The Business of Art
One of art's most persistent and ingrained relationships is its most troublesome and contradictory. As I have written about many times, I love contradictions. I've called them "the spice of life" and maintained they are among the most exciting aspects of art. However, this particular contradiction is inescapable and more dire than interesting but also inescapable: money.
Art would not exist without creativity. Without the artist, inspiration, and desire to communicate and express, I would not be writing this sentence. None of you would be reading it, and nobody would have the pleasure of seeing what humanities' creativity is capable of, full stop. There is no doubt art will exist as long as there are humans who wish to create.
The second most important factor in art’s existence is love. Without viewers who love, appreciate, learn, and believe through art, it would exist in solitude. Most art does, but if no one drew pleasure from the artistic expression of others, we would live in a sad and gloomy world. Without humanity's incredible passion to enjoy beauty, art would be as sad and dull as the world it inevitably reflects.
Unfortunately-fortunately, commerce is the third most consistent motivator for arts dissemination and presence. The reasons for this are simple: artists need to eat, and making art is not cheap. The trope of the starving artist is common because it is true. As an artist, I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, there is nothing more gratifying, healing, and meaningful as creating a work of art. If I go too long without making my own work, I become depressed, and the instant I earnestly return to my practice, I feel immeasurably better. I have never felt more alive, and my life has never felt more purposeful then after producing a work I am proud of. I know this transcendence is possible with or without financial benefit because I have never reaped any financial benefit from my work, and it remains the most gratifying activity in the world. Of course, I would like to (we all want to make a living doing what we love, and even if we don’t, at least we know what we love; many people spend their entire lives without such a privilege), but that is not going to stop me from my greatest joy. But, if I did not have other jobs, it would not stop me because I would not have food to eat, a camera to film with, or a computer to write on (even a pen and paper, for that matter). So, whether you make money from your practice or not, money still enables your practice.
People do not want to talk about this, and I understand why. It is uncomfortable; we do not want to think about it, nor do collectors. In fact (and I do not say this to manipulate because my bosses do not know this was my chosen subject for the weekend [they let me write about what I want, which is why I like them]), you will be hard-pressed to find any commerce-related art organization that would write so candidly about this matter as the article you are presently reading. It underlies everything in the art world, but it is underplayed or ignored because it does not fit into the narrative of creative freedom. I understand that, but I said I would start writing about controversial subjects, and it would be dishonest to ignore this one.
Ironically, the more expensive art becomes, the worse things get for artists. When buyers begin to see art as merely a financial investment and not an investment in surrounding oneself with beauty and meaning, only a handful of extremely famous artists get all the attention. This is a sad state of affairs because art is fundamentally about life, and if the people bringing new meaning to the world are ignored, then art loses its vitality. It is extremely difficult to sell work without gallery representation, and if one is so “lucky” to get gallery representation, 50% of their profits go into the pockets of the gallerist. [I will say (again, this is not propaganda, but just the unregulated thoughts of an artist), Altamira is the first company I have come across in the art world that not only platforms artists based on quality and not capital, but also does not seek to drain all their profits.]
Ultimately, artists create for themselves and not for money (otherwise, there would be very few artists), but the money wouldn’t hurt. Most collectors buy art because it brings them joy, but they wouldn’t mind an appreciation in value either. The structure of reward for hard work is not the problem; the desire for profit above all else is. A balance between art and profit must be struck that is mutually beneficial to all involved, and this can only be achieved if both artists and collectors look outside of the traditional (and, now hopelessly corrupted) systems of power to create and appreciate. But artists will keep making art no matter what because they need to, not just for themselves, but for the health of all. Art is the lifeblood of humanity.