The hyper globalised time we are living in is full of fantastic opportunity. With the growth of technology and communication, possibilities are limitless in terms of all the products available to us.
Mass production in the 20th and 21st centuries has a lot to do with our ever-building consumer culture. So many goods available are cheap, of reasonable quality and ready for us to purchase in an instant.
The work of artists often lies well outside these conditions, meaning many perceive them as unattainable to the majority. It is not unusual for a snap taken by a celebrated photographer to go into the triple digits, or champagne to be as associated with artists as easels.
Retailers and producers understood this issue from early on and decided to employ techniques of mass production to create affordable works, of limited artistic merit, to brighten up any space quickly. From reproducing masters to ordering blown up prints of a family snap, art is now accessible to everyone. But what is the price of this for the arts as an industry?
Although many products you find in department stores and other retailers will say they are ‘hand painted’, it isn’t specified how many hands were used. For example, the city of Dafen in China is the leader in wholesale oil painting, with thousands of people employed in the trade.
Giant industrial buildings house all these workers and their reproductions. Set up in rows are hundreds of canvases, and the painters make their way down the lines adding one or two simple strokes that they repeat again and again. Eventually, a whole work is produced after thousands of workers have contributed their small part. The result often is a well-done reproduction of the classic masters.
Desirable for consumers - not so for the workers. Like fast fashion, fast art can have its negative consequences.
Retailers make use of cheaply made oil paintings and simpler designs appropriated from artistic movements that are easily reproduced in print form. Ikea has a whole section dedicated to rolled up art prints ready for purchase. The majority is photography but there were also more ‘creative’ prints, one being an undeniable op-art design reminiscent of Bridget Riley, with no mention of its inspiration.
There’s clearly a market for affordable art, and it's no secret that I run my online art gallery, Art Pharmacy as a way to fill this niche in the Australian market. I want people to easily buy from local artists, ensuring not only the purchase of an original high quality piece that supports creatives, but something that doesn’t rely on the sweat of others.
While no one can resist a bargain, searching past cheap mass-produced works can be a gratifying experience. Go and have a stroll through local markets (or a scroll through our online gallery) and see all the amazing and original works available. Don’t start your art collection with an unethical mindset.