What a Time to Be An Artist

This is Salvator Mundi, a recently rediscovered painting by Leonardo da Vinci. It was sold for $450 million by a Russian billionaire, mostly because the Saudi royal family and the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, who both mistakenly thought they were bidding against the Qatari royal family, tried to outbid each other.

The picture ultimately found its way to the Louvre Abu Dhabi after the Saudis flipped it for a mega-yacht.

Yes, this is what actually happened.

A mere four decades ago this would have been unthinkable. The art world was in no position to demand this kind of money.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Starting in the 1980s, the price of art has gone up, up, up. People are now trying to get their hands on contemporary artist’s works as a form of investment.

Who knows who’s going to be the next Picasso?

The success of street artists such as Banksy, who reportedly makes as much as $20 million per year from the comfort of anonymity, has also fueled the idea that selling art is easier than ever.

Yes, you can sell your art through social media, you can use specialized online marketplaces, you can even create an online store and sell that way.

The sky is the limit, or so it appears.

I believe that the last hundred years was the last century in which a relatively small group of people would ever dictate what and how and for how much we should buy something.

The era of television is drawing to a close.

Big Media is not as influential as it used to be.

Writers no longer have to rely on publishing houses, artists no longer have to sell their art through art galleries. There’s no need for a middle-man anymore, which is why this is the best of times to be a creative individual.

The downside to all this?

Lots of micro-management, and lots of new tools and skills to develop.

The modern artists has to market and promote his work, figure out the right price, engage clients, develop a social media presence. It’s quite a lot of work, and this translates into time that is not being invested in making more art.

But, let’s be honest, for every Warhol or Pollock, there used to be thousands, if not tens of thousands of artists who never earned much.

Instead of creating god-like figures based on whatever billionaires think it’s good art, it’s better to have a thousand artists who earn enough to be creative and to keep on working.

After all, what would you choose? To create art after you get home from your regular job, or to be able to be a full-time artist, if only you invest a bit of time on marketing and promotion?

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3 thoughts on “What a Time to Be An Artist

  1. You couldn’t be more wrong. I’ve been an artist my entire life and it’s been no easy financial road. Yes, you can follow fashion or make schlocky decorative paintings for interior decorators who often are the arbiters of taste in many areas, but an artist who tries to express himself through a personal voice will almost always have an uphill battle. That will never change-in writing or in painting. As Constable once said, “Fashion will always have its day.” Or how about Thomas Wolfe: “Fashion is the greatest enemy of art.” So yeah, with a little talent and no artistic compass, one can cash in, but there is a big difference between financial success and artistic success. And the alternative avenues for painters and writers have also opened the floodgates to a lot of amateurism.
    The big fashionable names draw the big bucks, but most artists have a harder time of it or fall back on teaching. I paint figures that most galleries in this country would never exhibit-unsaleable! But I keep painting them and put my hopes on future generations. There are peaks and valleys in cultural history. It’s safe to say that for the last fifty years, with a few notable exceptions, we’ve been in a valley. You’re right though about art becoming more an investment than anything else. In the 80’s Saatchi really got the ball rolling. Ironic that he made his millions in advertising.

    • Well, two hundred years ago you probably wouldn’t have been an artist at all, because you’d never be able to afford to buy the paints you needed. Let alone potentially reach people all over the world…

      Da Vinci himself died in debt. They had to sell his stuff to cover those debts after he died.

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