A friend of mine recently gave me a stack of back issues of Southwestern Art Magazine. Some of the issues were 15 years old. I grabbed one of the older issues and I was bewildered. There were approximately 20-30 artists scattered throughout the magazine and I only recognized a handful. What happened to all these artists?
Some of these artists had real talent and yet they disappeared. I could not understand why so few that could maintain the spotlight and flourish in the art world. I wondered if this was the reality of the business. Do most artists only manage to stay on top for a few years and then fade away? I grabbed another issue which was a little more recent and it was the same thing. There were pages and pages of artwork that had a brief glimmer and then faded into obscurity. I found the whole experience sad.
I reached for one more issue and I was surprised. It was not much older than the other magazine I just read and yet I recognized most of the artists in the issue. In fact I personally knew some of the artists. None of this made any sense to me. I spent the next couple of hours looking through these magazines. There had to be a pattern somewhere.
I think I finally figured it out. The very first issue I read was from early 2000 and the second issue I picked up was from early 2006. Both of these years correlated with peak economic times. Early 2000 was the peak in the tech bubble, while early 2006 was the peak of the housing bubble. The third issue I read was from 2008 in the midst of the recession. As I looked through all the backissues I noticed that the artists who faded away the most appeared during prosperous times. When times got tough they faded away and we never saw them again. The artists who continued to push even through the recession seemed to last longer.
This trend was analogous to the time right before the housing bubble burst and everyone was flipping houses and becoming realtors. Once the bottom dropped out they moved on to greener pastures. During this same time I think a lot of people decided it was great time to launch their artistic career. Collectors were buying and the path forward looked smooth. When the recession hit they cut their losses and realized how difficult it would be to make it as an artist.
I realized that the artists who managed to fight through this recession have a better shot at longevity than most. The recession was a test of your resolve and passion. I think as we come out of these rough times we will be more adept at survival and will have gained the skills necessary to make a long fruitful artistic career. There will still be those that fade away but we are more likely to grow and bend with the times and prosper.