In Greece, art, like the country’s economy, is in suffering from austerity. The question is whether it is going to evolve or hit the skids.
Greece’s economy has been in crisis for six years. Economic output has plummeted, unemployment has soared and large numbers of people have lost their savings and in some cases their homes. What effect has the crisis had on art? Katiniou Panagiota of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki decided to take a look.
Greece, for many people, is synonymous with culture and art. Its dramatic poets left the greatest tragedies ever written. Its sculptors and architects set the gold standard in their arts for centuries. Their works are one of the main reasons foreign tourists visit this country.
But in today’s financially straitened times, Greek art is in crisis. The question is whether it is going to evolve or hit the skids.
To give an idea of the situation in Greece, consider this figure from the World Bank: national economic output fell 23% between 2009 and 2014.
During the decade ending in 2014, the number of individual art gallery exhibitions fell 47 percent, according the Hellenic Statistical Authority.
On the bright side, it seems that Greek artists have been forced to change their old methods and are now slowly beginning to learn about the value and the laws of minimalism. The country had started to run out of both money and imagination.
Some people view Greece’s economic crisis as a great opportunity, believing it has inspired young artists and driven them into an entirely different direction. Artists have been salvaging everything that can be used again and experimenting with new techniques.
There is a recurring theme in the art of the past few years. In just about every movie, piece of music or painting, there is a depressed, almost rotten, feeling.
Could austerity offer a new start for art in Greece?
The customer will always determine what is trend-setting.
From this perspective, the crisis might be an opportunity to restart. It gives people the chance to create something unique and to break away from the past.
On the other hand, if we want to be realistic, we cannot hide from the fact that money will always be an issue.
Everyone is searching to find a balance between what they want to express and what the majority craves for. In the end, the customer will always determine what is trend-setting.
Nikos Tsilis, a student at the School of Fine Arts in Thessaloniki, believes that many artists choose to incorporate politics in their work, as it’s a kind of safety net.
“It’s not the fact that it can be sold, it’s that more people identify with it,” he said.
“In the beginning, when we start out, we have so many ideas we want to realize. But later, when we understand that one work of art cannot be sold but another can, many choose the solution that will provide more money.”
What drives people to invest in art?
In Greece today, an artist cannot just ask for official financial support. The government has other priorities, and the arts have been relegated to the background.
Most disappointing of all, children are starting to be raised with the belief that artists are generally poverty-stricken.
Petros Stamatiadis, a conductor with the Thessaloniki Philharmonic Orchestra, said that learning music has become is a luxury. “Parents are seeing it as a form of amusement for the kids. They don’t envisage them studying it.”
It is still open to debate whether an up-and-coming artist can be promoted successfully in these difficult times. Even the most skilled and promising among them find it hard going.
But it’s thought-provoking to explore what drives people to invest in art, whether by watching a local theater performance or taking piano lessons.
In years past, citizens used to attend auctions and charities, aiming to show off and be associated with something elegant and sophisticated. Whoever could afford it would buy pieces of art just to impress others or to fill up that empty wall.
The million dollar question is whether that habit is still lurking in the dark.
Katiniou Panagiota is a student at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in the department of Journalism and Mass Media. For the past three years she has been working as a photographer’s assistant. She is interested in art and is focusing on the intersection of art and media.