The Elitism of the Art World and its Effects on Consumers
Written by Emma Lang, Founder of SOTA Marketplace.
"My assumption: Everyone should be able to buy art.
I have been interested in the issues surrounding the elitism of the art industry for many years. Despite attempts to bridge the consumer gap between everyday individuals and society’s elite, for example through the establishment of companies that claim to sell affordable art, the UK art space is fundamentally top heavy. This is reiterated by the Arts Council who report that “despite some great work, the approach of ‘democratising art and culture’ has still resulted in the ‘wealthiest, better educated and least ethnically diverse 8% of the population forming the most culturally active segment of all.”
The commercial art industry is largely funded by the top levels of society and the majority of ‘affordable art’ selling in online galleries is expensive. I am referring here to businesses that aren’t limited to selling prints but also sell paintings, drawings, original prints, illustrations and more. This inequality is at odds with the statement that art should be for everyone. To rectify this, more needs to be done to encourage a cultural democracy, to allow all individuals of all demographics and experiences a chance to buy art.
To caveat my views, this is not an opinion piece about why galleries, art fairs or certain art businesses should not exist. They are all essential parts of the art space, deeply rooted in our society. Everything has its place. What I am saying is that all ‘spheres’ of art can exist in harmony, but platforms promoting universal accessibility to art must firstly, exist and secondly, become a priority. I use ‘spheres’ here instead of ‘levels’ as viewing the art space as linear rather than hierarchical is important, which I will address in my next piece.
I remember when I moved to London a couple of years ago, I was desperate to find some art for my room. I decided to visit a well-known art fair which claimed to be affordable. I was disheartened to find out that I couldn’t afford one piece of art. I then looked online to see that the number of pieces on its website under £100 were few and far between. This has been the experience of many people I know and is not isolated to that particular art business. It is applicable to the majority of the supposed ‘Affordable Art’ market and the businesses which claim the space. Of course, there are those who think that spending thousands of pounds on art is affordable. And that is fine. However, this is only for a minute subsection of society.
This exclusivity perpetuates the misconception that art is only for the elite, it tells the ordinary individual that they do not belong at art fairs and that art is something to aspire to rather than something they could purchase at any point in their life. It isolates potential consumers and deprives them of the joy associated with art. Yes, there are online shops which sell mass produced prints at affordable prices. But imagine a world where you could buy a stunning painting, drawing or illustration at a genuinely affordable price? Some companies do sell said pieces, but still charge high commission rates and are not exclusively selling affordable art.
This flawed market provides an incredible opportunity for businesses and institutions to right these wrongs. The global art market is valued at $50 million. Could you imagine its valuation if everyone could buy art? The fight for an inclusive art space has started."
Sources: ‘The art world’s response to the challenge of inequality’ LSE, ‘Cultural Democracy in Practice’ by The Arts Council.’