First off, let me say that I’m fully aware that this is a touchy subject. Most people in the art world would take great offense to any allegation that they "swindle" people. Understood. However, there are indeed customs and traditions perpetuated by many in the art world that really do deceive people. With tough love and hope that we can change, here are a few.
1. EXCLUSIVE CLUB: Many in the art world intentionally create this air of exclusivity around contemporary art. In doing so, they manipulate public perception that art is only for the privileged few. Consequently, art becomes a status symbol and something that people are supposed to lust after, but have no real hope of acquiring. This means that "gatekeepers" are necessary to operate as “keepers of the flame.” Yes, it’s about power and social position. This is NOT about art or the love of art. Art just so happens to be the playing field of this power game.
2. FOR THE RICH ONLY: Having been mentally conditioned by this air of exclusivity that's been created, most people who are not keen observers would naturally conclude that art is only for the wealthy or at least well-heeled. This plays right into the hands of those who stand to profit from such an evil paradigm.
3. PRICING: If the average person believes (which most people do) that art is really only for the rich, then those who stand to profit can make a lot of money. No? Nouveau Riche people love to feel special by possessing something – even if it’s junk - that’s stupidly expensive and available to only a few. In short, pricing is about snob appeal. The higher the price, the more “upscale” and unattainable and therefore, more “special” and "rare" some art seems, even if it’s junk. Let’s face it, everyone in the art world – especially artists – want to make as much money from their work as they possibly can. The higher the sales price, the higher the return. That’s common sense. However, in this case, I’m really talking about people who aren’t motivated by stewardship or responsibility, but rather being part of the privileged class or exclusive club of humanity that lives high up in the social strata, far beyond where mere mortals could ever hope to climb. Again, in this case, art is the backdrop and facilitator.
4. MEDIA: Often by pure default, the mainstream media is the biggest supporter of this entire charade. Most people in the media know very little about art (no arts education in even the "best" of schools) but what they do know is that it’s always “news” to report about the latest multimillion dollar, record-breaking sale of any work of art. This makes headlines and reinforces the entire notion that art is only for the wealthy, privileged few.
5. INTELLECTUALISM & MYSTERY: What’s the best way to keep people in the dark? Shroud whatever you’re doing in heavy intellectualism and mystery. Make it “over the top” intellectual. Use ridiculously BIG and obscure words and trade terms to throw people off. This will make most people scratch their heads, feel embarrassed and flee. As a result, art will remain mysterious, ethereal and something not only beyond their physical reach, but also above their comprehension. This one really cracks me up. It’s particularly evil.
6. PRECIOUS NATURE OF ART: The more that you can make something seem precious and valuable, the more mystery and awe you can create around it (and the more money you can charge for it). This will justify an even greater need for gatekeepers who can keep watch on art. It becomes like the mythical (and ridiculous) “Goose That Laid the Golden Egg.” You can see it, but only from afar. And you certainly cannot touch it … not YOU with YOUR just sanitized, yet still grubby hands.
7. LACK OF EDUCATION: Lack of arts education in schools makes this entire scenario a slam dunk for the gatekeepers. They get to hold onto their power and privilege in the art world. If the average person were even minimally knowledgeable about art, they wouldn’t fall for this charade, but they do, hook, line and sinker. Isn't ignorance great? It makes brainwashing a snap!
8. HUMORLESS: What’s the easiest way to spot someone who is a proponent of everything I’ve written? They are usually very humorless and lacking in personality. In short, they’re snobbish. It’s always a great gift for me to meet these people in the art world because they make for fascinating writing material. It’s fun to parody these poor souls. I ultimately feel sorry for them. You would think they would behave differently simply to avoid being labeled a cliche or social stereotype, but they're comically predictable. They’re very insecure and frightened people, so I also TRY to cut them SOME slack. But not too much.
Actually, here's a bonus. This one just occurred to me ...
9. GLAMOUR: There's no denying that contemporary art and the art world are very glamorous. However, it's important to be able to see past this and understand reality. Glamour plays a BIG role in deception and the art world uses this old trick to the hilt. So, OPEN your eyes and really see BEYOND what's in front of you. That's really the whole point of art. It teaches us to stop, look and really listen to ourselves and the world around us.
Those are the major ways that the art world often swindles people. Do you see yourself in any of this ... at all? Most people would say, "No," which is a huge part of the overall problem. This is such a shame because the art world is actually biting the hands that could feed it and help it grow beyond belief. However, human nature being what it is, art often remains locked behind smokescreen.
Contemporary art is inherently precious, ethereal, mysterious, discriminating and unrelenting. We don’t need to crush it with our psychological and sociological garbage. However, many in the art world choose this road. Still, that doesn’t mean that YOU cannot enjoy it. Just OPEN your eyes and be educated. Forge your own unique relationship with art and no one can touch you. When you do this, you can be free, share the JOY of art and live beyond reproach. Very cool.