The Business of Art

Art & Design | By Masimba Hwati, Fine Artist | 07 October 2013
PHOTO: © Baynham Goredema

Art like any other business is subject to the market.  Usually, the market determines what is made.  So, there are trends in the art world.  The kind of art or the type of art that is selling in the UK.  We are responding to a market and as we respond to a market, sometimes we get compromised; sometimes we compromise ourselves.  But the question is; to what extent can we respond to the market, as to maintain integrity.

Art is a social commentary.  Some people say the purest of professions; the voice of the voiceless.  So, is it possible for artists to understand the trends; to know what’s happening in the society and to feed that market; to feed that appetite; to appease that desire?  Is it possible for them to do that but at the same time, maintain integrity; and at the same time be objective; and at the same time respond to greater needs of their society?

The art market is complex because it is not only commercial; it is also based on merit.  When we talk about merit, we talk about what a thing is and what it means; what is the cultural value or relevance of that thing; what is the relevance of that thing.  So, you have artists in Zimbabwe who know what’s happening out there; who know the right buttons to push.
Do we call that manipulation?  Who is manipulating the other?  When we do works to appease the market and we get paid; are we being manipulated by the market or are we manipulating the market?

Most of what is called African art around the world in big festivals; in big gatherings of the champions of art is not determined by Africans themselves; it is not determined by the artists but it is a response to a need.  Some people call it exortisization.  It is a response to a market.  It is an appeasement to what that kind of market demands. 

So, is it possible to be an independent artist?  Is it possible for you to be independent minded?  Is it possible for you to be free, as an artist?  Is it possible for you to speak with a free voice?  Is it possible for you to escape all the entanglements of the market and all the manipulation of people who are looking for a product from you?  Is it possible for you to survive in such an environment?  I think these are important questions and questions that can only be explored through practice.