What Is the Secret to Making It as an Artist? Bad News, Folks….

According to an article in artnetnews, the key is merely to be picked up by a big name venue early in your career. Sorry everyone else, your actual art is irrelevant, and THAT is F’ing pathetic. This is super depressing shit, and stupid. News flash: terminal myopia is not the right metaphor for visual art appreciation.

This phenomenon makes perfect sense, however. It’s like saying your best chance of becoming a famous actor is to be featured in blockbuster movies while just getting started.

The findings show that starting out at prestigious museums and galleries almost always leads to long-term success, but it’s much harder to break through to the big time for artists who have to start small. Among those who enter through more obscure institutions, only 14 percent remain active in the art world over a period of ten years.

In other words, even if they get in less prestigious galleries, 86% of artists won’t have a career that lasts more than a decade. Fun fact! In our advanced society, your chances of making as much as an independent artist as you would working at McDonald’s are astronomically slim.

If one of your first five shows as an artist is held at a gallery in the heart of this network, the chances of your ending your career on the fringes is 0.2 percent.

This is apparently because:

The network itself will protect you because people talk to each other and trade each other’s shows.

Artists, my friends, are now the equivalent of boy bands. Show up, fit the template, be promoted, and the industry will take care of itself, with you in it, in the name of pure, amoral, business.

While this may be no surprise at all, I find find it extremely peculiar. I have so much faith in my own judgement of art (and music) that I am indifferent to where the art is shown or what accolades are attached to it. I trust my own eyes more than anyone else’s. So, it seems odd that what is valued as art is almost entirely dictated by insiders with vested financial interest, rather than reflecting what people actually appreciate at all. Art is reduced to insider commodity trading, but presented as if it’s the best work that humanity has to offer. In reality, it’s the triumph of a fantastically wealthy and powerful business over legions of individual artists, who can’t compete with an institution, its representatives, and its products. The purpose of visual art is to perpetuate the art market, and make the already wealthy art insiders who control it wealthier.

I’ve noticed this before in regard to the multi-million dollar art works by the likes of Koons, Hirst, McCarthy, and others, which dominate the art world by financially eliminating virtually all competition. How can an individual artist of limited means, regardless of talent, ability, content, determination, sacrifice,  and so on, compete with an artist that can spend millions of dollars to hire the world’s best artisans to produce a work in his name? The art cabal and its chosen darlings priced everyone else out of the competition. And this isn’t supposed to be cynically boring and anti-human.

The purpose of the art critic is NOT to discover and promote individual talents, nor to seek and elucidate the purpose of art. Rather, their job is to promote the business of art by presenting the chosen art and artists as legitimately the best. They must support the narrative, and will at all costs until retirement age when some of the top critics do an about-face and confess that it’s all corrupted bullshit.


I suppose I should give evidence of that. Here’s David Hickey at age 71:

They’re in the hedge fund business, so they drop their windfall profits into art. It’s just not serious … art editors and critics – people like me – have become a courtier class. All we do is wander around the palace and advise very rich people. It’s not worth my time… I used to sell hippy art to collectors and these artists now live like the collectors I used to sell to. They have a house, a place in the country and a BMW… What can I tell you? It’s nasty and it’s stupid. I’m an intellectual and I don’t care if I’m not invited to the party. I quit.

And here’s Will Gompertz:

Money and celebrity has cast a shadow over the art world which is prohibiting ideas and debate from coming to the fore… It feels like the Paris salon of the 19th century, where bureaucrats and conservatives combined to stifle the field of work.. We need artists to work outside the establishment and start looking at the world in a different way – to start challenging preconceptions instead of reinforcing them.


The role of critic as cheerleader for name brand artists, again, strikes me as counter-intuitive. What is the fun of reporting on what you are supposed to, in a subordinate role, when you are an art critic?  Art critics don’t have the freedom that I do here to promote artists few people or virtually nobody has ever heard of. Nor do the formats of their publications allow them to write feature length articles lavishly supported by photographs as I can here.  They must support the narrative that conceptual art and anti-art displaced painting as the cornerstone of visual art and visual communication, and they must believe in the cause and conclusions of social justice/identity politics.

