by Heather A. Fraser

Art Business Magazine : Commerce and Art

Many believe that commerce and visual art are completely separate domains, or that they should be. However, the use of Monet's The Poppy Field to advertise allergy medication or Mona Lisa's smile to sell tooth paste, as well as the ever increasing commercialisation of art museums, have given many reason to consider that commerce and art are coming ever closer together. Is this convergence good or bad? Have consumerism and reproduction technology degraded Canadian art and culture?

The flood of information we experience daily contributes to our understanding of global issues. Generally, because of technology, we are forced to become more discriminating and better educated. As consumers, we understand that our shopping choices (in an open market) determine what is manufactured and sold. And businesses, if they wish to stay in business, are responding to our choices. While this is a positive outcome of the commercial circuit of creation, distribution and consumption of wealth and goods, it has potentially negative effects as well.

Visual art, some say, is above such commercialism, or should be. But at this point in time, can it be? We stroll from picture to picture in the art museum as we might stroll from store to store in the shopping mall. Art, while it has special qualities, is also an object of desire not unlike a new couch or lamp. André Malraux declared in his famous 1949 essay, "Museum Without Walls", that museums rob art of its original functions, "doing away with the significance of Saint and Saviour". It is interesting as well that what has migrated to the museum is generally portable and thus easily consumable art: "More pictures by Rembrandt than Giotto frescos have found their way to dealers' shops and auction-rooms."

Our desires to consume knowledge and goods come together today in art and reproduction technology. Malraux, in his essay, seems resigned to the effect of technology and consumerism on art. He envisioned an Imaginary Art Museum, made up of reproductions of works of art, that would conjure up "in the mind's eye all the world's masterpieces". Malraux would probably have liked CD Rom and the Internet.

But as far back as recorded history goes, art and commerce have been connected. Some celebrated Pompeian frescoes were originally brothel advertisements. Antoine Watteau's famous L'Enseigne de Gersaint, was created not as a work of art but as a shopkeeper's sign. Monet, pressed for money for most of his life, rushed through some of his paintings to get them to the dealer. Picasso would draw a picture to pay for a meal. And no one knew better the bond between art and money than Andy Warhol. The introduction of reproduction technology into the pairing of art and commerce, as Warhol's work implies, raises many questions including the value of authenticity and the role of the artist in society.

So what has all this to do with Art Business Magazine ? It is the stuff of the magazine's dialogue on the economics of the visual arts. Some Canadian artists and visual art workers have dismissed the relationship between money and art as unimportant. Others, however, realise that it is time to take a look at the economics of their own activities. How have they contributed to their own financial problems?

Some artists and cultural workers are afraid that without government protection and subsidy, art will suffer under the influence of consumerism and technology. Indeed, the way of life visual arts workers have experienced over the last 45 years is under seige. Canadian governments at all levels are placing financial responsibility for the arts back on artists and art institutions. But again, is this situation good or bad?

Art Business Magazine has been created to document, analyse and give opinion in some measure on the economic challenges being faced by those in the visual arts today. It is a dialogue in which everyone is encouraged to take part. E-mail the editor, contribute articles. Participate in a national discussion on the future of the visual arts in Canada.

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