How Art Trends Drive the Market
Trends in the Art Market are the driving force for its transactions. These are variable and changeable, …
Trends in the Art Market are the driving force for its transactions. These are variable and changeable, fluctuating constantly, much like other trends we find in our societies. Art trends can relate to the medium with which an artwork is produced, the subject matter and content of the artwork, the region within which the artwork is produced, the ethnicity and/or race of the artist, etc.
But what are art trends? How does one trend come to dominate the Market over another? What factors play into the popular trends in the Art World, and the Art Market specifically?
Art Trends 101
So, what are art trends?
Unsurprisingly, art trends are just like any other trend, whether in fashion, music, or even TV programmes. Definitionally, trends are customs, looks, or ways of doing things that are currently acceptable and encouraged amongst a certain group of people. When applied to the Art World and its Market, art trends are elements of artworks that are widely popular, accepted, and encouraged to be reproduced. There are no limitations to these elements – there are trends in art materials and their different combinations with which an artwork is made; there are trends in the thematic subject of an artwork, in the colours used and/or excluded from an artwork, and so much more.
Art trends can typically be traced back to a source(s) of origin that has been gradually incorporated into the production of a dominant group of artists in their societies. This origin is rarely singular in our contemporary age, and we more often than not find various influences for the setting and distribution of art trends.
Trends in the Art World have various wide reaching effects, both in the Market and on individual artists. The popularisation of an art trend can persuade transactions and sales toward a particular type or category of art, and by extension, leading to increasing production rates of this particular type or category. In turn, as this art is extensively advertised and proliferated in the Market, more buyers and collectors become attracted to it and find it worthy of purchase. In this simplified way, art trends are able to drive forces in the Art World, especially in the Market.
The dynamic interaction between art trends and the Art World/Market is affected by a collection of factors, just as much as this interaction is able to affect transactions in the Art World. By a myriad of influences from all parts of society, trends are popularised and made desirable to possess, mimic, and accept not only by personnel involved in the Art World and the Art Market, but also the wider public.
Before looking at some of these potential influences on art trends, let’s take a look at some of the most popular art trends in the past three years.
Popular Trends 2019-2022
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been various globalised art trends driving the Market that relate to multiple influences and factors found in our world. Let’s see how some of these trends have evolved and changed throughout the past three years.
Collectivity, Collaboration, and Inclusivity
To the many in the general public, the Art World and Art Market has always had an infamous reputation for being exclusive and elitist. The image conjured up in people’s minds when auctions, exhibitions, and art transactions are mentioned is usually of an environment populated by members of white, male, heterosexual backgrounds. It is clear to anyone who is part of this World and deals regularly in this Market that this statement is not entirely true, yet neither is it false. Undoubtedly, the majority of the Art World’s activities remain concentrated in the global northwest, fronted by those who lead privileged lives in more ways than one. However, since the beginning of the pandemic, the Art World and its Market have seen a manifestation of collectivity, collaboration, and inclusivity amongst their ranks.
Traditionally, artists become established through their exposure to prominent dealers and buyers in the industry and being associated with an equally renowned gallery. Once the artist has achieved an adequate level of industry and Market recognition, their works can be presented and bidded for at auctions. In recent years, this traditional method has been declining, and more and more artists are taking their careers into their own hands and succeeding in spectacular ways. Through online communication and social media platforms, artists are able to present themselves and their work to a wider audience in terms of spatial coverage as well as numbers. In turn, those seeking out new talent in the Art World and its Market also began their search within the digital realm, spotting emerging artists through their online presence.
The increasingly active role artists are afforded to take in relation to their career also led to the tendency towards collaboration in artistic transactions. The general atmosphere of collectivity and equality created through the dismantling of hierarchical artist-patron relationship allowed smoother operation within the Art World and the Art Market, whether this be commissioning, buying and selling, or simply collaborative work between artists and other artistic personnel on a project.
Inclusivity, as part of this general art trend of togetherness and coevalness driving the Art World and Market, is also on the rise. In recent years, the Art World and its Market have witnessed the recognition of traditionally underrepresented, if not excluded, artists and art workers. It is much easier for artists who are women, POC, queer, non-Western, etc. to become established and renowned in the Art World and on the Art Market than it has ever been before. The decisions of many prominent galleries and museums to alter their permanent, free collections to present a more inclusive and rounded version of art history is indicative that this trend is here to stay.
