Is a Terrible Economy Good for Art?

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Is art better when times are tough? Think of immortal painter Vincent van Gogh, "starving as he slaves over his masterpieces," suggests Jon Kelly for the BBC. "The 1930s gave us Steinbeck and Picasso's greatest work." The impetus for the piece is a coming drastic cut in British funding for the arts, as part of new austerity measures. "The mood," he notes, "among the nation's arts administrators is apocalyptic," seeming "to give the lie to the familiar maxim that hard times are fruitful periods for artists"

The situation calls into question stereotypes of artists doing their best when sweating, struggling, and giving voice to anxiety in a culture. Some still stand by this view. For one, "left-wing singer-songwriter Billy Bragg ... believe[s] that musicians tend to find their voice during periods of crisis." Either way, if history is any guide, we're likely to see the recession's impact on art today. Journalist Charles Shaar Murray points to the example of Broadway in the 1930s to argue that "when life becomes tougher, entertainment becomes escapist." It is, he says "the cultural equivalent of comfort food."

But would a proliferation of escapist distraction, in reaction to a difficult economy, really count as a cultural flowering? Kelly doesn't have answers.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.