"...most of the art world has nothing to do with art.
It is about status, influence, prestige, power – just like most human industries and organizations at some level..."
What fascinated me was the subtext, coming from the Times voice, and the deeper issues that the article points to but doesn’t explicitly address.
The article is fully worth reading, but in brief, it laments the disconnect between the New York art world – its galleries, openings, collectors – and the wealthy technologists of Silicon Valley (and somewhat New York). The latter are not participating in this world or purchasing art in the manner traditionally expected of wealthy people. Underlying this expectation are some implicit assumptions that this type of participation would be culturally valuable. These assumptions leak out through such choice passages as follows:
There are all sorts of plausible explanations: the tech industry is relatively new (especially in New York); its members are young, busy and most did not plod through four years’ worth of liberal arts syllabuses.
But as many in the art world point out, there is no reason new-media moguls cannot get a remedial art education now.
Apparently it is just an issue of total ignorance driving this trend, a remedial education would be more than enough to correct the short-sightedness of these technologists. The article goes on, however, to acknowledge ways in which the traditional art world can be inaccessible and cliquish – one must become adept in the social rules to fully participate. It culminates with a backhanded comment about the lack of social prowess attributed to the technologist archetype.
…the art world has become increasingly driven by well-attended events. But this might be yet another impediment to people known, fairly or not, as much for their antisocial behavior as for their revolutionary inventions.
I particularly love that use of “fairly or not,” disclaiming the slight. It is much like one proudly asserting that they have black or gay friends immediately prior to making a decidedly racist or homophobic statement.
The article ends there, but I wanted to take the question further. Why does New York’s art world really function the way it does? Why aren’t the technologists participating? What’s actually happening with art?
In New York, the dynamics are driven by finance. Love it or hate it, whether you’re a New Yorker or an outsider, Wall Street is the prevailing force to be reckoned with. In my view, Wall Street doesn’t explicitly value creation. But nor does it explicitly value consumption, as I think many would assume. Wall Street values brokerage, the enablement of transactions that keep the whole system functioning. Those who control the transactions at the highest level control the allocation and distribution of resources. That structure and this function arevery important - in turn both wealth and status are garnered.
Now, let us turn to the art world and question what is really being discussed here. It’s not the art itself. The article doesn’t mention a single artist or work of art. It’s the trade of the art, both financially and through the social engagements around it. Stepping back, the gallerista looks a lot like the money manager. They don’t produce or consume the art themselves. They are kingmakers, market-makers, exercising control over which art become popular or expensive (supply) and what the wealthy elite will choose to buy (demand).
It’s no surprise that these two worlds get along handsomely. They have different sets of values on the surface (art/culture/history, capitalism/efficiency). But they intuitively undersand and respect each other’s game, so they play along well, building relationships through transacting.
There is trouble on the horizon. The financiers are still rich, as they have been for some time now, but these technologists seem to be amassing their own riches at an alarming rate. Money is money, but they are not participating in the social half of this status equation, great cause for concern amongst the status brokers.
The traditional art world appears to be recognizing that it is going to need to collect some of this money to continue operating in the manner it has grown accustomed to. What it doesn’t seem to recognize is that it may be selling the wrong thing, a brand of social status that the technology culture is not interested in buying. Take this passage, for example:
Sima Familant, a New York art adviser, said she thought the tech industry had almost an obligation to become more engaged with art.
“If these are our next Rockefellers, Carnegies, Fricks, whatever you want to say in terms of our wealthy American elite, then why aren’t they supporting culture?” she asked.
Ms. Familant, 40, said she worried for the future of privately financed arts establishments.
“If these people are the new wealthy, and they’re not supporting institutions and the arts, then we’re going to have a really big problem at some point,” she said.
The clincher for me is in that last line – “we’re going to have a really big problem.” Though intended to be rhetorical, I think it’s fairly clear what that weactually stands for. The art world’s status is predicated on others perceiving it as valuable – if that stops, the status evaporates. I can understand how scary it must be to face that. But I, for one, am not worried in the slightest about the survival of art and culture, themselves.
Perhaps I lack the necessary education and perspective, some might say.
Now, to be clear, I don’t think the Silicon Valley values are any better. They’re just a different set of rules, and therein lies the culture clash. The article acknowledges this:
Mr. Brown’s art adviser, Sarah Jane Bruce, affirmed that “the general assumption is that people in tech will collect street art.”
It will be interesting to see if they can pull that off and the Silicon Valley rich decide to buy it, or if the technologists go off and play their own game. Currently, that consists largely of throwing money at your friends’ hot new startups. Art here, admittedly, does often fall prey to the slick new landing page or mobile app. One could pessimistically see these values as a pissing contest to see who can exert the most influence over people’s future behavior, rather than just collecting money (though plenty of that clearly happens along on the way). On the other hand, I do see genuine promise in things like Etsy, that don’t necessarily turn artistic endeavors into a profitable profession, but certainly make them more accessible. Average quality of output drops greatly, but volume increases dramatically and the very best stuff is on par with what the conventional system produces (this is what I see happening with music now that the cost of the tools needed create it approaches zero).
I don’t know how it all plays out. I know that I have my own set of hopes and tastes, based on my personal values. But I try not to lose sight of that frame. Art, culture, quality, values – these things are all subjective. Power and hierarchy – those things exist.