In recent years, the Art World and its Market have seen a rapid growth of interest in Surrealist art, with auction and sales numbers climbing steadily as more and more artists and collectors jump on the trend. The popularity of Surrealism has been helped by a number of significant exhibitions dedicated to curating Surrealist art, the publicity of these exhibitions has in turn contributed to the visibility of artists within a growing secondary market for Surrealist artworks. This movement for Surrealism in art has been seen as coinciding with the expanding tastes of collectors nowadays for artworks that incorporate and reflect crucial modernist styles and ideals, together with the increasing shift in attention toward traditionally undervalued artists in the Art World.
The popularisation of this art trend in Surrealism to the point of influencing the Market also implicates an element of history in the development of contemporary art, given that the style originated not in the contemporary period but that which came before. In this way, the trend in Surrealism also brings with it another revitalisation that has been abandoned in the mainstream production of the Art World and the high-valued transactions of the Market, that of figurative and mimetic work. It seems the representational liberties afforded by Surrealism not only allows artists to experiment with and explore different kinds of representation of the world around us as we know it, but through this artistic mediation of the subconscious also allows for the revitalisation of figurative art in today’s Art World and Market.
This trend for Surrealism is linked to another – the favouring of young and new artists, of the ultra-contemporary in the Art World and its Market. The aesthetic of this youthful trend also focuses on the connotations associated with the elements, materials, as well as techniques artists employ to tell a story through their work. Often coming across as childlike and cheerful, artworks of this trend typically contain vibrant colours and surrealist forms in their composition, resulting in productions that provoke and question the very fabric of reality.
Art and Science
The convergence between these two unlikely disciplines became trendy as early as 2019, when artists were experimenting with traditional, conventional art forms, materials, and techniques to create new and exciting works that subverts many unspoken rules in the Art World regarding artistic production. In these subversions, we oftentimes find the involvement of science in bringing the new art form to life, whether relating to the chemistry of the material, or the incorporation of scientific themes and concerns into the content of the artwork itself.
This initial experimentation with forms and materials led to a revitalisation of figurative art. As artists explore the make-up of artistic ideas and creation through the incorporation of scientific elements and ideas, it is perhaps unsurprising that themselves and their artworks come to question the biological makeup of living organisms on earth itself. Revisiting traditional styles of Cubism, Surrealism, the Renaissance, and the Baroque, artists adapted contemporary scientific concerns into these old-master styles to create provocative pieces that questioned the fundamentals of life itself.
The drive of this art trend materialised in this year’s Venice Biennale, where the curator, Cecilia Alemani set out the theme of the Biennale to an exploration of living forms, its mutations and adaptations, the evolutionary trajectory of humanity examined through an artistic lens – all within the general rubric that can be understood as the collision between art and science that has gained traction in the Art World in recent years.
Nature and Environmentalism
Nature has always been a popular topic to be tackled and addressed by artists in their production. In 2019, the liquid art trend that has descended into the Art World and its Market a few years prior had finally taken solid form amongst artistic production, with artists creating works inspired by water as an element, a life source, flowing body, etc.
More importantly, perhaps, artists have been increasingly adopting elements of environmentalism and conservationism into their production. Apart from addressing issues of climate change and anthropo-impact on the earth’s natural environment, many decided that the materials with which they are to create will also be ones that benefit the planet and its ecosystem in the long run. An additional feature of this renewed appreciation for nature in artistic production is that this genre of artworks are able to provide us with much-needed escapism in our current world.
The increasing incorporation of the digital and the virtual into the Art World and the Art Market is a common trend that can be spotted even before the pandemic. Since 2019, art collectors, dealers, and buyers increasingly spend time doing research and transactions for artists and artworks of their preferences online. It had been predicted then that this trend of virtuality will only grow exponentially in the coming decade, with galleries and other physical establishments in the Art World and Art Market responding to this demand for virtuality by strengthening their online presence. As expected, no doubt exacerbated by the pandemic, from 2019 the Art World and its Market has seen more and more online marketplaces, viewing galleries, virtual exhibitions, as well as sales through online and social media platforms.
Together with the demand for virtuality on the transactional and technical side of the Art World and the Art Market, in recent years there is a rising commonality for performances to take place on the virtual stage. This move had been beneficial for artists from around the globe to broadcast their craft to the rest of the world, given restrictions put into place to ensure our safety during the past few years regarding the pandemic, virtual performances had been one of the few ways for artists and other artistic personnel alike to keep the momentum of artistic production alive and in bloom.
Even as we emerge from the depths of this pandemic, however, there shows little to no sign of this art trend waning in the near future. This is no less due to the rising prominence of digital and virtual art on the Art Market and in all corners of the Art World. Another possible reason as to why virtuality would likely be here to stay is that over the past few years, we have become dependent on virtuality and technology for what used to be physical transactions and dealings within the artworld. This certainly has its benefits and disadvantages, and the certain effects of this large-scale digitisation of global artistic production are yet to reveal themselves clearly to our contemporary Art World.
