The dilemma of Art

Over the past few months I have been thinking more and more about the financial structure of the art world as it exists today. Though many variables have changed in the past 100 years I find two significant developments in the architecture of the art world the most disturbing.

The two developments, when closely inspected, seem to be a natural progression of control over the evolution of art itself. Not the specific making of art, but the propagation of art and the role of the artist in the public arena.

These two developments are Academia and Commerce.


The role of art schools in the art world at large has grown to become a vastly important function of art and artists in the current art world model. But this has not always been so. As late as the 1970’s the role of the art school in deciding what artists would be acclaimed and thought of was nominal. Very few of the ‘masters’ of the art world had made much success in any formal education. Most, having attempted to be involved in some art school or another, had quit or were thrown out due to their behavior and ideas. These radical minds would go on to be considered masters through their explosive ideas and rethinking of the role and function of art.

Yet as the power of the art school grew from the late 1970s onward the number of artists who would be perceived by the public as “masters” would dwindle. As the isolationist view of art as some exclusive language of the intellectual grew in prominence and the marketing strategies of the art schools developed the public came more and more to consider art as something alien and not understood, and for good reason. Art was being taught in a way that each artist was told that a language must be learned, that certain philosophical ideas must be understood, in order for any appreciation of art to occur. Without this knowledge, one was taught (and still is) that no one can understand art.

How then can the public be considered in the shape of art and its appreciation? The answer is that public opinion has little to do with art today and who becomes famous and why.

The developing infrastructure of the art school has permeated the art world to its fullest. Professors teach students to believe certain variables about what art is, then those students go on to be curators and administrators within the art world. After several generations the art school system has come to dominate the art world.

What anyone really learns in art school is how to navigate the system of “who knows who” in order to achieve financial success. Your professors recommend you to their former students who are now gallery owners, who in turn give you a show and sell your work to their rich friends. This ‘education’ has almost nothing to do with creativity and everything to do with social engineering.

Not that there is anything wrong with an artist finding a way to be financially successful through their art. But what is evident in the bigger picture of this art school model is that since the advent of art schools as a powerful force in the art world their have been no artists who are considered “masters” by the public in the past 30+ years.

Of course their have been “famous artists” who come and go with each seasons fashion like the accessory to a couture outfit. The ‘currently collectible’, but no one has been able to rise above the tide of changing fashion in order to capture the imagination of the public beyond the confines of the art world itself.

Well, maybe Banksy – but that’s another story.

“Turning in on itself the art world has become an inbreed mutation of creativity. A nepotistic game of tag where each of the artists takes a turn being ‘famous’ among their benefactors…”


The second model that is involved in the dilemma of art in the world today is the financial infrastructure that supports the art world. Since the dawn of creative individualism in the realm of art their have been certain people who supported the arts. Formerly these patrons were kings and other aristocratic individuals who sought to broaden their own fame/popularity by supporting artists as a means of public outreach. As time has evolved the patrons of art have become the private collectors and government institutions who support the fashionable without thought to the evolution of art as a whole. Support is given for those who have played the game of “who knows who” in order to become collectible among the rich and elitist cliques within the insular art world. Turning in on itself the art world has become an inbreed mutation of creativity. A nepotistic game of tag where each of the artists takes a turn being ‘famous’ among their benefactors- usually the rich friends of their family and gallery owners. When one has sold pieces for enough money then they ‘graduate’ to being shown in museums instead of galleries.

No where in this ‘money equals money’ model is it more evident than in the “Art Fair”. In the dominate art fair model a gallery or individual artist must pay rental space and exorbitant fees in order for their art to be shown. Many art fairs charge a submission fee that is extremely high yet do not guarantee inclusion in the fair and no refund is given if the art is rejected. What this model does is amplify the fact that in order to be successful as an artist in today’s art world one needs to have the money to buy their way into popularity. Without the financial support of a gallery an artist must already have money in order to make money. Thus excluding all but those artists born to wealthy families.

Art is in every sense a commodity. Regardless of its financial value any creation has an intrinsic value placed on it by its creator and those who experience it. Yet the commodification of art as a financial tool has reached the point where the art world is incapable of truly innovate practices. These games of “pay to play” and “who knows who” only intensify the already diseased state of the art world in the early 21st century.

As these two infrastructures commingle, with the art school model constantly influencing the art world commodity model, they are simple churning up an increasingly bland spectacle that shouts louder and louder “I am important” in its garish way, but in reality it has become so disenfranchised from the public that it no longer holds any meaning for the average person.

Art, without meaning to the individual, has no value. If the experience of art can not be understood by simply interacting with the art itself, than it has become a gibberish nonsense that holds no value in the world. If only those who come from pampered and wealthy backgrounds can afford to be artists then where is the range of human experience necessary to drive art forward in its evolution? Suffering for ones art has become the de rigor way in which the rich punish their parents for giving them everything they want. Being an ‘artist’ has become simply an act of rebellion against the lifestyles of the upper middle class.

A revolution must occur, the walls of the art world must be taken down. Much the way of the Dada movement in the early 20th century we must reject all that is in order to become the future of art. There is no crime in selling your artwork, in being appreciated for what you do, but if the artists of the world continue to allow the current model of the art world to exist we face the death of art and the destruction of creativity in contemporary culture.

RSH  – September 11, 2009


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