Saturday, December 27, 2008


George Bellows

2008 was a rough year for the type of assets that are vulnerable to market fluctuations.

40% of the value of the US stock market ($7.3 trillion) has simply evaporated. Major companies collapsed as the global credit system melted down and a wide variety of sophisticated financial instruments became untrustworthy overnight. Unemployment soared.
The world will face some excruciating economic hardships over the next few years.

But there are other assets that don't lose their value regardless of how much markets fluctuate. The strength and insight behind that remarkable Bellows drawing stayed with him, and colored his perception of life, regardless of what was happening in the stock market that day.

In fact, some of the greatest artistic periods in human history arose during periods of great turmoil and strife. The golden age of Greece was forged in a period of bitter feuds between warring city states, when invasion by outside powers threatened to snuff out Greece altogether, and when an impoverished lower class was recovering from subjugation by the wealthy class. Here is Orson Welles' famous cuckoo clock speech from the Third Man:

Laurence Olivier said, "If you are an artist, you have to prove it."

Let's get to work.


Anonymous said...

Yes, David. Thanks for your blog and Happy 2009!

Anonymous said...

Being 1/2 Swiss myself, I must remark that the cuckoo clock isn't actually a Swiss invention, but a German one. Though Switzerland had an influence on its design eventually.


PS: but we did probably invent the dreaded yodeling, though not the lederhosen (Austria.)

Anonymous said...

Interesting post , Mr. Apatoff. The other day a friend of mine, was telling me how bad the recession and the meltdown, are and will be hitting the art market, as art is more of a luxury. I said maybe the art market will be hit, and maybe many might go bankrupt and broke....but dammit, somehow I think for art this will be a golden period. Out or turmoils and frustration monumental art comes, like a necessary evil. Modern/abstract art has origins in the two world wars. Let the period of greater art begin.
We will think about selling them later I think, hehehe.

Matthew Adams said...

What a load of tedious sentimental crap.

I really like and admire your blog David, but this post belongs to the school of thought that artists need to be insane or on drugs or starving to be creative...

A lot of people are gonna be struggling. No doubt people are going to take these struggles and use them to create great art. But I suspect these people would be able to create great art at any time, using good experiences as well as bad.

David Apatoff said...

Matthew, I know a lot of artists who are very upset and angry about what has happened to the art market. They are worrried about how they will feed their families and I suspect I will get livid responses from a number of them.

I also know a number of lawyers and investment bankers who have been laid off, and a number of multi-millionaires who have lost everything with Bernie Madoff or other scammers. Like the artists, they will have no choice but to get on with it.

I don't underestimate their pain, and hopefully my message is a little more than "put on a happy face."

I happen to be one of those who believes that the quality of contemporary art was harmed as art became a status symbol for competing investment bankers and covetous billionaires with more money than brains. You can trace the putrefaction of the contemporary art market from Hirst back to Schnabel and earlier. Earlier this year we were at a stage where celebrity artists were making three or four milion dollars per painting for third rate crap. Well, we aren't there any more. Billionaires from Russia and Japan and the US are trying to sell off bad art that they purchased for all the wrong reasons.

I think there is still a lot more air to be let out of the frothy concoction we call the contemporary art market. But even during the Great Depression, there was an art market. People made art for different reasons, and on a different pay scale. It will be interesting to see what the new art market looks like, but it will clearly be different and in my view there is a good chance it will be better. When times get tough, artists and philosophers tend to focus on the bigger issues.

Matthew Adams said...

Good response David. I take back my remark about a load of tedious sentimental crap.

I hope you are right, but it generally seems that all the hollow art-lite crap will float to the top, no matter what, and all the true gold stuff will sink. And it will be left to people like you to go diving for it and bring it to the surface so a small audience can admire it briefly before it sinks again.

Unknown said...

"If you are an artist, you have to prove it"

2009's mantra. Good luck to us all.

António Araújo said...

>I hope you are right, but it >generally seems that all the >hollow art-lite crap will float >to the top, no matter what, and >all the true gold stuff will sink.

Well, what I think the current market situation proves is that all bubbles eventually burst.

Remember Monty Python "silly walk" sketch? One of these days the time will be ripe, and someone will just casually remark "hey, isn't this whole modern art thing getting a tiny bit silly?". Then watch them run for the exits.

Just another Ponzi scheme. :)

Jack Ruttan said...

It's no fun not being able to make rent for the month.

Still, when I lived in Calgary during boom and bust times, during the times when nobody bought art or cared about it, artists were free to experiment, and a lot of interesting and influential stuff happened.

During the boom times, everyone was painting pictures of oil wells or hot air balloons (powered by natural gas, you see!), wanting that big score to get up on the board room walls.

I'm not so thrilled about this state of affairs, and won't romanticise it, because it's a function of greed, on the part of artists, as well as the gold-rushing entrepreneurs. I wish there was a more balanced system, which supported artists to do their thing, and made them part of the community. Maybe trading art workshops for food, that sort of idea.

Artists used to be shamans and healers. Despite what some of our rulers have been saying (at least in Canada), they have a place in society beyond how much money they can earn.

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year, David! Thanks for all the great art and ideas you posted this year!

Anonymous said...

OMWO: They've already been saying it in earnest over at

David Apatoff said...

Cyril-- great response, and I apologize for Orson Welles' dastardly slur on the Swiss national honor.

David Apatoff said...

Bhanu, J.E. and Jack, I like your attitude!

OMWO, Matthew and anonymous, I urge you to go visit the Sothebys web site to watch their fascinating video clip explaining the catastrophic results of their recent contemporary art auctions. They use the very latest in propaganda techniques and mass psychology to project an air of control and certainty about a chaotic market. Smooth talking, oleaginous "experts" with continental accents and expensive suits taped in front of calming backgrounds (often including one of the few paintings that did sell) explain why the painting of some 35 year old twerp is really worth $4 million, or why a temporary adjustment in the market was to be expected. As you listen to their soothing lies, you can almost smell the sulfur and brimstone. I half expected to see a trap door open up underneath them so they tumble down into the purifying flames. It is not to be missed!

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Kev and anonymous and other anonymous, and all of the other readers, friends and correspondents out there.

No matter what the economy has in store for each of us in 2009, we enjoy a level of freedom to think and create and communicate that would make us the envy of the greatest pharaoh in Egypt. I hope we will make full use of that treasure in the year ahead.

Anonymous said...

hallo david,
good 2009
i would ask you why your link in andrea longhi's site it's disappear...thanx

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see more pictures. Is that picture of the guy's ass because this is about "the end"?

Echo Shi Volla said...

Great pose!!!

David Apatoff said...

denis-- I couldn't tell you. Perhaps they suddenly developed good taste!

Anonymous, you are right, the drawing was intended to symbolize the end of the year. And Echo, I agree it is a damn fine drawing.

Li-An said...

You are right, I should work a little more...
Happy New Year !

Anonymous said...

I am new to this blog.As a German I carry much guilt and now I am also to blame for the cuckoo clock?