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Super Individualism


Super-individualism among artists is a relatively recent phenomenon. Up until the 1980s there was a far greater willingness to work together in groups. Piet Mondrian would have accomplished little without De Stijl, from which he emerged in the 1920s; the same is true of Karel Appel and Cobra in the 1950s; at the beginning of his career Jan Dibbets hung out with a whole generation of conceptual artists and René Daniëls benefited from the Junge Wilde artists of the late 1970s.

Only in the last twenty years has super-individualism taken root. We can only guess at the reason for this. A possible explanation is that the individualisation among artists is a reflection of the breaking down of traditional religious and socio-cultural barriers in the Netherlands, a process that began back in the 1960s but which only became prevalent in the 1980s. Another factor could be a culturally determined idea of the free artist, who in a Calvinistic culture is preferred to be perceived as a jester who should not be taken too seriously – and thus becomes isolated. But there are also other explanations. Whereas in other countries the commercial market has a great say in the direction in which art develops, in the Netherlands it is the government that – in the form of the national government with its Policy Document on Culture, as well as local authorities – leaves its mark on the future of art. Operating from the viewpoint that art is an important part of the community, from the 1950s onwards individual artists in the Netherlands have been given financial support - with the famous (or infamous) Visual Artists (Financial Assistance) Scheme (BKR), which later became the individual subsidies of the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture (Fonds BKVB) and other subsidies. A side effect of the relatively large government investment in art is that the commercial sector in the Netherlands, particularly with regard to art galleries, has remained small and inconsequential. This has also led to a considerable number of leading artists directing their work more towards the government and governmental institutions than to the commercial market. Of course this is not a problem in itself, but it does stimulate this characteristic culture of individualism. Immediately after they graduate from the art academy, artists in the Netherlands are eligible for subsidies, which means they are assessed for originality and authenticity. Sensitivity to trends counts as a negative qualification. In a commercial market, young artists are forced to form groups in order to become visible at all. Moreover, galleries have a need for several artists who are working on more or less the same lines – as young art only sells well when it is part of a movement. This is how many galleries build their stable: with essentially similarly-minded artists.