It’s probably safe to say that contemporary art won’t be among President Donald Trump’s top priorities while in office.
However, we can say the same thing for every single president we’ve ever had, No?
Still, because we care about contemporary art – clearly you do, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this – it warrants some attention. I mean, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama had their private quarters of the White House nicely decked out with contemporary art and President George W. Bush is now painting in his post White House days.
But do these things necessarily translate to caring about contemporary art enough to make it part of one’s public platform? When you make art part of your political agenda, I think we can assume that you’re truly committed. In other words, you’re …
… ALL IN.
Yet, all of our recent presidents have been very busy with other issues like the budget deficit, the economy, unemployment, terrorism, education, human rights, trade pacts, infrastructure, healthcare … you name it.
Contemporary art never appears on anyone’s list and maybe it shouldn’t. More on that in a moment.
In any event, I wanted to find out from some art world folks whether they believe the Trump administration will likely help or hurt the contemporary art world. I posed this question directly to artists, art dealers and administrators.
First off, I didn’t get many responses which I think speaks volumes about what I’ll call “a new fear” that seems to have gripped the nation. If you live in a land of free speech where people are afraid to speak up, are you truly free?
The responses below are very strong and keep in mind that I edited them for the sake of keeping the subject focused on contemporary art as opposed to any psychological or moral analysis of Mr. Trump.
That said … here are the responses from some of the most intelligent and brave “art warriors” out there. Again, here’s the question …
Will President Donald Trump help or hurt contemporary art?
“Hi Michael, Well, it depends on what price point your art is, but for the majority of us, it won't be good. If Trump institutes the policies he has proposed, we will see a temporary economic bubble and then another crash - likely one bigger than 2009, conservatively around 2018-19, but perhaps sooner.
This is particularly if he repeals the Dodd-Frank Bill, which was put into place in response to the financial crisis of 2009 and more generally to all the deregulation he has proposed. My guess is that he'll time it so that the bubble happens around mid-term elections so as to try not to lose the House and Senate to Democrats.
In addition, his tax plan will dramatically increase our deficit, while decreasing tax revenue, thereby decreasing the government's ability to do anything about it. We may go into a period of austerity. Furthermore, like the Great Depression, and like the financial crisis, the 1% will be able to acquire even more real estate and other investments dirt cheap and increase their wealth while the bottom 99%, particularly those in suburban and exurban communities, will be hit harder.
There is no stable fast growth economy in the world. There never has been. That obsolete theory of economics is predicated upon the assumption that investors are rational and always act in their own best interests, which has been proven false, time and again.
How does this affect the art market? Blue chip investment art will boom and emerging artists and middle market artists like myself, whose work is collected by the upper middle class, will be decimated. My advice is to erase all your debt, get as much as you can out of the bubble and develop a contingency plan if/when these policies go into action.
Sorry for being the harbinger of doom and gloom." Richard T. Scott
Some artists like Margaret Withers believe Mr. Trump will perhaps inspire artist creativity.
“Hi Michael, As a survival means to keep myself from creatively shutting down, I've been pondering this same question. So I was glad to see you ask it ...
I believe that a Trump presidency will be good for the art world because art can speak truth to the general mood of our society's uncertainty, high anxiety and general disgust in the otherness of our 'neighbors' beliefs and values.
For the artist, there's a lot of creative energy that can come from the existential head space created by these emotions.
For the buyer in search of answers, meditating on artwork can be a means to plumb the depths of reason and meaning, especially when we feel adrift in a sea of what we perceive as the ugliness of our society.
Art speaks to the core of our humanity and provides solace and truth when our comfort and stability feels threatened. Therefore, any art that voices this truth will be highly valued and sought after during this social upheaval, and any market that provides this artwork will thrive.
I didn't vote for him … but for an already broken art market, I can see how his presidency could help...
Sincerely, Margaret Withers
Here’s a tempered response from Artist Jonathan Herbert.
“Donald Trump is $#@%^&! This will inform art. It will give artists whose work is founded in political commentary or a reaction to politics and current events a rich mother lode to mine.
On the other hand, my artistic practice is one wherein the muses run the show. Either as a matter of taste or ignorance, I never am touched by art made from the head and not the heart.
Furthermore, art is beyond hurt or help. Art IS. Artists can be helped or hurt, and since I believe a tasteless arbiter of taste is now at the helm of America and can divert spending from cultural endeavors to his greedy self and greedy cronies, I believe that the arts will suffer through an even greater reduction of governmental financial support.
Over time, the commoditization of art has been casting a pall over the depth, the numinous basis that great art requires. Trump is purely a materialistic animal, and as such cannot have a soul. When great power is soulless, we are all in danger.
Best regards, Jonathan
Artist G. Michael Novak provides a somewhat humorous insight.
“I do not know what Trump's personal position is on art, contemporary or otherwise, but I do believe that his public position will be to the detriment of the art world in general.
His election appears to herald a new "Dark Ages" in the collective consciousness and I am convinced that anything that gives even the slightest appearance of effete intellectualism or conspicuous elitism will be shunned. Sadly, insofar as this is how so many of his supporters are likely to view anything to do with art, I expect the President Elect to do whatever he can to keep them happy.
Remember, these are the people who made ‘Honey Boo Boo’ famous.” G. Michael Novak
Meantime, Artist Mark Pol wrote this all the way from the Netherlands.
