Opinion: How Money Has Killed Art
When looking at modern art in comparison to the work of old masters like DaVinci, Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Monet, it’s difficult to understand the hard left turn art has taken in recent decades. When discussing modern art, images of conceptual art are likely to come to mind, with things like blank white canvases and bananas duct-taped to walls. The criticism of conceptual modern art is entirely valid and has a tangible reason behind it. The truth is that nepotism, money and capitalism have devalued art to an unrecognizable level.
This is not a piece meant to slander all contemporary art. There are hundreds of contemporary artists who are actively combating the negative influences present in the modern environment. However, an alarming number of modern artists are perpetuating these influences, and that is what I will be addressing.
Nepotism and so-called “nepotism babies” have made themselves at home right in the heart of the art world. Nepotism is the practice of people in power favoring relatives, acquaintances and friends, especially by offering them jobs. This is prevalent in every aspect of contemporary art. Families of artists and art dealers alike have cornered the market. For example, the children of famous artists have gone on to become successful artists or art dealers themselves with little difficulty. Families like the Picassos, the Averys and the Schnabels are proof that connections will take you closer to success than those that don’t have them. If you were to pick any art museum in the world and examine the artists featured within it, you would quickly discover personal connections between artists and curators, whether those be art school connections, family relations or friendships. Art curators are some of the main perpetrators of maintaining nepotism. Curators rarely have to explain why they chose an artist to feature in a gallery or collection which makes them all too comfortable bolstering the careers of their colleagues.
Art dealing in the modern world consists of billionaires trading pieces from a few artists, like Picasso and Koons, among a few others. The overseers of this trade are five families that own warehouses filled with art that they treat like stock. They hold the art until it reaches the highest demand possible and then sell it for billions of dollars. These five families are the Mugrabis, the Nahmads, the Levais, the Wildensteins and the Glimchers. These families have held almost all the buying power in the art world for 30 to 150 years. This affects artists as a collective because these families set the value of art globally and have perpetuated the elitist nature of art.
Art under capitalism, especially in America, has also been a way for the wealthy to exploit the tax system. Wealthy people will buy and donate art to receive massive tax breaks. For example, if someone buys a piece of artwork for $30 million, they can then influence an art gallery to increase the value of the painting to $80 million simply by arguing that the artist has a hidden talent. The buyer would then donate the painting now valued at $80 million to a museum. They can then receive an $80 million tax write-off for charity, thus saving $50 million by spending $30 million. Because of how pervasive this practice is, many contemporary artists in this private inner circle take advantage of it. The reason low-effort art has become so common is that artists that have connections to people that buy and sell art for tax purposes produce art quickly and cheaply. This influences the wealthy to buy it and donate it. By doing this, the artist not only sells art, but they also increase the value of their work, which pushes them into a wider sphere of influence.
Finally, the way a capitalist system operates is not conducive to promoting creativity or art as a means of earning a comfortable living, unless the artist is already entrenched within the sphere of influence. The objective of capitalism is to profit from working-class people. A capitalistic system will always value commercial profit over creativity. Because art can’t be mass-produced, it will constantly be devalued. Most artists work independently and therefore don’t have the safety net that others might have working for a company. This causes artists to rely on commissions and the patronage of others, which is an unusual practice in a capitalist economy. The lack of safety nets like healthcare or a set wage drives many artists without connections away from the profession in general.
By Liese Devine, Contributing Writer