Let's Save Art by Flooding the Market With Artists

I have this counter-intuitive notion that the solution to mobilizing an arts economy is 100X more artists.

I think we can make late-American pseudo-capitalism work much better for artists (and thereby better for humans than the status quo). We just have to flood the market. That’s the counter-intuitive part. Econ 101 would say that this would collapse the price of art. But I don’t think that’s true based on what I see in my local scene, as well as on the web.

Artists are incentivized to consume more art than non-artists. There’s a certain amount of social grooming between artists required in any scene. Artists are incentivized to check out each other’s work and go to each other’s events in the hopes that those efforts will be reciprocated, and thus that the attention of each fan base will be shared. It also serves as market research. By scoping out the scene, artists learn better how to distinguish themselves.

But right now, there aren’t enough artists to keep the wealth circulating! There’s not enough time and energy to go around attending events, buying works, and making stuff. We need more artists so that artist-consumers can choose more carefully, only spending their social and economic capital on the stuff they really love and want to be associated with. But the diversity of a larger artist population will allow for more overlapping groups of mutually supportive artists.

Artists are expert art consumers, which means they’re picky. With 100X more of them in the market, artists will be better than the status quo at redistributing the wealth between the few mainstream artists and the many niche ones. The surplus will reach the wider, non-artist world in the form of greater choice, so there’s more kinds of things for more kinds of people.

But the key to this artist bum rush strategy is that, with 100X more artists in the world, the social dynamics around art will change. They’ll skew way more towards supporting artists. And no economic theory can substitute for that. In order to have enough people supporting art for artists to survive, society has to love and appreciate the value of art more. If 100X more people are making art, artists’ values will be mainstream values.