Various sources state, that about 10% of people worldwide are either not part of any religion or agnostic, and a big chunk of these people are full-blown atheists. But, while these numbers are about as precise as if the statisticians had gotten them from a local ultimate pub trivia night; the one thing that is absolutely for certain is that whatever the actual number of non-religious people is world-wide, it’s definitely growing.
Ok, but what does this have to do with art?
A lot, actually. But not with all kinds of art. The main segment of artistic creation that is affected by what we’re talking about today is fine art — especially the high-end works, that are bought at auction or in big-name galleries. But it has little to do with the price and more with the kind of customers that are buying such art.
While the baseline usually is, that art has no utilitarian function, this isn’t exactly true. It does, just not the same way a knife does or a table; in fact art is an incredibly useful tool and can actually do quite a lot of “jobs”, if used correctly and especially if packaged the right way.
This is why in this segment of the conversation, we are talking about high-end art. But not because of its price; the high amount of cash one needs to pay for an original Koons only has two functions in this scenario — exclusivity and selection.
Apart from the obvious aspect of giving some high net worth individual the ability to exclusively own some incredibly precious art piece (Koons’ work for example, if anything, is extremely intricate and the quality of most of his work is incredible), the really important aspect of such an expensive piece of art goes a lot deeper than mere exclusivity.
It’s the selection that takes place — the sociological importance of aiming only at a certain type or class of individuals — that really makes all the difference.
For art to have the maximum possible impact on any individual in the highest segment of its consumption, that individual needs to be either well-educated or strongly empathetic, and in either case financially independent (or at least very stable).
Different people interact with art on two basic levels; logically and intellectually; through the use of artificial symbols like red roses, white doves, various religious attributes etc., and emotionally; via the use of organic or natural symbols like shapes, colours etc.
Both levels of interaction obviously work in tandem and very rarely do people only experience something on an intellectual level — unless they’re an actual psychopath, then that’s more or less the only level for them and intricate artificial symbols become incredibly important in their taste for art — there’s a reason that Hannibal Lecter likes the old masters so much.
For everybody else, it’s always a spectrum: pure problem solving and the complex beauty of elaborate symbolical structures on the intellectual side (like the painting Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch for example, that provides incredible amounts of such stimulation), and the pure energy, emotion and abstraction of the now (like a Pollock or Rothko for example).
The third part is financial stability. This is actually the most important factor as it affects the needs and desires of any human being; poor people and starving people do not need art. And financially struggling people don’t either. The need just doesn’t exist on their side and it’s obvious why.
In order to feel an actually need for anything that art can provide us with, we have to first satisfy the more basic ones — the needs for self-actualisation and social status always happen after one is fed, never before.
And tomorrow, I promise to connect the dots and we’ll discuss how wealth, intellect and empathy are connected with atheism and the fear of death. And some art — this is an art blog after all!