It is the first time in the history of art when the art market is more important than the art itself. If the 19th century was all about “Art for art”, the 20th about “Art as a weapon against totalitarian politics”, the 21st century is all about “Art for art market”. Tv news, Youtube videos, newspapers, magazines and so on, don’t talk about art as a way of elevating or emancipating one, but they only talk about the records set by selling prices. All that audience wants, or needs to know is how much money is worth, or how much could be worth, a work of art, in a few years? With the NFTs mania people got even crazier, because they look back, retrospectively, at the bitcoin success and they panic because they might miss an opportunity. The FOMO, or fear of missing opportunities, has made people buying everything with the hope of getting the jackpot, because behind these NFT emojis, or tweets or whatever, there might be hidden the next Picasso - value wise.
Artists have completely forgotten the point of art, or they changed its meaning. If art history teaches people complete passion, about dedicating oneself truly to artistic principles and convictions, contemporary art is just about capitalizing. Artists don’t create for themselves anymore, they don’t create for the audience either, they only produce for the Art Market, for people who don’t really care about art, but who only buy art thinking that they might get rich or richer.
In the beginning of the 19th century, the French writer Théophile Gautier states in the prefaces of his epistolary novel Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835):
What good is music? what good is painting? Who would have the folly to prefer Mozart to Mr. Carrel, and Michelangelo to the inventor of white mustard? There is nothing really beautiful except what can be of no use; all that is useful is ugly. [...] I prefer to certain vase which serves me a Chinese vase, sown with dragons and mandarins, which does not serve me at all.
Théophile Gautier’s citation indicates that art should only have an aesthetic purpose. From this moment on, artists and writers are going to develop the concept of Art for art, or in other words, of Art for the love of Art. For the 19th century artists, the only source of the artistic creation was fervor for art. Commitment, love, passion - these were the artistic values promoted within the 19th century. Most of the artists, of this century, will die poor. Van Gogh (1853-1890), one of the most expensive artists of the contemporary Art Market, never sold a painting during his lifetime, and yet, dead he is setting new records.
The 20th century, was mostly about political commitment, or about revolution in the Art History - of making something different than it was made in the previous centuries. Another artist that died in poverty was Modigliani, who is fortunate enough to get extremely rich 100 years after his death.
We have passed from the Street Art madness to Artificial Intelligence generated works of art to Digital art. Art can be anything and anything can be art, such as these CryptoPunks NFT collectible characters:
Or the NFT Pokemon cards of the youtuber Logan Paul, card of his effigy:
Unfortunately, art is voiding itself of its own credibility. And with the Blockchain system, art is only getting more elitist depriving so many generations or social classes, who might not own a computer, of aesthetic feelings. Beauty is now exclusively for those who can afford it.
Of course, this has also a bright side, digital artists can finally be rewarded for their work, unfortunately there is such a thin line between fair wage and greediness, that a lot of artists just cross this line and leave it far behind them.
Is the new purpose of Art purely capitalistic? Is art actually everything which can be sold and subject of speculations? Is the 21st century the century of the Art for the Art Market?