Artists are Essential
Scrolling through my social media feed, I saw the results of a recent survey asking which occupations are essential and which are non-essential. Artist topped the list for non-essential, above telemarketers and HR managers. As an art dealer, how would you respond?
This type of survey is unfair in of itself. Afterall any profession is essential to the person employed by it and supporting themselves (and possibly others) off the income of that chosen profession. Taking a deeper look at artists, and in particular visual artists, we can see that throughout history art has played a valuable role in capturing and interpreting moments of significance. To contemporary viewers, these works help process emotions and perhaps ease anxieties. To future viewers, these works reveal perspectives helping to deepen the understanding of historic moments.
During the Great Depression, artists were deemed so essential that the Works Progress Administration (WPA) employed an estimated 10,000 artists to create murals, paintings, sculpture, and more to capture emotions of the time and to help give hope. Thomas Hart Benton being one of the most famously known WPA artists for his depression era murals. A number of artists represented by Harmon-Meek Gallery over the years were also employed as WPA artists, including Will Barnet, Adolf Dehn, and Byron Browne. During the same period of time, Picasso famously captured the bombing of Guernica, depicting the agony and pain and providing a prelude to the coming atrocities of World War II. "Guernica" is ranked as the fifth most google searched painting, proving the work’s continued importance to this very day.
Reynier Llanes is a contemporary artist who is carrying the torch from those important artists of the 30's. His subject matter often delves into current events of historic significance, including the current pandemic and racial unrest. According to Llanes, "Art holds a mirror up to society, reflecting its interests and concerns while at the same time challenging its ideologies and preconceptions."
In addition to the significant and historic role artists can serve during hardship, art also simply provides an escape. Critics of this survey deeming artists as the most non-essential profession have pointed out that most people won’t be so quick to terminate their Netflix and Spotify subscriptions. Similarly, visual art in a home provides interest and comfort. We may not be able to visit Italy at the moment but a painting of Italy can transport us there in our imagination and memories. Paintings can be the windows to the world during a time when we must stay at home