The Art Market, Quo Vadis

In the main these articles emanate from questions asked by friends and readers. I tend to mull these things over in my mind and if I have knowledge or an opinion relating to the question asked I often start writing right away. If it interests me but I’m not too sure I generally mull it over and will do some research before writing.


One question asked a little while ago was Why I write about such heavy and serious stuff, That is easy to answer and the reason is that about 15 years ago when I started writing it was as a back –up writer for a little Arts magazine we used to p[publish. Often writers who had promised to let us have an article let us down and there was a mad scramble to find something suitable. Eventually I decided to write an article each month to cover us in cases of non-delivery. One thing led to another and it became a regular. It still is after all these years and after going through a number of metamorphoses.


At the time most of the articles we were getting were good news stories and no-one was dealing with the problems facing the visual arts and artists. It then struck me that every time artists got together or when artist friends phoned me problems were brought up and discussed and it suddenly struck me that that is what I should write about- the issues and problems facing artists! I would present the problem/question, and then offer solutions where I could, or invite the readers to answer them for themselves where I couldn’t or where they disagreed with mine.


I promise when I’m no longer presented with, or asked questions I will read ‘feel-good’ articles. Won’t that be something – to have a problem-free arts community/sector?


A question asked recently was ‘when did I think that the art market would return to normal, and paintings would start selling again?’ Well this was a toughie and I’ve given it a lot of thought and there is little doubt that the market is in a trough. Not just here but all over the world. I do not know if it will ever return to ‘normal’, whatever normal is as the art market changes all the time, but by normal I imagine it is meant when will all the artists start selling lots of their work and make lots of money?


Well after giving this a lot of thought I believe that as economies start improving and I have no doubt they will so will the art market but I’m not sure if things as they are will improve very much here. The reason is that our market is hopelessly over-sold. We have too few buyers chasing far too many artists.  Or perhaps one should say far too many artists chasing too few buyers. Obviously as money tightened up so the situation worsened and we’ve seen scores of galleries close and art as a career has come under real threat.


In talking to galleries and artists it seems that as things stand the art buying public still consists of mainly whites and except for a few exceptions there are still far too few galleries owned by black people. By ding the most basic arithmetic one can see that if you take the four million or so white population and halve it, that being the 50% who are not interested in art, ( Leaves 2 million) and then halve it again as the 50% being children and those too young to purchase art ( 1 million). Take of sick elderly and so on and you are probably left with a potential art buying public of 500, 000. It is a mystery how such a small market has sustained so many artists for so long. It cannot continue like that considering that thousands of new young artists are coming onto the market each year and a great number of those are eager young black artists who also aim their work at the essentially white market. The very small existing market is creaking under the weight and we do have to do something about it. Departments of Arts and Culture need to put some effort into exposing South African Art to overseas markets and foreign tourists should be directed towards Galleries and Societies promoting our art. The black middle- class has grown considerably and although large numbers of black students are being trained by academic art schools and great effort and money has gone into training more artists virtually nothing has gone into creating a market for them and nothing as far as I know has been done to educate and train the public and new middle class or anything done to encourage those people to visit galleries and exhibitions.


I urge the Media, Art Schools, Art Societies and Art Groups, and even individual artists and galleries to start programmes to educate and encourage more people to take and interest in the visual arts or there can be little hope for a future in that field. More Galleries and Societies will fail and so fewer artists will be able to find a market for their work and it will take a very long time to heal the damage. Programmes need to be started soon and artists must stop believing that all is well and in a little while the wheel will turn and we can all bask in the glory of a ‘normal’ art market. The alternative is to paint as a hobby and forget all thought of selling. This brings up another question, and that is how many of you will still be prepared to paint if you are not selling? My guess is very few!


If we want the sun to continue to shine on us then it is up to us to do something about fixing it. I know many do not want to hear this kind of thing and will not read anything that makes them uncomfortable but to fix problems you have to first identify them. Only by doing that can you heal that which is broken.


The economy has hurt us but to sit and wait for good times to return may be a bit naive.


The good news though is if we all roll up our sleeves and speak out we can all make things better than ever before! Try it what can you lose!


Till next time…


Written: September / October 2013

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