Friday, June 18, 2010

The Personal Cost of Making Art

A good friend of mine recently asked me this question:
" you think that true art (if it could be defined) is only created at great personal cost to the artist? Is a decent into madness usually required? In which case, perhaps Windhook may need an asylum!"

Here, unedited, is the response I gave her. I might have more to say on this later, but this is a pretty good launching point for the subject.

"Madness is not required, but is not uncommon. That's all I will say directly on that, although it might pop up again in the discussion of personal cost.

Suffering and personal cost are a little more complicated. The great personal cost to the artist has many components. Art cannot be reduced to economics. One cannot place a per-hour dollar value on the effort involved in making art. One cannot base one's commitment to make art on how well it will be received, or whether or not the effort will be adequately compensated to justify it. Those who actually practice as artists will almost uniformly agree that it is an obsession. That it is absolutely necessary, whether it pays or not. Most will tell you that they work for pennies per hour. Most do not make a living. Most have endured cold and calculating responses, insults, either intended or otherwise, and have had times when it seemed that no one saw the value in their work. Artists who "make it" are the tip of the iceberg and typically have paid their dues. Often even the successful artist doesn't make a living wage.

All of this is because art does not belong in commerce and cannot be evaluated there. And yet there is no mechanism in this culture to insulate and protect artists from the fact that commerce is the only tangible measure of success, and the only mechanism for survival. If you can't sell it you won't get by.

This situation separates potential artists into several categories. 1.) Those with talent who are not driven enough to walk away from economic stability to do the work. 2.) Those who have the financial means not to have to make that decision. Many of these cannot overcome the other hurdle, which is rejection by the art world. Rejection is usually based as much on unfamiliarity as on lack of merit. 3.) Those who are driven to art no matter what. They will live in poverty and work when no one cares. It is only these who "make it" ... sometimes posthumously.

The high art auction market speaks to the issue of familiarity, as well as to the artificial measure of art that comes from applying the template of commerce to it. Rent the movie "Incognito" or "Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?" or watch this video to get a sense of how toxic the infiltration of investment capital into the art market has become.

I could talk about this subject for a lot longer, but I'll come up for air here and wait for your response. The Mona Lisa Curse video is a good place to start, and should be seen before the others probably, which is convenient since it is viewable online."