Art in the Context of Hard Times

Should we look at artists in the context of their time and expect a similar artistic response to hard times of today?

I grew up in the 70s and 80s, with famous artists like Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.  This was  a period in art history when all eyes were on the pop artists of the 70's to see if they would continue their stroke of genius or collapse in hard times. Warhol made his way from a Pittsburgh working class family to an American legend.  In the 1980's Warhol had reacquired his fame and financial success as he had done during the 70's economic crisis.  This was  partially due to his association and friendships with highly productive younger artists, like Jean-Michel Basquiat, an African-American painter who spray painted graffiti on New York subway cars and buildings.  He became one of the most celebrated, famous artists of the 1980s.  But, before Basquiat's success he didn't have a job and sold T-shirts and postcards to make a living. 

In wake of the 1970s energy crisis and the early 1980s recession, stagflation began to distress the economy of America – yet these artists became successful during difficult times in our nation's history.  Their creativeness offered them a different way of living – one they believed equivalent to the loss of comfort and recognition. Obviously, there is clearly no instant formula for discovering their success except, a purpose to survive through creativity.

But that was then. What about the bear market trend of today?  The way for a successful career inRoz Martin - Mural Artist art is not easier now, either.  Some say in the old days, we had more inner satisfaction – we didn't have  the  financial pressures as we have today. I am not sure if this is true but, I do know I am amazed at how artists in the past were able to continue creating art while focusing their attention on entering in their particular fields.  Like a lot of artists, my sister, Roz, is a mural painter who lives in Maine – the obvious reason, you'd think would be because of its beautiful seacoast.  Besides this I think she contributes a lot to the art community. When Roz is not painting she instructs art courses at night at a local high school.  She typically lives on minimum expenses, partly due to a lack of art business contracts.  But, the joy and inspiration she feels after completing an art project, she says, compensates for the loss of work.  “I'm pretty adaptable”, said Roz – having walked away from a banking career to         

(Above Picture: Roz Martin – Mural Artist)


follow her heart in a recession hasn't been easy.  “In the
last year, I have worked in temporary office positions and cleaned houses to earn a living.  Finding a job can be difficult – but, when you're not earning any money and a temporary gig comes along, it's hard to say no”.  “My artwork may not always provide a sole source of income so, that's why I think artists should have other resources to get revenue, especially now-a-days”.

Historically speaking this might well be a time of blessing to reverse a period of adversity to our advantage?  We've had to be quite entrepreneurial and invent other ways to generate income.  A sluggish economy and budget cuts might mean tough times are ahead for most of us. On the other hand, conventional wisdom and tough times, together can get the creative minds flowing that might produce a period of creative fulfillment as it has shown us in the past decades.


Oswal Martin Marsant