Thursday, February 26, 2009

Flight to Quality - An essay on traditionalist painting.


This was written by Jacob Collins - an extraordinarily talented American Realist painter. Jacob founded the Water Street Atelier in Manhattan. Many thanks to Jacob for allowing me to re-post his essay, as its message is incredibly heartening for artists in today's world.

The "Art World" is in free fall. The world of Avant Garde, theory driven, museum supported institutional modernism threw in its chips with the highest bidder. Over the last decade or so there was an accelerating frenzy resulting from this relationship between the "Art World" and the world of investment bankers, hedge fund managers and their wealth generated by bad credit. Its over now and the art dealers and art they dealt will be just as toxic to the world as the sub-prime mortgage derivatives that paid for the party.

At a moment like this the financial investor will flee to quality. He will look for things to invest his remaining money in: actual companies that make sense, that actually make things and make real profits. He needs to feel confident that he will not be duped again. He curses himself for ever investing that much in something he knew deep down he didn't understand. It is now widely proclaimed, that not only did the dupes fail to understand the chicanery of the markets, but neither did the "experts."

These are the classic conditions for a flight to quality in financial markets and I believe we will be seeing a flight to quality in art as well. Six months from now, when reality has sunk in, the horror amongst the collecting world will lead to questions as to whether any of this ever meant anything at all. What was it for? Did anyone understand it? The art collecting world will definitely be smaller. like the investing world, but it will refocus itself on things that are understandable. Things that resonate with the qualities that we all know deep down are artistically meritorious: beauty, skill, poetic feelings, delicate and simple thruths. These are the values that art and its admirers have traditionally aspired to, and these are the values that it will be natural to return to after the the smoke clears over the carnage of our self destructing art world.

My guess is that it is already happening. I hear that nothing is selling in the "Art World" I see articles announcing that a high percentage of the edgy galleries will be shuttered soon. But I know that a number of my classical artist friends are selling well through all of this. I have spoken to a few in the last few weeks. All selling strong. I bet in the next while we will find more traditionalists just humming along in a new flight to quality environment.

-Jacob Collins • February 23, 2009

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  1. I agree , and is about time , that good art is finish being treated as a dejavu.
    jesus estevez

  2. Jacob is a brilliant artist and an evangelist for traditional realism and the return of the atalier system of art study. In general I agree with Jacob. Quality is what artist must strive for. Defining quality is a little more difficult than simply artistically meritorious attributes of: beauty, skill, poetic feelings, delicate and simple truths. I do not think I would be mistaken this that he means this in context of traditional realism, only. I am also a traditional realist. That is my passion. I want my art to possess those attributes. But I have friends whose art does not fall into that camp who are also doing quality work and believe that we should not put limits on artistic expression. That said, I do believe can be critical artist who do shoddy work.

    I rejoice that traditional realist art is making a strong come back. That might be due to a reaction of a rising middle class, new art patrons, who were alienated by the growing elitism that the high end art world developed in the last half of the 20th century.

    Anyhow, this is a topic that deserves a long debate. Thanks for bring in it up, Cindy

  3. Amen to the gospel according to Jacob Collins.

  4. Michael, you raise a good point. Although I too, am a realist painter, I think it's important to recognize quality art in all its forms.

    Although I have to wonder - how much better can, say, Cy Twombly's crayola scribbles get?

  5. I happen to agree with Jacob;s points 100%.
    However I think that the big money collectors who buy modern and post-modern art are not going to be in the market for traditional realism. If they were not buying it last year chances are they are not going to buy it now. For the wealthy class that lost a lot of their money in this extraordinary finical crisis that we are in right now I would think that buying art is the last thing on there minds.

    A lot of galleries will fail, both modern and traditional are at risk, and to think that just because you make quality work that this will prevail, just remember that history tells us otherwise. One great traditional painter comes to mind; Rembrandt. He lost his house, a fore-closer and all it's contents. This was due to him spending way beyond his means and also due to the bursting of the Tulip bubble. I kid you not, in that period in Holland people speculated on tulips and the cost went sky high. Sound familiar. Well it seems Mr. Harmenszoon van Rijn got himself into serious debt with his lavish lifestyle. When the downturn came a lot of his patrons could no longer afford to get portraits, this is never brought up in most biographies, but from my reading of the history of the period it seems there was a huge economic downturn and Rembrandt had the misfortune of having to much debt at a time when a lot of his creditors needed cash. The result was he went bankrupt.
    He also had some interesting problems with mistresses as this account points too;

    Geertje Dircx was hired as Titus' caretaker and nurse and probably also became Rembrandt's lover. She would later charge Rembrandt with breach of promise and was awarded alimony of 200 guilders a year.[11] Rembrandt worked to have her committed for twelve years to an asylum or poorhouse (called a "bridewell") at Gouda, after learning Geertje had pawned jewelry that had once belonged to Saskia, and which Rembrandt had given her.

    Not a pretty story.

    In the words of Margo Channing "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night"...

  6. Thanks for that - something to think about, Jeff. I just read a post by Virgil Elliot which pretty much says the same thing- that quality alone will not suffice, and that the big name artists who were selling before a recession will continue to sell, everyone else is basically facing good-ole belt tightening.

    I love that skit by Margo Channing. (I do a passable impression of her voice, too. LOL)

  7. Wait - re the skit - maybe that was a Sat. Night Live thing!

    As the infamous Emily Litella would say... "never mind".

  8. Okay - figured it out - that was CAROL CHANNING, not Margo.

  9. Don't you wish you had parties like that?
    When people dressed up drank martinis and engaged in witty banter. I love George Sanders he's such a cad, but a witty one. Check out Marylin Monroe in what I think is her first or second film.

    To bring this back to painting have you ever seen the work of John Kouch? Excellent work of the martini crowd of this period.

  10. Wait, you don't have parties like that? :D

    Oh yes, John Koch is a favorite of mine. I have a really high res version of the third painting in that article - The Piano Lesson, saved in my digital library - I love love love that painting.

  11. Well I do, sometimes although we don't get dressed up as much and witty banter is a lost art. These days you have to be careful as so many people seem to lack a sense of humor.

    Koch is one of the most underrated painters in my view.