Magazine article The Futurist

Visual Arts Face Murky Future: Business Is Booming for Visual Arts. So What Is Wrong with This Picture?

Magazine article The Futurist

Visual Arts Face Murky Future: Business Is Booming for Visual Arts. So What Is Wrong with This Picture?

Article excerpt

The number of artists creating paintings, sculptures, and other visual artworks is growing in the United States. The number of places where visual art is displayed or sold is growing. And the number of people both looking at art and buying it is growing, as well. Then why is the future of the visual arts so murky?

The same trends forcing shifts throughout society are reflected in the arts, notes a recent RAND Corporation report. In the United States, an increasingly diverse culture enriches the creation of new art but makes it more challenging for museums (for instance) to produce programs that will appeal to new audiences. New media such as video and virtual reality contribute to pioneering artistic expression--but also create competition for consumers' time and attention.

The RAND report looked behind the sanguine statistics of such trends as increased museum attendance: The growth, RAND found, is largely because the overall population has grown. Education levels have increased, also, enlarging the typical museum-going population. So the growth in attendance has had little to do with efforts by museums to attract more people.

Future growth in museums' attendance may not be so easy to come by, RAND warns. Growing demands on people's time makes it more challenging to attract audiences away from "easier" forms of leisure, such as playing video games or hanging out with friends.

The increased pluralism of American society also poses challenges for museums. RAND notes that the socioeconomic status of museum audiences has changed very little, skewing toward the well-educated and well-off. Education efforts aimed at broadening the potential pool of future museum goers would require more resources, which would have to be diverted from competing missions, such as curating, marketing, and maintenance.


Another seemingly positive trend is the growing number of artists. New technologies have created a demand for visual artists in such fields as computer and video game design. However, while superstar artists earn well, there are many more who are struggling to survive. Like family farmers, many artists must take jobs outside their profession to supplement their incomes.

In the marketplace, some artworks fetch headline-grabbing prices. These works are typically purchased as investments by a narrow group of affluent collectors. …

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