“I think this administration, if they stick to all the terrible words used during the election, will be a disaster for contemporary art. There will be no free expression, no freedom of speech, no freedom to write, no freedom of images.
It will slide slowly to a dictatorship like any “normal” South-American country. I was born in the Second WW. My whole family has been killed; some are saved, in Poland, Austria, Hungary, France and Germany by the Nazi’s. I see the pattern and the way of speaking - I feel terrible.
I am afraid it will be like it was at the end of the interwar period just before WW II. So I am worried about the contemporary art in the USA. In Germany, they had a “Kultur Kammer” they weigh the art and decided it was Entartete Kunst or not, so it was Arische kunst/ kein Arische Kunst which was not fit for the propaganda of Nazi Germany." Mark Pol
Art Dealer Frank Bernarducci weighed in with this…
“If Trump helps the Contemporary Art world it will be by accident. In other words, even more money (will) likely trickle up to the one percent." Frank Bernarducci
And here’s what Artist Margaret Zox Brown wrote…
“In response to your question about Trump - My initial response was that it is going to be terrible because just about everything that decent human beings stand for and believe in is being stripped due to this horrendous man now being the leader of the free world.
Then I had a brief thought that through all the galvanized efforts I am witnessing, as well as personally being a part of … to defend our rights, protect our planet, include all, live humanely etc … I could see that the strength that is in all of us is bubbling to the surface seeking all that good that we know to be true and just and deserved. And in that brief thought, I could see art being affected by this strength, bringing new expressions out to the world.
But as I said, that thought was fleeting. And the reason why I feel that is that so much of what is decent in the world is now in jeopardy and people are scared. Art will be made to express all of this. But will it be acquired?
I just don't see many people feeling carefree and happy in order to be in that place to buy art. And THAT was something that struck me right away. Amidst all the horrible things I knew we have to fight against for the next four years, I have had an underlying pang of sadness for the optimism and success I knew to be.” Margaret Zox Brown
Look … whether you like Donald Trump or not is really beside the point. The American public has spoken. This includes those who voted as well as those who chose not to vote. Donald Trump is now President Trump. The deed has been done.
Frankly, my biggest concern is the fear in our society. I’ve never seen so much division. Case in point … when I sent this survey question out to literally hundreds of my art world contacts, I knew they’d be squeamish about responding. Politics makes for awkward conversation because you never truly know where anyone stands and no one wants to be persecuted for their political beliefs ... or beliefs in general.
However, I did think I’d get more responses than I did. I mean, seriously, the entire world – which includes the art world - has been wrapped up in the recent election. Have you no thoughts at all about what has happened?
Sure, people are busy and they don’t have time for my silly little surveys and deadlines, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. I think the art community is afraid. Once again, my theory about our community seems to pan out.
This is actually one of the main reasons why I sent the survey question out in the first place. I wanted to see what kind of responses I got and measure the sampling - albeit unscientifically - against the mood of the nation, if not the world. It seems to be right on target.
You know, it continues to astound me how the art world criticizes our leaders and yet the art world itself won’t STAND UP for what it knows is right. There’s a word for this. It’s called, “hypocrisy.”
What’s the point in having freedom of speech and living in a participatory democracy if we’re not rising to the occasion? We may as well live under a dictator. Hmm.
How can we expect Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or whomever to stand up and represent our concerns when we’re not willing to stand up for ourselves and voice them?
The last figure I heard was that 46% of eligible Americans did NOT vote in this past election. Adding to that, most of my contacts did not respond to this survey.
I do believe that fear is in the air ... maybe even the water supply.
There’s a season for everything under the sun. There’s a time to remain quiet like mice in their little cubbyholes and there’s also a time to emerge into the sun and SAY and DO something.
Right now seems to be the time for action … of some sort. But first, you have to show up.
One person cannot save the world, but one person can do either a LOT of good or a LOT of damage. I mean, how can we expect contemporary art to be on Trump’s (or anyone else’s) agenda if we don’t make him aware of it?
Do you really think he’s going to wake up one morning and say, “Hey, I think I’ll give $20 billion to Americans for the Arts”? I don’t think so, but hopefully I’m wrong. I would LOVE to be wrong about this. Believe me you, if I am, I will happily write about it.
Okay now … here’s the real, bigger query that I buried in the question about Trump…
The real question isn’t will Trump help or hurt contemporary art. He simply doesn’t have that much power. He is one man on the face of the earth. His time is limited just like ours. Yes, his office is exalted, but God alone remains sovereign.
The more important questions are …
Will WE help or hurt contemporary art? What are WE going to do? Why do we insist – every four years - on giving ALL of our psychological power over to one, flawed human being?
By the way, I’d like to think I’d be writing similar words even if Hillary had won, but right now it doesn’t appear we’ll ever know. Hillary at the helm would've been a whole other ball of wax.
When I sat down to write these words, I thought I knew where this was going to go. However, this isn’t where I thought I’d be. Once again, I feel like a vessel. Yes, I’m the one sitting here typing, but it’s as if I’m not even controlling the message.
Because I have great respect for you, dear reader, I wanted to take this moment to give you insight into my process.
WE are the ones with the true power. We can step up for art or we can sit this one out and once again, give our power over to one person. The choice is ours.
Yes, we elect leaders to do the day-to-day grunt work of politics, but we’re the ones who hold them accountable, regardless of who they are, what they stand for or where they come from.
And so, here we are … at the conclusion. Yet it’s far from over. We've only just begun.