In response to my recent article on ‘Art as Commodity or Art as Experience’ my colleague, Joanne Mattera, a widely exhibited artist, who blogs about galleries and art fairs in New York city and elsewhere replied “There are many art worlds, represented by art fairs, commercial galleries, nonprofits, academic galleries, co-op galleries, museums, private and corporate collections. All of these may range from small one-person operations to large businesses with multiple staffers in multiple locations in gigantic spaces; and they may show artists who range from local unknowns to international art stars in venues that are local, regional, national or international. So when we talk about "the art world," we really need to be clear about which "art world" we're talking about.
Also, I was annoyed to read yet again about the dichotomy between "art pilgrim" and artist as maker of a commodity. It's old the Madonna/whore mentality. Does an opera singer sell out if she performs to a standing ovation at the Met? Does a surgeon sell out if she performs brilliant surgery in a clean, modern facility? Does a scientist sell out of she creates a cure for cancer? So why is it that artists should be "pure" only if they're indigent pilgrims? That is old, old, old, old think. Rather than filling a studio with unsold works (which, yes, come ideally from an emotional or spiritual or intellectual place) we sell them. I think it does a disservice to artists and the public to suggest that finding or creating a commercial outlet for the work somehow makes the artist or the art less pure. Art making is a calling, yes, but unless you’re Mother Teresa, most other callings don't come with the imposition of poverty. Let's think about art as a professional undertaking, just as the dealers, curators, critics and collectors do.”
In my article, I referred to Morley Safer’s report on Art Basel as being perhaps representative of the Public’s opinion on the Art World. When I asked Christian Holland, a writer, ‘What did you make of Morley Safer's report on 60 minutes about Art Basel?’ he replied “There was a running joke in the twitter/blogosphere that ‘Morley Safer went to an art fair and found lots of bad art.’ I suppose the only thing stranger was the fact that 60 Minutes decided the subject was newsworthy enough to do a program about it. Also, I didn’t know 60 Minutes was still on the air until Safer went to Basel, so I suppose they incrementally expanded their audience for at least one show.” As to his show from 1993 ‘But is it art?’ Christian replied ‘If the mainstream media stops mocking contemporary art, it means contemporary artists have stopped making art. The art/ not art debate that takes place in mainstream media will only end when artists stop making art.’ Todd Levin, Director of Levin Art Group, offered this, ‘ Jerry Saltz pointed out in his piece in New York Magazine on the 60 minute bit that Safer went to an Art fair looking for an "aesthetic experience" and then was shocked when he didn't find one.’
I also wrote about the art of Thomas Kinkade in the wake of his untimely death. What is the controversy that his work stirs up? Todd Levin: ‘Kinkade's Art is no more and no less than emotional pornography. He provides all the emotional triggers that his public identifies with, but there is nothing deeper behind those multiple hair triggers than an empty, hollow void.’ Joanne Mattera: ‘I can’t tell you why the “art world” is talking. All I can tell you is that as a painter, I am astonished that Kinkade could have sold so much crap to so many people. I know the average person is not art sophisticated, but those glowing Hansel-and-Gretel cottages are even farther off the map than Elvis on velvet.’ Christian Holland: ‘Kinkade just found a niche by making people believe they were buying fine art they could afford, but perhaps they were, right?’ To these insightful comments, I would add, if you told the average person, you could buy original art for the same modest prices that Kinkade is selling for, they would panic that they would have to decide for themselves what was valuable whereas Kinkade’s work is so obviously ‘pretty’ and his business strategy and marketing promoted it as a a safe buy or good investment for people who don’t want to decide, don’t know how to decide what has value, what they like, or what is Art.
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