The other day, I was walking through a department store where I heard an older couple chatting.
“Why is this so expensive?” the somewhat feeble man asked the woman whom I’m assuming was his wife.
“Because we have to help the rich stay rich!” the wife cryptically responded.
As I passed by, I smiled because I knew that gave me something new to chat about with you. I’ll come back to this in a moment.
You know, I’ve been spotting numerous things in the media about “powerful” people in the art world and the “movers and shakers” amid auction houses, galleries, museums, collectors and so on. Apparently, no one has balls enough to call “bullcrap” on all of this, so I will.
Look, I love the art world. I love art galleries and art dealers and museums and auction houses and the underground art scene and the online art scene and collectors’ groups, you name it. But somewhere back in history, it became less about the artist and the art and more about the patrons and people who commission art and hold it in their power grip.
My guess is that Cosimo de Medici and his crew are ultimately responsible for this. They really took art and power to the 100th … well … power. The Medicis may very well be the first people to really adopt the “branding” marketing models for everything we consider so “new” today. They branded artists, they branded art, they branded monuments and they basically branded their entire society. The Medicis trumped everything before Donald Trump did … or at least appears to be trumping.
This is what can happen when you’re superrich and in control of so much ... or you can at least give the impression you are. Everyone is in your back pocket … especially artists and creative people who only want to create and carve a living out of whatever they paint and well … carve.
Artists are the silent workhorses of the art world. They carry the art world. They quietly toil away and create product and content that everyone else gawks at, acquires, gobbles up and appropriates in some way to further their own, individual agendas. This includes wealthy and not so wealthy collectors, art galleries, museums, curators, art writers like me and so on.
Everyone is guilty of benefitting in some way from the labor of artists who somehow always remain the lowest on the totem pole in the art world.
By the way, I’m not writing this to “suck up” to artists. I’m simply reminding us of the absolute truth. Examine any sector of the art world – past, present and even future – and I assure you that artists are carrying the whole thing on their backs like Hebrew slaves. Well, artists aren’t slaves, but you know what I mean.
It all starts with the artist. Actually, it all starts with the greatest artist of all, God, who created the universe along with every artist the world has or ever will know.
Anyway, it just cracks me up whenever I see these “Power 100” lists that rank the most influential people in “the art world.” Don’t get me wrong. I love it. I love the fancy names and pretentiously-refined people who fall within their ranks. I’m sure they’re mostly lovely people. Yet, once again, I think these lists continue to feed brutal and damaging stereotypes about the art world and how things work … or perhaps should not work.
The top 50 slots – at least – of any “Power 100” list should only include artists. Anything less than this continues to be a travesty. Needless to say, it’s very subjective, but in my book, the most “powerful person” in the art world comes nowhere close to being as powerful as the average emerging artist who toils away in their studio each day. Anyone who claims to be more powerful than your typical artist is a pretender to the throne and a scam artist. Yes, I said it. A scam artist.
As we know, the people who own the means of production are the ones with the true power. In this case, that would be the artists.
Look, we all play very important roles not only in the art world, but in the world at large. Yet I think that when we turn the art world into a plutocracy, we truly miss the whole point of “art” in the first place.
Something just crossed my mind here … Indulge me for a moment.
I think that one of the reasons why we pity old, fading movie stars so much is that we can tell that at some point in their careers and lives, they began to believe their own publicity. They “bought in” to their own images that were intentionally manufactured for the pure purpose of packing movie theaters (just like those power lists are designed to sell publications). Those of us who actually use our brains feel sorry for these old stars because we see the falsity of it all. We can see that the Wizard of Oz is actually a feeble old man who is pulling the ropes of illusion – or delusion - behind that curtain.
This is how so many things in our world operate today. We’re supposed to believe that the people running for office have our best interest at heart … or at least put our best interests above theirs.
In the world at large and in the art world, it’s often difficult to distinguish what is real from what is not. That’s because we’re not supposed to see the smoke and mirrors. Like Hollywood, we’re supposed to “buy in” to the illusion. We’re supposed to see nothing but “the magic.”
It’s the same thing in the art world. The longer you can get rich, art-buying folks to “buy in” to the illusion, the longer you can function as an art enterprise. One of the reasons why middle class people don’t buy art is because they SEE the bullcrap. They see the old man who is pretending to be “The Wizard.”
Everyday people are IN on the joke. They can see that the Emperor is naked … or that at least his ass is showing from behind his hospital gown.
By the way, what IS the deal with those ass-backward hospital gowns? I’ll save that for another day.
Anyway, what I’m TRYING to say is that artists carry the art world. Most people who don’t even know much about art know this … at least subconsciously. Yet the problem is most people cannot “get to” the artists. They don’t have direct access. There’s so much that exists between them and the artists. There’s so much money to be made on the backs of artists that clouds the equation. There are so many go-betweens who muddy the playing field and make it uneven.
Look … again … anyone who can legally and morally make money in the art world … more power to you. Yet I just think that somewhere in the history of art, artists got lost in the shuffle.
In closing, I must say that the tide might be turning. I say “might” be turning because this is really all up to the artists and what they decide to do. Remember, artists OWN the means of production. Why else would galleries want them to sign contracts to represent them?
Will artists eventually take full advantage of the internet and high technology at their disposal to change the narrative in their favor … OR … will they remain like little mice in their studios and hide from the fray?
My guess is they’ll hide. Artists are afraid of power that’s not directly linked to their creativity. I think they view “power” as being too closely aligned with anything dubbed, “establishment.” Artists like being considered on the outside or “hip” side of things. Still, this doesn’t mean they can’t get creative. Does it? There’s a difference between assuming power and taking power or worse yet … faking power. Power List … anyone?
Hmm… I’m thinking again about that old couple in the department store.
When the wife said to her husband, “Because we have to help the rich stay rich,” we all know what she was saying. She knows the deal. She knows that we live in the REAL world where peripheral players are often treated with far more respect than the true workhorses.
That woman knows that we live in a world of smoke and mirrors where the heroes often go unnoticed and those who claim to bring in the money are treated like they walk on water. She knows the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.
It’s all about self-aggrandizement. Isn’t it?
Ugh … that damn Cosimo!