The art business seems to me like this weird cross-section of fashion and property. I read this book for a class that I loved with this really great professor who has the quietest, most monotone voice of any professor I’ve had. It was a lovely class, though. I played Bejeweled 3 through most of the class sessions so that I wouldn’t space off from what the professor was saying, and it worked. He is one of those professors who has been doing this for so long that it seems almost boring to him, except you can tell he loves it so much. He’s great. Anyway, I’m not in love with this book, but it does give a helpful overview of the art business, if that's something that interests you.
It makes me kind of sad to discuss art in this way, I guess, because, despite whatever the harsh reality is, I do still think of it as sacred or religious in some way. Thompson talks a lot about Damien Hirst
(as you can tell from the title) and other branded artists. The art business sucks because, as with a lot of other creative ways to make money (I’d think), the actual artists aren’t really the ones making money. For example, say an artist makes a painting (or a pile of gumdrops, or whatever we’re calling art at the time), and sells it on this cool website, artquest.com
, that the book talks a little about. So, that artist sells the painting, or pile of gumdrops, for, like $1,000, which is a pretty good price, I’d think, if you’re making money from something you love. Then, it turns out that the pile of gumdrops is total genius and changes the way artist work for all eternity, so the dude who bought it for $1,000 now sells it for $12 million. According to this book, that’s pretty typical in the art business. So, the people who know what art to buy
are the one’s making the money, not the artists.
In Europe, they’ve tried to counteract this somewhat by making it law that every time art gets sold, the artist gets a cut. That’s nice, except it really only benefits artists who are already famous. Also, the cut the artist gets isn’t very much money. It’s not often that art changes hands frequently, especially if the artist is not branded, so the law really only increases the wealth (very slightly) of older artists. As a rule, it doesn’t help younger ones. It’s pretty rare that art sells for millions of dollars, and it seems like the high prices have more to do with marketing than with the value the art community places on the work.
The parallels to literature are not lost on me. Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living
is what I would imagine to be a sort of A Million Little Pieces of art.
It’s not uncool. It’s definitely cool. But its coolness lies more in its shock value than its technique. I probably shouldn’t talk, being one of the only people in the universe to have not read A Million Little Pieces when Oprah said to, or when she said not to. I don’t hear the book discussed for its writing, though, I hear it discussed for its content. The shark is similar, I think. It is, as they say, conceptual. Anyway, both artists made a shit-ton of money for their concepts where artists relying on technique can fail in the business of it all.
I guess the lesson here is that you get money if you understand money, not necessarily if you do things that are socially valuable. It’s kind of cynical, but probably true.