Contemporary African Art
The increasing popularity of contemporary African Art is one of the art trends that have been seen as increasingly making its impact in the Art World and on the Art Market, whose influence will only gradually grow as we move forward into the future. Given the cosmopolitanism of the Art Market in the contemporary age, artworks produced from all corners of the world are able to attract collectors from across the globe. This was first seen in the shift from physical to digital transactions in the Art World even prior to the pandemic, the coming of which only really exacerbated the demand and necessity for the digitisation of the transactions of the Art Market. It has been clear with the popularisation of artworks created by underrepresented groups of artists in the Art World, in the case of this trend, artworks created in Africa and/ or by African artists, remote transactions will have to be put in place to allow for smooth operation within the Art World and its Market.
As the world becomes increasingly diversified and inclusive, it is hopeful that the Art World will also fall in step with the rest of the world. This means the decentring of largely Eurocentric, white artworks produced by straight, cis males from the focus of the whole discourse on artistic production and its subsequent distribution and sales on a global scale. In its replacement will be a whole collection of artists who have historically been underrepresented and discriminated against, not only in the Art World and the Art Market, but also in other parts of their existence in our world. This trend signals the disillusionment of the Art World and its willingness to be truly inclusive and equal to all that deals within its confines.
This form of art is no stranger to the trends of the Art World and its Market. However, since the start of the pandemic, the Art World has witnessed a steady rise in pieces of street art directly addressing the issues and impacts our global society has been put through over the past three years. As a physical, and in a way, omnipresent, art form, street art has been variously used as a way to express, respond, comment, and even react against the mainstream of societies within which the artwork has been created, often anonymously, with little to no ways for its viewers to trace the origin of the artwork to the street artist, an added advantage and factor of popularity for the art form in times of conflict.
Throughout the period of the pandemic, street art has been used as a coping mechanism for many struggling with the global economic and social effects Covid-19 has brought to our world. Together with the political unrest rampant during the same period, there is a sense that the popularity of street art will increase as more and more artists employ this art form to address and cope with the uncertainty of the world and humanity today.
Crypto Art and 3D Motion Graphic Designs
The digital and the virtual have taken the Art World and its Market by storm in the past few years as the rest of the world becomes equally digitised. The rise of cryptocurrency and NFTs during the pandemic has given more traction to the general trend of digital art around the world. This is seen especially in the increasing numbers of traditional artists taking up NFT production in 2022, including Jeff Koons’ Moon Phases which we have written about in a previous article. The importance and usefulness of NFTs and crypto in general have been proven recently when these assets are used as currency for donation to humanitarian efforts in the Russo-Ukrainian war. Yet, NFTs still retain a questionable reputation to many around the world, whether they are part of the Art World or not. Nevertheless, the growth of this particular form of digital art is climbing steadily even as we emerge from the global pandemic and the world gradually returns to as normal as it can be
Another type of digital art that has been popularised over the past few years is 3D Motion Graphic Design. From early 2021, this innovative art form has been exposed to many artists around the world, especially those at the earlier stages of their careers. Through this technique, artists are able to create and reimagine new worlds modelled on our own. Otherworldly and haunting, these pieces draw inspiration from, and reflect, the many abandoned areas of the world ever since the pandemic has put the global community in lockdown. These dystopian images are often arresting and unsettling upon second glance, once the initial awe at technological advancement has been surpassed. One reason for the popularisation of this type of digital art is the general digitisation of the operations of the Art World. As exhibitions, symposiums, and transactions are gradually moving online for ease of communication and transaction during a period where physical contact is prohibited. The online format within which various traditional art events gradually take place has ensured the smooth transition of artworld transactions from the physical and the real to the digital and the virtual.
What have been the reasons for the popularisation of these trends in the Art World on a global scale? And do these apply to any other art trends that have ever existed and will ever exist?
Complex Network of Influences
Trends in the Art World are set due to various contributing factors, rarely do we find a trend influenced by a single, lone factor. More often than not, art trends emerge onto the Art Market from overlapping influences from a variety of sources.
Social and Political Climates
Art can be a powerful tool in driving social and political awareness, and in various cases, art can cause change in the social and political climate of a given people. In a previous article, we have discussed the role of art in times of conflict in light of the Russo-Ukrainian War. It is clear that art is a subversive and reactionary medium whose influential powers regimes are well aware, and some regimes use this property of art to their own advantage in promoting their rule. Apart from propaganda and war art, however, artistic production can be a way for members of minority groups to be recognised and heard. An example of this can be seen in trends popularised in 2019 till the present.
