“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time”Thomas Merton
We see it all the time, art pieces selling for astronomical money in galleries or at auctions. Some pieces going for millions of dollars can seem absurd, like a huge canvas with two brush strokes in the middle titled (as an example) “The Reign of A Thousand Suns” and you end up looking at it like “um … there’s no sun in that painting?” At times like these, I have to ask myself if it’s more about who painted it rather than what was painted and then I ask myself “Is art really art if it’s more about the who rather than the what?”
I know, confusing, right? Let me break it down for you.
Is a following more important than the art itself?
The case can be made when we look at something like contemporary art. Contemporary art, defined, means the art of today, produced by artists who are living in the twenty-first century. Contemporary art can often take extreme or odd turns, using formats that don’t immediately suggest art in the traditional sense.
To the point of my discussion, in an article from 2015 in Forbes, one gallery owner gave some steps as to how the art of this category is priced for sale. I found a couple of his answers rather telling and informative. When asked on how a gallery assesses the value and pricing for a new contemporary art piece, Christopher Pusey, owner of Dorian Gray Gallery said, “One of the first things to consider when pricing an artist’s work is where are they in their career.” He continued “A recent MFA graduate with little-to-no ‘following’ or exhibition history will have one price point. Another might have sold work directly from their studio.”
This being said, galleries do have to consider their reputation as well as the best way they can profit from what they do, demand, trends etc. etc. – after all, business is business right? However, when it comes to art, I would think the price of it would be considered from a more open perspective rather than “Does this artist have enough people following them” or “ Have they sold their art in a mainstream way?”. I only say this because art isn’t just a product, art is creation, and it more often than not is a piece of the artist themselves displayed for the world to see. Whether that piece is a political, emotional, universal, or otherworldly statement, it’s still something from within an artist.
Don’t judge a book by its ‘cover’ or art for that matter
There is art that is made just to make money – manufactured pieces off of assembly lines in mass numbers to fill empty walls for people that just want something “pretty” to fill the space. That’s not what I’m talking about when I’m talking about art. I’m referring to the originals, the creative pieces coming directly from the minds of their creators – fresh canvas still wet from epic brush strokes or a newly finished sculpture crafted from used mechanical parts made in a backyard garage by hand.
If the value of art is subject to the name of the artist, then isn’t it more about who the artist is and if the mainstream recognizes them as an artist rather than the art itself? And if so, who decides if that name is enough? Why can’t we judge the art and not the artist? If someone who is unknown to the world paints an image that is comparable in its mastery to Picasso or Salvador Dali – if someone with no ‘following’ serves up a symphony composed with the notes and complexity that rival Mozart or Rachmaninoff – does that really mean that their work is of less value? Does it mean it holds less meaning? Is it less worthy of being art than something from someone more “established” in the art world?
Art is art, right?
Truthfully, in this current world – the value of a name does seem to exceed the value of art. The already established artist inevitably gains attention from a higher monetary eye than those who may create perfect masterpieces but are unknown. Social media is helping to narrow this gap, but it’s still a struggle for new or unknown artists to truly live off their work and I think that is something we should all fight for.
I firmly believe all artist should be appreciated for their art as a whole, not just for how many clicks they may or may not receive on Facebook or Instagram etc. If that’s the only way to truly judge art, then those among us who hold talents beyond our collective imagination may never see the ‘light of day’ and we may never experience what that individual soul has to offer.
In the end, society and humanity lose out on one of the most unique and deep aspects of the human mind, never seeing creativity’s capability of bringing meaning to our lives and sadly, we are all the poorer for it.
When someone is willing to paint their soul out for you like a road-map, isn’t that worth something, regardless of who or where they are in this life?