While waiting in line at Starbucks the other day, I overheard a conversation between a young man and woman just ahead of me.
The guy was telling the young woman that he was planning to take a large poster that he recently bought to the frame shop to be framed.
“I think it’s gonna cost about $400,” I recall the guy saying. ”But I really love it. I can’t wait to get it done!” he said with glee.
Okay. Now keep in mind, I’m ArtBookGuy. I stood there seething and wondering whether or not I should open my mouth and say something. I desperately wanted to say …
“Excuse me, but DUDE … are you kidding me? I know SO MANY artists who would LOVE to sell you an ORIGINAL work of art for the same price you’re paying to get that cheap poster framed!”
Here’s another example …
Years ago, I attended an auction at Art Basel Miami Beach. I was with an art writer colleague who was interviewing a very wealthy art collector and patron. The patron was in the process of spending millions and millions of dollars not only on a single painting, but mainly on another art venture at the time. Similarly, I totally wanted to say to this guy …
“Excuse me, but DUDE … are you kidding me? Why spend tens of millions of dollars on that art venture (which I won’t name here) when you can actually buy and assemble your own art collection of living artists’ works right here in Miami and basically build a museum, just like other art collecting families here have? Ugh.
Here’s yet another example …
Anyway, as we toured the cool fair, James and I were questioning why anyone would plunk down millions of dollars on a single, blue chip work of art when they could buy an entire, extensive collection of works from gifted, living artists who do kick-ass work.
“I just don’t understand it,” I said to James. “It seems like common sense to me.” Needless to say, James totally agreed.
Now look. I totally get it. People, whether they’re rich or not so rich, can spend their hard-earned cents however they choose. If some guy wants to spend $400 to get what’s essentially a Xeroxed poster framed, that’s his business. If a super-wealthy art patron wants to drop millions of dollars on whatever … more power to him or her.
But what gets me is … how can otherwise intelligent people so totally miss the boat when it comes to true, high-quality, yet down-to-earth contemporary art?
Is it me? You know, I don’t believe that any of those scenarios I just recounted would’ve happened if we still had arts education in our schools. Ignorance and arrogance are the fraternal twins that power the art world.
Well, most people – rich and poor – have literally been sold a bill of goods about art. They either spend money on the wrong kinds of things – like getting a poster framed for hundreds of dollars (believe me, I’ve also made this mistake) or they spend millions of dollars for the sake of social status. Yes, believe it or not, I’m also trying to help super-wealthy people make more informed spending choices … even beyond good investments.
The art world can be like a minefield decorated and stacked with smoke and mirrors all designed to mislead and trick people into spending money on what may or may not be the real deal. It’s like that scene from “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy and friends think that huge apparition they’re seeing is the Wizard when they’re actually seeing an illusion created by a frail, little old man behind the curtain.
The art world is deceptive in a delicious way that makes it irresistible. It’s just like that big, pink mound of cotton candy that glamours you and makes you think it’ll fill you up and satisfy on looks and taste alone.
The art world is also like that charming mugger who asks you for the time and as you glance at your watch, he pulls out a gun and sticks you up. All so very pleasant, isn’t it?
So what IS the real deal? How can you avoid being swindled? How can you get more BANG for your buck? Cents or sense?
I will always bank on driven, gifted and professional artists. THEY are the real deal. Talk with THEM. Ask THEM. THEY are carrying the entire, often sneaky, art world on their slavish backs. And despite the sometimes brutal reality of it all, they continue to supply the world with great beauty and insight. And they get so little in return. Even today, they remain virtually ignored. All the art world wants is to milk them for the product … and profit.
A little education can change the whole game. Let’s call it, “The Common Cents of Art.” A little common sense can go a long way.
It’s such a cautionary tale. No?