How Art Will Save the World

Visual art has inspired incredible cultural transformations in the world.

Many things about the world are all too often taken for granted, particularly in terms of human capabilities. Walking, for instance, is a basic function that usually doesn’t cross one’s mind until someone else’s misfortune becomes painfully obvious. Many important capabilities of a psychological nature are often taken for granted as well, particularly in terms of images. The ability to perceive, process, and analyze images is a crucial right-brain function which defines the most basic aspects of life, and perhaps more than anyone realizes possesses the single greatest potential for harmony in the world.

A Visual Basis for Learning

In the past hundred years, unbelievable strides in art, literature, science, and human rights have taken place, and such progress has coincided with the availability of images of the outside world. Before the advent of photography, television, and most recently, the internet, a person was not able to conceive of a world outside their immediate surroundings; therefore, exploration of foreign lands and especially other planets was never a priority because, even if it were possible to read about such places, the lack of visual evidence created widespread apathy in terms of the rest of the planet.

Consider, for example, what kind of relief efforts would have been made for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti this winter if no one had seen photographs of the damage and destruction; or what sort of movement would have erupted in the absence of photos coming back from Vietnam; or what the state of space exploration would be now without the iconic image of Neil Armstrong on the moon.

The increasing awareness of the world (and beyond) has had another significant impact on cultures all over the world: the emergence of visual art. Prior to these relatively modern technologies, painters and sculptors were typically expected to create portraits, or at the very least stay strictly faithful to the human form. There have obviously been artistic movements in the past, the Renaissance is the most important example, but even in such masterpieces as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, humans resemble humans and nature resembles nature.

Artistic Freedom Leads to Creating the Future

It was not until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that artists were truly free to explore the possibilities of their respective media. Artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dahli, M.C. Escher, and Georgia O’Keefe continuously redefined the possibilities of visual art, and have since inspired hundreds of thousands of ethereal works of art.

The landscape of visual art is, of course, much greater than the works of painters. More artistic uses of photography, sculpture, architecture, and the newest addition to visual media, the cinema, have been redefined post-industrial revolution and have infused incredible beauty into the world, and thus into the scope of human consciousness. The power of past artistic movements such as cubism and surrealism is simpler yet more important than any artist could have realized at the time: the act of simply looking at a work of art inspires the viewer to think abstractly, to potentially look at the sky and think not of the basic star-studded landscape the eyes first perceive, but of Van Gogh’s swirling colors in his masterpiece, “Starry Night.” One might also look at Picasso’s “Crying Woman” and, perhaps subconsciously, consider the sadness of women all over the world. Such abstract thought is the basis for action.

Naturally, art has not single-handedly transformed the world into a magical, peaceful place, but the boundary-defiance and emotion it encourages in its viewers have aided political movements all over the world: Civil Rights, the Women’s Movement, and gay activism just to name a few. Given the changes that have happened in the past hundred years or so, one must wonder what the world will be like in another hundred years, and what role art will play in creating the future.

Money Laundering and Stolen Art

How organized criminals and terrorists purchase art and antiquities to launder money. Stolen art can be traded for a fraction of the true value.

Watching an episode of Burn Notice, the star Michael Weston comments on a crate of antiquities. He says that the madly fluctuating prices of antiquities make it easy for criminals to exchange cash for rare pieces of history from all over the world. I wondered if this was true or just something is thrown into a television program to make it more interesting.

Purchasing Artwork to Launder Money

It turns out, this is actually true. One major problem for criminals is what to do with all of their ill-gotten cash. Once they purchase an artifact, antiquity or piece of artwork, that cash becomes legitimized and laundered in essence, into an asset that gains value and can be sold at a later date with no questions asked. Whether purchasing legitimate art or hot artifacts and antiquities, these tangible assets can be used to launder cash into collectibles.

Using Stolen Art as a Tradeable Commodity

Stolen art, artwork that is stolen from a museum, gallery, or private home, can be traded or fenced in the underground world of organized crime. These trophy paintings cannot command the same value as if they were acquired legitimately. It’s like buying the proverbial expensive camera or television out of the back of someone’s truck. One knows it wasn’t acquired legally so the full retail price is not attainable. Criminals fence stole artwork at a fraction of its real art world market value.

