Art For the 99%

A recent Sunday  N.Y. Times article “Show of Hands Please, Who Can Buy Art?” described the current art auction season in Manhattan where

despite trouble outside, life in the art bubble remained effervescent.

In part it asked the reader to consider the contrast between the extreme wealth of those actually buying art and the other 99% of our country. A stark contrast indeed; one that raises the question of who art is meant to be for?

The rising prominence of street art speaks to this question. Through time art has been largely subsidized by the wealthy. Caravaggio and Rembrandt both had their patrons. Ed Ruscha (whose Strange Catch For a Fresh Water Fish sold this fall in auction for $3.8 million) has had numerous commissions from wealthy supporters for paintings, t-shirt series and even a painted private jet. Art generated by wealthy grants can remain cloistered in the world of the rich or upper middle class but, surely art itself is the great leveler? Created from the passion and drive of an individual and meant to move the soul of everyman.

We have watched graffiti with increasing acceptance as it has evolved from simple, defacing tagging to being in some magical cases, art. I find graffiti sprayed on trains often forms just such magic. The pairing of this art form (meant to be temporary and fleeting) painted on trains that move through time and space with their roving art exhibits can often be quite spectacular!

Now there are increasingly other forms of art to be found on the streets. This is termed post-graffiti or street art and is separate from the potentially vandalizing nature of graffiti or corporate-sponsored works. The art itself ranges far from aerosol paints to mosaics, ceramics, stickers and yarn.The works are fun, startling and sneaky; you may see a window painted into a wall, a tree with a crocheted trunk and branches or, a ceramic man rising, seemingly formed out of a mud puddle. “Yarn bombing” in particular seems to be urging us to take life less seriously; to smile as we walk by. Some works make us think; one wheat paste applied poster proclaimed “Let’s fall in love like both our parent’s aren’t divorced” asks us to consider the effect of our family story on our current loves.

Protestors far and wide are occupying in an attempt to question the increasingly unequal financial conditions of this time. The artists of our world, ever a forward-thinking lot, have been quietly occupying our streets for years. Their work reaches beyond the grasp of those in the rich art bubble and straight to the heart and minds of those of us in the other 99%.  Enjoy!

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