NPR covers a now familiar theme in the art world: the regenerative power of an economic downturn. The trope is quickly becoming conventional wisdom. Whether it proves meaningful in terms of artistic practice is, of course, a question that won’t be answered for years to come:
This wouldn’t be the first time that a major crisis has sparked a new art movement. The Dada movement was born out of the tragedy of World War I, says art historian Mary Anne Staniszewski, as a reaction to the ugliness of the war.
“They started to make works in a radically different way, and it is really the most influential break in terms of the 20th-century art movements,” Staniszewski says. “They really started making performances, collages, happenings.”
Staniszewski notes that the Depression sparked a social-realist movement that gave us photographers like Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, and that the upheaval of the 1960s brought more attention to the work of women and minorities. She adds that in times of crisis, institutions are sometimes more open to different kinds of art.
“Another really key point is that artists have been taking on all of the great and important questions of our time this whole period,” Staniszewski says. “It’s just that the very, very mainstream art world has not paid attention to it.” […]
Painter Chuck Close hopes that era has come to an end: “It’ll be a time of major purging of a certain kind of wretched excess, I think.”
Close, who is in his 70s, has had a long and successful career painting photorealistic portraits. He says he worries about the struggles ahead for many of his less financially successful colleagues. But, he says, artists are a different breed from investment bankers.
“An artist will lose everything and still go right back into the studio and get to work,” Close says. “I didn’t notice anybody at Bear Stearns offering to go in and work for a year for free to try and keep their company going.”