments, and some of them are already here.
Every artist will finally get a website, including those who have held out because of some idea of principle, and those who have depended on their galleries.
There will be more virtual art, meaning both online work and projects.
We will see an growing trend toward the adoption of "open source, open content and open distribution" (pace Eyebeam).
There will be more interactive work.
Individual artists and groups of artists will be showing work in their studios, art both by themselves and by others.
Artists will organize shows themselves in vacant buildings and storefronts, even if private and public institutions fail to do so.
Some businesses, large and small, will find it useful and rewarding to cooperate with artists in a symbiotic relationship.
A distressed economy will encourage the recognition of the folly, and even counterproductive consequences, of camera prohibitions.
We can expect to see a greater popular documentation of the visual arts, where it doesn't interfere with its appreciation by others.
We will see more street art and more street performance, both in more inspired forms than ever.
We are sure to see more work that reflects the growing populism abroad in the land today.
And consequently, we will see more socially and politically provocative work (actually, that may be mostly wishful thinking).
But this new art will be subversive (no, I mean really subversive), even if it's not "Political".
There will be work which would have been unrecognizable as art, by most people, until now.
And certainly there will be art created in totally new mediums.
But, because of reduced budgets, we can still expect more works on paper and more work using found materials.
Governments and citizens will finally grant artists a status withheld from them until now, recognition as a full and worthy part of society in every way.
It all sounds good to me, but the best thing I've heard or read describing the positive things which lie ahead for artists even in our reduced economic circumstances was a piece Holland Cotter wrote for the Times, published February 12, "The Boom Is Over. Long Live the Art!":
At the same time, if the example of past crises holds true, artists can also take over the factory, make the art industry their own. Collectively and individually they can customize the machinery, alter the modes of distribution, adjust the rate of production to allow for organic growth, for shifts in purpose and direction. They can daydream and concentrate. They can make nothing for a while, or make something and make it wrong, and fail in peace, and start again.
Now if we can all just get through this no-money thing and crawl out the other side in one piece.
[image by E. Jason Wambsgans from the Times via Chicago Tribune and AP]