So for example, in theory, if a criminal wanted to sell a stolen Vermeer they would not be able to ask for the legal market price which would be many millions of dollars. Probably, the asking price would be much lower, perhaps only a million dollars (US) or so, but for the art thief that is a free and clear million dollars and they are rid of a very hot piece of property.

Art Crime

In Art and Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World, edited by Noah Charney, there is an essay by law journalist Dafydd Nelson which talks about this subject matter in a more academic way. Nelson also reminds us that during times of economic hardship, fine art and antiquities retain their value, making them even more attractive as a way of money laundering for organized criminals.

Nelson has plenty of real-life examples of money laundering deals that have been discovered. For example, in March 2002 a painting by Goya and another painting by Tsuguharu Foujita were seized by US officials when a Spanish money launderer tried to use these valuable objects to settle a $10 million dollar drug debt.

This dark side of the art world still receives very little attention by the American media that is focused on the War on Terror in terms of suicide bombers, terrorist attacks, Al Qaeda, and Islamic extremists. The truth seems to be that terrorism and organized crime worldwide is in part funded by stolen art, artifacts, and antiquities.

5 Simple Ways to Save Money on Art Supplies

Buy art supplies for less! Follow these easy tips to find cheap or free art supplies around town, in stores and online.

Buying professional quality art supplies can be expensive. Purchasing the finest brushes, paints, and canvas is unjustifiable except for established artists with consistent sales. Fortunately, artists of all abilities can find great deals on art supplies in a number of easy ways.

Scavenge for Free Canvas

Do not be bound by convention. Go to construction sites, abandoned fields or go dumpster diving for paper, posters, cardboard, plywood, mirrors, glass panes or fence boards. Right now, the “recycled art” and “green art” market is hot. Artists should use many different materials in lieu of canvas to set their work apart.

Go Garage Sailing for Cheap Art Supplies

Buying large, pre-stretched canvas can be costly. By priming used, mass-produced prints, artists can get blank canvases for pennies on the dollar. A canvas size that retails for $50 may only cost $10 at a garage sale. Moving sales or estate sales are typically the best places to find the recycled canvas. Often, frames are included, adding extra value.

Since it is illegal in many areas to dispose of unused paint cans, homeowners usually need to unload their leftover house paint. For mixed media artists, this can be a great way to pick up cheap art supplies. Spackle, caulk and glazing compound make great textures and unique 3-D effects.

Look for picture frames. Once primed with special paint, glass panes and mirrors make a perfectly usable canvas.

Buy Art Supplies in Bulk

Properly cared for, canvas, brushes, and paint can be stored for years. So plan ahead. Large art supply stores like Hobby Lobby routinely have 30% off sales on all canvas and paints. Since artists’ work typically has a high markup, waiting for great deals on already cheap art supplies only increases profit margins.

TIP: For online shoppers, Dick Blick and Cheap Joe’s offer great deals on art supplies. Additionally, both sites provide helpful tutorials and workshops to hone artistic skills and teach new techniques.

Buy Returned Paint

For action painters or drip painters (think Jackson Pollock), buying full retail is unnecessarily expensive. To avoid losing money on mixing errors, local paint stores, like Sherwin-Williams, usually sell discounted remainder paint. Many suppliers will happily notify artists when discounted quality paint and rare colors become available.

TIP: Large home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot will occasionally accept paint returns. Unique colors are routinely found for 50% off or more.

Maintain Artist Equipment

A good set of artist paintbrushes or pallet knives can last a lifetime. After each use, thoroughly clean artist utensils with either soap and water (for acrylics) or turpentine (for oils). Make sure paint caps and lids are airtight. Recycle old plastic tablecloths for extra-protection for studio floors.

Find Deals on Art Supplies

Professional artists can halve their costs by buying art supplies at the right time and from the right places. For those just starting out, painting does not have to be an expensive hobby. Free canvas is available in many forms and frequently found for free or sold in neighborhood homes and businesses. With a little imagination, artists can find deals on art supplies in a variety of places.