You start with some crayons, and glue sparkly sequins onto colorful paper. Your mother proudly sticks your creations on the refrigerator and says, “How beautiful!” Your creations transform into clay and graphite, then eventually morph into charcoal and acrylic paint.
These masterpieces become photographs that are attached to art school applications.
But then, one day, the people who’ve been encouraging you to follow your dreams suggest “maybe it should just be a hobby.”
Fast forward ten years, when you’re trapped in the nine-to-five loop struggling to keep your own refrigerator full, pay off your college loans, and save for your dream trip. Your sketchbooks are piled in box in the back of your closet, and your visits to art museums become more and more rare.
On the occasional days when you do pop into your favorite gallery, “please do not touch the art” runs through your head endlessly. You just want to experience the art, but you can’t help glancing at the all-too-influential price tags.
If the word “art” becomes associated with the word “money” and you don’t have extra, somehow art just isn’t for you anymore.
When you contemplate the “art world” (if you even contemplate the “art world”), these days it probably has to do with money. You assume you can’t afford it, or you think it’s just obscene that a Modigliani painting sold for $170 million. (I’m not kidding, one actually did.)
So now art is only for the 1%, and the rest of us shouldn’t even bother.
Artists are just trying to make a living like everyone else. So it’s not a horrible thing that wealthy art collectors spend vast sums of cash on big-name artists.
But the problem is, all that money never actually gets to the artists. It’s just galleries, auction houses, and collectors who’re making the money. And it’s harder and harder for artists whose names aren’t well known to get people to spend money on their work.
Collecting art is supposed to be like owning a little piece of culture. At least that’s what I’ve always thought.
But I’ve recently discovered that, for a lot of people, it’s more of a money-making competition than an emotional or scholarly experience. They’re all fighting over the works of a few “art stars.” So big dealers spend all their time hyping these artists’ work and ignoring everyone else’s.
Today’s society has become all about showing off. It’s about posting a cool Instagram and having a respectable amount of “likes” on your Facebook status. It’s about short attention spans.
And lots of white space.
And less words.
Because we don’t have the time.
It’s never about being satisfied. It’s about constantly wanting more, and wanting it immediately.
For unestablished artists, this could mean snagging followers on social media by posting pictures of their work hoping us millennials will scroll through our newsfeeds and “like” it so their networks will expand. Then, maybe one day, their work will be worth as much as a Warhol or a Picasso.
And they could prove everyone wrong.
The motive for making, dealing, and collecting art shouldn’t be about the value or the fame. It should be about putting work out into the world that speaks to people, or snapshots a particular moment in time, or reveals who you are.
Your masterpiece with the glue and the sequins might not have been seen at an auction next to Monet’s water lilies. But it was priceless to your mother.
Don’t get me wrong, money is important. We need to eat, we need a home to live in, and we need an education.
But art is for everyone.
Even if you don’t have thousands of dollars lying around, art should be accessible to you. Maybe you won’t have Georgia O’Keeffe hanging in your living room, but there are living, breathing artists everywhere who would be honored to be shown off in your home.
An artist is anyone who makes art, not just someone who’s famous for it. All artists who are brave enough to open up and put a piece of them out in this world should be respected for it.