There was once a great philosopher named Socrates, who said, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. If you are an art critic, this would certainly mean that your job is to think for yourself and discover art on your own that you admire. It isn’t to say what you are supposed to in order to promote the business. And an artist would also be a very independent thinker and creator, obviously. She or he would not cater to extant tastes, beliefs, and market trends. But here we are in the 21st century, and artist and critic are subordinate to their wealthy bosses in the art world, because in order too be a success, as an artist or critic, you need to work directly or indirectly for a handful of venues.

On the bright side, if you aren’t getting any significant recognition in the art world, it’s not personal and has nothing to do with your art. It’s because you don’t have the slightest chance. Meanwhile the chosen few don’t even have a 1% risk of going wrong.

Real creatives will continue to make art for its intrinsic worth, the moneyed art world be damned. And the good news is that visual art has intrinsic meaning completely independent of money, and inherent worth ultimately outshines gilded bullshit on a pedestal, whether or not its appreciated as such. Even if everything I or you do as an artist in our lifetimes will not get a tiny fraction of the recognition or proceeds of a crumpled ball of paper (part of a series of identical priceless wonders, mind you) by Martin Creed — and that’s a vicious kick in the teeth — making art is still worth doing.

6883_FINAL

Work No. 294 A Sheet of A5 paper crumpled into a ball , 2003, by Martin Creed.


Note: my odds of getting any recognition as an artist are probably less than 0.01%. It’s sobering to know that nothing I might produce will help change that. The only thing I could do is go back in time, and be in the right place at the right time to fit the marketing template.

And this, and my last article, are why I don’t like to read the art news. It’s an onslaught of depressing bullshit, and a cruelly distorted and cynical portrayal of reality. Let me just review the topics of three articles on the front page of artnetnews and see how they sit with you, or with artists in general.

1) Artists who are not working directly for a handful of big name venues have a very slim chance of making the equivalent of working at McDonald’s by making art.

2) Jeff Koons, darling of the art establishment, has been successfully sued, once again, for plagiarism. Here we are reminded that among the very top artists are individuals who neither produce their own work, nor even conceive it beyond choosing what to pay out millions to have hired artisans duplicate for them.

3) Julian Schnabel curated a show at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris; included himself in it; placed a large painting of his next to a Van Gogh self-portrait, symbolically dwarfing him; and he solemnly photographed himself between the two paintings as the towering genius of the millennium.

Put these three together and we get an art monopoly of sorts that crushes the competition, squelches independent artists like mosquitoes, and rewards its chosen few so ridiculously that they believe they shit gold, and that their plagiarized artifacts and over-inflated spectacles are not only on par with the best art of the old masters, but superior to it.

This is the art world at its worse, granted, but its worse is what dominates. And so if you are an independent artist you are faced with two broad choices: 1) believe in the art world and give up on yourself 2) Believe in yourself and give up on the art world.

It’s much healthier, and more realistic, to make art that matters to you whether or not the art cabal is so corrupted that it only serves its own business interests, and would rather squelch you as competition than recognize your contribution. THAT is perverse. One doesn’t need to infect ones own mind with that kind of cancer.

Here, I’d say art is kinda’ like spirituality (whether you are inclined in that direction or not, take it as an analogy): your own personal relationship with the transcendent is all that matters, whether you are or are not part of an organized religion, cult, ashram, or what have you.

~ Ends

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4 thoughts on “What Is the Secret to Making It as an Artist? Bad News, Folks….

  1. I don’t blame you for not wanting reading the art news if you end up in a negative mindset because of it. It’s good to be informed, but really what good is it to feel as if you won’t find the kind of success that you may want. In the end, yes, art is a form of spirituality so to hell with the statistics.

    Liked by 1 person

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