Does The Art Even Matter Anymore?

It's been an interesting experience transitioning from going to art school into working for it's industry. Of course when you are going to school for art you are trained about the importance of asking certain questions, understanding the process, artist statements, presentation, so on and so forth however a very different set of rules apply when it comes to actually buying and selling it.

Last week Jeff Koons "Balloon Dog" sold for $58.4 million at the art auction house Christie's and whether you like Jeff Koons or not or even know who the guy is this price is nonsensical and has nothing to do with the actual art but rather the name of the artist. The New York Post did a great article describing this ongoing recent string of overpriced bad art that you can read here.


Of course this is nothing new as since the beginning of the history of art as we know it (commissioned that is) was run by the aristocrats who would hire artisans to paint whatever they wanted and if they didn't like it it was burned or painted over. Though back then there was little actual creative freedom involved as it was focused on representing the ideals of a society that perhaps the artist didn't even agree with but had no choice but to idealize it in "his work". Today artists definitely have creative freedom but what is being put into question is whether the art that is getting the most recognition is actually something that deserves to be getting it or are we just celebrating a bunch of mediocre overpriced stuff.

Damien Hirst who is notorious for rarely actually touching his own art is very well known for his "spot paintings". There are about 1,800 in the world, ranging in price from $300,000 to $3 million. Only five were painted by the artist himself. Hirst has publicly given credit to his team and specifically favorite assistant, Rachel Howard, saying,

“The best spot painting you can have by me is one painted by Rachel.

In 2008, one of her spot paintings, unsigned by Hirst, went up for auction in New York. It brought in $90,000. Several months later, another of her spot paintings — this one signed by Hirst — sold for $2.25 million. Same painting, same painter, different price all because Hirst signed his name on it. Didn't even paint the damn thing. 

James Franco in 2011 "created" with the artist duo Praxis, works of “nonvisible art.” One of the pieces went for $10,000, with the following description:

“A unique piece, only this one is for sale. The air you are purchasing is like buying an endless tank of oxygen. No matter where you are, you always have the ability to take a breath of the most delicious, clean-smelling air that the earth can produce.”

Yes, James Franco just sold air. For me to read these things are morally upsetting because I am an artist who spent the past 3 years going through rigorous programs learning about how important the art is only to get into the real world and find out that in fact in many cases the art is the least important part of the art world. Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for conceptual art but sometimes you just find yourself shaking your head and realizing it's not the idea but the name of the artist that carries the most weight, and of course the multi-billionaire who decides to buy it and as a result making the name worth of anything in the first place. 

In 2009 New York Times art critic Robert Hughes interviewed one of the top collectors in the fine art world, Alberto Mugrabi about this exact predicament and the resulting conversation was something that was laughable and jaw dropping-ly upsetting. Hughes went on to describe the business of art as a business for the rich and the ignorant which becomes extremely apparent as he goes on to question Mugrabi about his purchases and opinion on art that he owns. He doesn't have to say much to make Mugrabi dig his whole deeper and deeper proving that he had never taken a single art history class in his life and is just buying whatever he thinks will sell for more years down the line despite it's actual longevity as good or bad art. What I think is the most upsetting about the entirety of the situation is that whatever Mugrabi buy's will define the forthcoming history of art and the guy doesn't know shit about it.

What are your thoughts? Am I just a hopeless romantic for art or does there need to be a harsh look in the mirror about the things that we are allowing to be consumed by society?