The impact of human activities on the Earth and its environment has been made increasingly visible in our everyday sociality. More and more we are becoming aware of the devastation our actions are causing to the ecology and biology of the planet we call home. With the looming threat of global warming, certain species extinction that are vital in supporting multiple ecosystems on earth, and other environmental and natural issues, the past few years have seen avid activism in reforming human lives into conservationist sustainability. Unsurprisingly, therefore, issues of environmental concern have been making their way into artistic production. Artists addressed various environmental issues in their works in creative and innovative ways, in an effort to raise awareness
Influences between artists have always been a contributing factor to the setting and popularisation of all art trends. No one artist could single-handedly advertise and broadcast a trend through their production to an international level which our globalised age calls for. Dialogues between artists can also be seen throughout art history. Responses of one artist working in one style to another artist working in a contrasting style through artistic production can lead to drastic changes to the Art canon and its conventions governing the appreciation and judgement of art, as well as determination of skill and virtuosity.
Old Art Styles and Movements
Another factor the contemporary Art World and its Market have inherited from their operators of the past are the styles they worked with, and the movements they advocate for. This is reflected in the trend of Surrealist and figurative revitalisation in the past few years, where styles related to artistic movements in the past are reimagined by contemporary artists in a way that speaks to their contemporary audiences and fellow artists in enlightening and innovative ways, in terms of the inherited style as well as the contemporary art scene.
The space within which an artist is situated, and the complex and nuanced social and political influences found within this space, all contribute to and affect the content, form, and style within which the artist chooses as their primary in their practice. Street art has always been a popular art form for voicing public opinion in a way that allows the message to reach millions without exposing the identity and therefore endangering the artist in question. Given the tumultuous nature of recent years, it is no surprise, therefore, to see street art amongst the list of trends within the Art World and its Market.
Important Personnel in the Art World
Prominent art workers and personnel in the Art World and its Market have the ability to persuade public opinion towards one style of art over another. This effect often goes unnoticed by various dealers, buyers, and artists residing within the Art World and are well-aware of its interests. Typically, the more prestigious the background of some important personnel in the Art World, the more likely it is that their recently voiced opinions on one artist or artwork will be taken to heart by many around the world over another.
Advancing Technology and the Use of Social Media
Virtuality and digitisation have no doubt entered the Art World and its Market operation in recent years as technology continues to grow. Particularly, the use of social media has revolutionised the way artists promote themselves to potential investors, buyers, and gallery houses with which they could be associated with. Social media platforms have also aided collectors, dealers, and galleries in seeking out new and emerging talents, determining Market demand, and communicating with artists. In this digital age, the virtual platform is likely to become the place where future transactions in the Art World and its Market will be initiated, processed, and finalised. This is proven to be increasingly the reality facing the Art World as digital art, such as NFTs and 3D motion graphic designs, steadily gain popularity and marketability each day.
General Shifts in Global Aesthetics
In addition to changing social and political climates within the specific geospatial location where an artwork is created and/or an artist produces, general shifts in global aesthetics also contribute to the popularisation of one trend in the Art World and its Market over another. Regional and local aesthetics may correspond and/or contradict those general aesthetics found on a global scale. As our world becomes increasingly cosmopolitan and diversified, the line between regional and global aesthetics may become more and more distinct, and in turn, influencing Market trends in significant ways.
This may be an obvious influence on the general trends in the Art World, and indeed, general economic factors play a significant role in the setting of trends and the expulsion of another. In international transactions, exchange rates and shipping costs are often two of the most costly fees artists, dealers, and collectors will have to consider. Given the fluctuating nature of the global economy itself, it is no surprise that the general economy, its issues and merits, will influence Art Market trends significantly at times.
Finally, in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic, many of the previously mentioned factors have either been enhanced, or completely freshly introduced by, the events of the past few years. No doubt we can see the effects of enforced remote working and online communications on Art World and Market operations. Despite this alienating and isolating atmosphere the pandemic has created amongst many communities, there is also a sense that the isolation we have all been put through strengthened our bonds with our loved ones as the looming threat of separation was brought to the fore by the conditions of the pandemic. Whether these influences and effects created by the pandemic will last long into the future of the Art World and its Market, however, remains to be seen.
Clearly, trends in the Art World and its Market are just as unpredictable and fluctuating as any other trends, and are just as varied. However, it would be interesting to see if the trends that have gripped the Art Market in the past few years will hold as society gradually returns to normal.