Rhea Myers

The Economic Question For Art

There are often two sides to any story and trying to flatten it breaks both. Contradictions are ever present.

Fine art is absolutely dependent on money. It is all but an economic category. Taste (and aesthetics) is the product of social class, it is a socioeconomic shibboleth. Yet art historians and artists are often dismissive of the profit motive. Artists’ behaviour, starving if not in the garret then in bedsits on three or more jobs for decades to make art that may or may not eventually sell for much more than they will ever see, is economically irrational.

The current insane prices for art instrumentalized as stock-market-beating commodities is a problem for aesthetics. Should aesthetics recognize the importance of works paid attention by the market? To do so all but discards the artwork as the subject of aesthetics. It is aesthetics in quotation marks, a state of being that makes hipsterism seem authentic (sic). Should aesthetics try to ignore the market? To do so leads to the clammy embraces of academic radicalism or state art.

How can the aesthetic flatland of the market be escaped by an art that may nonetheless be destined for it? How can that question be answered without the word “crash”? How can the Hardt-and-Negri-and-Zizek dinner party radicalism of the academy and the equally instrumentalised art-as-a-substitute-for-regeneration of state art be avoided into the bargain?