Stop Making Sense
Aside from "I Can't Feel My Face," lately it feels like pop music's most inescapable chorus is that the economics of traditional bands no longer work. It's not a coincidence that the medium's leading edge now largely consists of singers, rappers, and producers/DJs -- many if not most of whom perform alone, at least until they have the backing of a label or promoter.
The problem is simple: From gear to rehearsal space to touring accommodations, the more tangible resources musicians need to produce their work, the quicker the costs escalate -- and with them, the probability that the whole enterprise disintegrates in mid-flight.
Yet around the world, the huge number of works in traditional media still landing in galleries and auction houses reinforces that young visual artists are not following young musicians' lead.
This isn't because the resource crisis faced by painters, sculptors, draftsmen, et al is any less severe. In fact, it may even be deadlier.
Unlike musicians, who can buy gear (or software) once and produce infinitely, traditional visual artists need to pay for new materials every time they want to create new work. Musicians can now infiltrate the upper echelon of their industry by rehearsing and recording on a laptop anywhere in the world, while traditional visual artists need physical studio space in cities like New York or Los Angeles if they hope to do the same. And unlike a catalog of songs, an inventory of traditional artwork demands tangible shelter even when its maker is strictly focusing on what comes next.
No, the real difference is that fine art is a niche market, while pop music is a mass one. Record labels could never support themselves strictly on the backs of vinyl enthusiasts, even when the average consumer was still paying for albums at all. But that's essentially what's happening for fine art dealers, as the real money keeps flowing in from a few thousand collectors still (mostly) in love with paintings, sculptures, drawings, and other traditional works.
In short, young musicians have been incentivized to change their strategy because the buy side of their market has changed its behavior. That hasn't yet happened in the art market. Based on everything I'm seeing, it isn't poised to in the foreseeable future, either. And sadly, until it does, young visual artists will still be motivated to keep marching into the cannon fire like a Civil War infantry. May fortune favor the bold.