Monday, November 13, 2017

Does Being Rich Help You Be Successful In The Art World?


Jeff Koons bag for Luis Vuitton

The other day I was mindlessly scrolling through social media when I saw a link for an article by Ben Davis in artnet entitled, Do You Have To Be Rich To Make It As An Artist? I read it and only after finishing reading it did I realize it was from January 2016, which doesn’t make too much of a difference but it feels just as topical a subject/question to ask today. So I got to thinking about this idea, as this is something I have had so many conversations about though the years.

So, does being rich help you be successful in the art world? Yes, duh, of course it does but let’s unpack that and see what that means and to what degree.

Many times this question is more specially asked in relationship to artists like Davis’ article articulates. Does coming from wealth, like a lot of wealth, make it easier for you to be an artist? Yes, of course it does.

First it helps because art costs money to make. The more you have of it the better and to a higher degree of intricacy and professionalism can you make or have something produced.

Second, It takes money to have space. Studio space is expensive, especially in a place like NYC, and to have space is key to also having room to think and to not have restrictions of scale.

Third, money gives you time. That is a key element to it all. Having time to not having to work a day job in which you need/must work, 40 hours or otherwise. It gives you liberty to really work out ideas, to go to shows and be inspired, or whatever happens when you look at art, and to travel, and to move freely in the world that is not conditioned by making a paycheck.

Lastly, most importantly, money gives you a type of bravery. Not having to worry about money, time, space and to be able to be one’s optimal self allows for a type of risk taking which is so conducive to ‘creativity’ that one might say that it is at it’s core.

The above cases for why having money is beneficial to artists is transferable to other art practitioners. Gallerists, curators, theorists, critics, all else is made vastly easier, more accessible and swifter if you have time, space and mental liberty to experiment, take risks and to be entrepreneurial.

This is all so blatantly obvious, it might seem redundant to parse out but there is another angle to this as well. Having money, a lot of money, does make it easier but it doesn’t always work or stick. There are/have been/will be many artists past, present and future who have a lot of money who want to be in the art world in someway or another. And the truth is most don’t stick if their work is bad, their taste is bad, or they just can’t hack it. The art world wants rich people to participate and play. I mean, that’s who the real audience and reason this is all for. The uber rich supporting this thing called ‘art’ is what makes the whole machine work. But just because you are rich doesn’t mean you get a complete pass. Thankfully.

But, yes, we have all seen so many bad artists, bad spaces, bad projects helmed by this or that person who seems to just keep sticking around even though they really are not adding much to anything and we all know why they have this strange staying power but that happens, and it always will so there’s that.

What rubs me is the reverse of this. When poor artists are taken up by this rarified art world of ours and it is used to be exampled in a way. Like a ‘look, we support artists from here/there, who have this/that story, so that proves we are not elitist,’ or something along those lines.

The other thing that really rubs me is when super rich (or even really well off) people don’t think that being so allows them privileges, liberties and frankly a tipping of the scales. If you can take a year off and live somewhere else to read about semiotics and not have to work or take out loans, you are privileged. If you can hire a studio assistant to help you edit a video or make a sculpture for a show in which you probably won’t sell anything but will get rave reviews and you don’t have a side hustle, then you are privileged. If you work and support yourself month to month and do the hard work like everyone else but you have a trust fund waiting in the wings, you are privileged. You are and that’s great for you but just admit it! You don’t necessarily have to wear a stigmata of fortunes and family net worth on your sleeve but know it and understand what that means.

Art is a rich person (usually man’s) game and it has been and always will be. Us bleeding heart liberals can’t go around thinking we are some anti-capitalist saints. We are all participants in the most egregious form of cultural elitism. But we need to air this house out! It’s so gauche to talk about money and art. We want to treat it like some Athena sprouted whole and immaculate from the head of Zeus but alas we are far from that and never were or will be.

To all the rich and privileged artists out there, I don’t hold it against you. You were born into something and it’s cool that you are doing the art thing because hell, you could be putting all that capital and self into something worse, but come on, be honest about it. Everyone will respect you more for it. And if you are really rich and your art and taste suck, then yeah, just bow out and do something else with all that time and money, like buy art from those that don’t have that liberty.

To all the poor to truly self-sustaining artists and art world people, keep trucking. It’s stacked, and the more adjectives of race, gender all else will make the scales tipped even less in your favor but don’t let that demoralize you, and also don’t use that as an excuse. If you make good art and have some luck on your side, you’re successes will be even sweeter.

Money makes everything funny. I’ve said it for years and I’ll keep saying it. What’s important is that there is transparency. Let’s air it out, let’s admit what we have, what that means and how that changes how we live life, interact with art and how that positively or negatively upholds or continues structures of access and power.

Super wealthy, very rich, middle class, broke, poor, whatever you are or have been or will be doesn’t define you but whatever it is, make good art and support good art, with everything you have, even if it’s nothing sometimes.