A very interesting news item caught my eye recently that got me thinking on the dynamics behind the long term trends in global art and culture.
First a bit of preamble. It has been received wisdom for a while now that economic power is shifting from the old world to the new world. Continental Europe is faced with tremendous headwinds to do with spiraling social costs and an ageing population that means growth over the next 100 years will be hard to come by. In the developing world on the other hand very low wage rates and high worker motivation are combining to create a compelling long term argument for excess growth rates and wealth creation for those markets. It is clear then that the money dynamic is pointing toward greater influence from the emerging world.
So what about broader global cultural trends? Because Europe has been the economic powerhouse of the last few hundred years, the global culture has been heavily influenced by western European art, music, literature and even sport. Surely we should expect cultural influences from the developing world to gain in influence at the expense of western European tastes over the next decades?
Well maybe, but maybe not. Back to the news item that caught my eye. The Qatari government has just paid $250m for a single painting by Paul Cezanne. This, apparently, is the highest amount ever paid for a single work of art. What does that tell you? Well clearly someone had to really like that picture, but more than that, someone is taking a long term view that the items of western European high-culture that are prized right now, will remain the pre-eminent items of high value that will be desired by the next generation of the worlds super-rich who are likely to come from some far flung places. This is an investment purchase and a long term one at that.
It might just be an anecdote, but I wouldn’t be surprised that whatever the shifts in global economic patterns the next 100 years, Western European (and American as a first derivative) styles of art, music, literature will remain pre-eminent in global culture.[On the same subject check this out: NY Times.]