Art and economics – a rambling

Some people are driven to make things, to paint pictures, to make sculpture, etc. These are activities that often are engaged in for their own sake, not as a means to an end, like wealth or security. They are definitely not high on the careers officer’s list of job recommendations.

Some people value the products of these activities and may be willing to spend money on them, if they have money to spare on such luxuries. Many of the people in the latter group are also in the former (at least that is how it seems to me) – which is a problem in economic terms. Clearly if only artists buy art, the system cannot support itself; exchanging art for art cannot produce a surplus to pay for more mundane necessities. Unless there are some non-artists spending enough money on art it is an unsustainable practice, or at least it can only continue if the makers of art either do something else as well to make a living, making their art more like a hobby, or are independently wealthy themselves. It seems that both the making and the owning of art must be seen as luxuries.

Must we accept then that the possibility of some people making art as their primary activity is dependent on an art market ultimately funded by the rich? On wealthy patrons (or wealthy artists) whose taste will therefore determine what is made and who makes it? That is, is the art world we have got, with galleries and collectors at the top selecting the lucky few artists whose work is deemed good enough to invest in, the only way it can be?

A fantasy world:

There are jobs that are essential to this fantasy world, which are shared among its fantasy citizens. Everyone who is able has to do some essential work (from growing food to caring for elderly neighbours perhaps), in exchange for a fantasy citizen’s wage, but this leaves them some spare time to do other, non-essential things. Maybe some people use their spare time to do other jobs to increase their income.

Some people make things in their spare time, not to increase their income but just because they choose to. All the things they make are put in a library of things, from which people can borrow the things. The makers whose things are borrowed most often are rewarded by being given more time to make more things. That is, they are released from some of the essential jobs – or rather their making is recognised as part of the essential work. Because in this fantasy world, art is not seen as a luxury but as a necessary part of the good society, to be accessible to all. And incidentally, money is not the primary reward – that is time.

(I did say it was a fantasy world…)

And here’s an irrelevant image:

Lino print: Curious Cow

Copyright ©2014 F. Watts


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