The New York Times ran an article about Apple's stores. What caught my eye was this soon-to-be apocryphal story about one customer:
Apple stores encourage a lot of purchasing, to be sure. But they also encourage lingering, with dozens of fully functioning computers, iPods and iPhones for visitors to try — for hours on end.Living in a country that has more registered cars than it has registered drivers shows that the idea of purchasing a commodity as a necessity has long since past. Whether one drives an old clunker or a Bugatti Veyron, like any other purchase, it advertises one's politics and priorities. Apple may make no money off a 25 year-old aspiring model, but the creation of that kind of ambiance has in turn created a revenue source that accounts for one of every five dollars Apple earns.
The policy has given some stores, especially those in urban neighborhoods, the feel of a community center. Two years ago, Isobella Jade was down on her luck, living on a friend’s couch and struggling to make it as a fashion model when she had the idea of writing a book about her experience as a short woman trying to break into the modeling business.
Unable to afford a computer, Ms. Jade, 25, began cadging time on a laptop at the Apple store in the SoHo section of Manhattan. Ms. Jade spent hours at a stretch standing in a discreet corner of the store, typing. Within a few months, she had written nearly 300 pages.
Not only did store employees not mind, but at closing time they often made certain to shut Ms. Jade’s computer down last, to give her a little extra time. A few months later, the store invited her to give an in-store reading from her manuscript.
So what does this all say about art? A Goolge image search of living room or my living room will show that almost every space has some framed art on the wall. Even this image, which I assume is of the electronic entertainment setup shows some art reflected in the mirror above the lamp.
Like every other object that gets associated with a person, from a pair of jeans to a pair of jeans, art defines the buyer. So what does it say when a collector of photography has a Freeman and a Sekula on their wall compared to a collector that hangs a Gursky and a Wall?
I would venture a guess that all four are well-regarded by some of the art-world cognoscenti, and sniffed at by others. All four are solidly middle class in their respective countries and are also among the richest 5% of folks on this planet. I would also guess that all four sink a good portion of their art income back into producing more art, be it investments in content through research, or investments in materials for those artists interested in form.
That would mean that collectors are subsidizing artistic production in a very Medici-esque way in addition to dressing their walls in a way that compliments the image they attempt to project of themselves.
A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to tour the home and art collection of Michael Gold. As he took a few of us around to show off the art, I couldn't help but notice how each piece evoked some memorable anecdote about the artist. A Martin Kersels piece bought out this story of how he first came across Martin's art, meeting the artist, and relating some of Martin's interests to some of the other artists who's work was on display.
It made me realize that art is the only thing left where one can actually meet the maker of the object. At the Apple store one can chat with a friendly and knowledgeable human being, but that person is a trope for the invisible Silicon Valley engineers and code typers, and all the Chinese labor that assemble the parts that litter the maple-veneer counters.
So the old Marxist saw about cost = labor + raw materials needs to be tossed out with the bathwater. The equation becomes more complicated when labor is moved to a country where middle-class earnings are below the developed world's by a factor of ten or more. Or where developed-world goods are not made by laborers, but by machines maintained by small number of operators.
In the 90's during the last real estate market crash, many of the deserted office buildings in downtown Los Angeles became home to banks and banks of computer servers. Property management companies loved having entire floors with only one or two human occupants: carpets never wear out and paper towel dispensers hardly ever need to be refilled.
Since little value comes from labor and materials, a new cost equation needs to be created. Perhaps cost = lifestyle enhancement + production subsidy + marketing. It would then stand to reason that the value from marketing artwork comes from the added cache of gallery and museum shows (with their attendant printed- and cyber-detritus). For a young artist starting out, having a nice and easy piece of ass associated with the work certainly can't hurt, as Tracy Enim and Terrance Koh have shown with their respective sexualities. Then there is the old-fashioned way of adding value, by making highly crafted, labor-intensive works of art.
I guess that leaves us non-young, non-hot, or non-painters in a bit of a lurch. The only recourse I can think of is to use that personal-connection-value-enhancement and seek out the rare collector who shares an interest in your content, and sell them work to subsidize your practice.