Art is Expensive – at Both Ends

The price of art is on everybody’s mind again. This time the impetus is the sale of Edvard Munch’s pastel, “The Scream” at Sotheby’s New York for $119.9 million. The auction results were flashed around the world; in some cities radio stations “interrupted programming to announce the news.”  Within twelve hours of the sale, my RSS reader had picked up 22 articles and blogs related to the sale. And the range of conversations that this one transaction spawned was amazingly broad.

During the same week Lee Siegel, writing about Broadway theatre in “The Opinion Pages” of The New York Times lamented the fact that “what was once a middle-class entertainment has become a luxury item.” And it’s true. Even those of us who live far from Broadway have to decide if going to a professional theatre production or a concert is a budget-wise thing to do.

Although some have alleged that recent prices for high-dollar art have much more to do with investment speculation than with the art itself, Patricia G. Berman  says that “The Scream,” may actually be worth what was paid for it. But what gets forgotten in conversations about the value and price of contemporary art, at least that which is not inflated beyond reason by investors, is the cost of producing that art. For example, there is enormous expense in producing a play on Broadway, and beyond that is the risk for the investors.

Consider the revival of Death of a Salesman, which is the topic of Siegel’s editorial: there is not only the cost of the theatre rental, but the salaries of a world-class director, actors, and designers, not to mention all of the technicians that were required to construct and decorate the set, hang the lights, build the costumes, and those who run the show both backstage and in the house. It is an expensive undertaking.

And it is lamentable that this work, and a lot of art, is priced out of reach of many people. The reasons are complex and manifold, a reflection of the economic and cultural times in which we live.

Even art made and sold off the island of Manhattan is expensive, for all of the same reasons. Each medium has its own set of unique expenses, in addition to a huge investment of time and energy. Very few artists are in a position to give their product away. Yes, there are occasional free theatre presentations (and some of them very, very good), and artists sometimes make work for family or friends, but the reality is that if you make art, you will be required to invest not only your time but your money as well.

And, in case you didn’t know, art materials are not cheap. Even arts which have become increasingly digital, such as photography, have considerable associated expense. Yes, you can take pictures with your phone and post them on the internet, but if you are involved with fine art photography, then you probably want a more versatile camera, and you certainly need editing equipment and software, and, if you intend to show your work in galleries, you will have the expense of printing, and perhaps mounting, matting, and framing.

And all of that takes money, which is what stops a lot of young artists. They simply have do not have the funds to create their art. Some, who are driven to create, find ways to generate funding to produce their art. For those who can’t not make art of some kind, there is no choice.

In order to create, we must endure the expense.

Date: Sunday, 6. May 2012 23:53
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Audience, Creativity, Photography, Theatre

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