Tag Archives: money

Street Art Against Money

“I wonder why people think that it is ok to sell your paintings from a gallery but as soon as someone gets a public commission its called selling out… I think it is kool that people can make a living off their art… artists need to help each other support each other… at the moment its like we are all pitted against each other… it should not be like that” – Adrian Doyle, artist (Facebook post)

Kranksy, Melbourne

Kranky, Melbourne

From time to time we all become concerned about money and when an artist is concerns about money it can take them in some strange directions. This gets even more warped when street artists get involved. I’m not surprised that street artists feeling worried about money as most are working for free and then suddenly finding themselves in a hot market. (see my post Hot Market Dealers).

Often responses of this anti-capitalist influence artists does not appears much different to the scene that the writer and social commentator, Tom Wolf archly describes:

“Now it was in the late 1960s, and the New Left was in high gear, and artists and theorists began to hail Earth Art and like as a blow against ‘the Uptown Museum-Gallery Complex,’ after the ‘military-industrial complex’ out in the world beyond. If the capitalists, the paternalists of the art world, can’t get their precious art objects into their drawing rooms or even into the bigger museums, they’ve had it. A few defiant notes like this, plus the signing of a few dozen manifestos against war and injustice – that was about as far as New York artists went into Left politics in the 1960s.” (Tom Wolfe, The Painted Word, Bantam Books, 1976, p.102)

Back to worrying about money and that feeling of being cheated and worrying about the effect of money on art. Are dodgy practices, fraud, forgery and other corruption in the art world? Yes, there is. Deanna Brown reports that “Art Fraud in Australia is relatively minor compared to that of international art markets; however it is believed to account for at least 10 percent of the Australian art market.”

Yes, but that is spare change compared to the corruption of the politicians in NSW or the corruption in sport. I am not going to start worrying about artists making money from their art until some artists regularly make more money than most company CEOs.

Following the money like watching the auction prices instead of the art. It follows the popular obsession with the money trail (and the monied) is totally out of perspective and distorts or ignores the other aspects of the institutions of the art world such as those highlighted by the Guerrilla Girls (for other examples see my post on National Galleries & Nationalism).

2014 was a bad year for this obsession amongst street artists with CDH’s torn-up cheque and Art vs Reality. I am very glad that both CDH and Peter Drew have found something better to do with their time this year. Peter Drew has been much more successful with his “Real Australian’s Say Welcome” meme.

Art Vs Reality Fail

Art Vs Reality is a six part YouTube series of videos. “The aim of the series is really to save art from the curse of luxury imposed by a corporatised artworld,” says Peter Drew, the presenter in the series. The words “save” and “curse” is an indication of the kind of magico-religious thinking about art behind this series.

Peter Drew posing as an art critic

Peter Drew posing as an art critic

There is plenty of this kind of fuzzy thinking in the series. In Episode 3 Peter Drew appears to claim that artists who sell art lack integrity and are basically guilty of simony for selling the sacred. This obsession with money is a popular take on the institutional theory of art and money features prominently in Art Vs Reality right in the graphics at the start of each episode.

The fixation of money is perhaps due because Peter Drew is a street artist from Adelaide and street art is the most commercial of art movements since the Surrealism. From Futura, Kaws and Os Gêmeos marketing Hennessy cognac, to the entrepreneurial street artists selling street fashion, to quasi religious idealists, like Drew, there has always been a focus on money in graffiti and street art. Not that there is anything wrong with that; I don’t begrudge any artist a single dollar that they make, or don’t make, but you might regard it differently if you have a fantasy about simony.

It is the word ‘reality’ in the title that is symbolic of the its simplistic fantasy of art; it continues to measure art on its Procrustean bed. A fantasy based on a rather simple understanding of a largely French focused version of European art history, ignoring art before the 19th century and most other cultures and countries. The ‘reality’ that Art Vs Reality is referring to is an imaginary popular idealised ‘reality’ that frequently has a tenuous relation to the facts.

Facts, like what happened in the creation of Duchamp’s Fountain that Drew blames for the starting conceptualism. Drew is unaware that the New York Independent Show that Fountain was excluded from had no jury (nor as Drew claims judges to “dismiss it out of hand”). How then was Fountain excluded from the exhibition and where the first edition of Fountain is far more complex than Drew’s ‘reality’.

Ironically it is the conceptual art of the Duchamp that Art Vs Reality, in Episode 2, blames for what it see as what is wrong with art. With a more complete reading of art history Drew might have been aware that the initial attacks on art institutions and the idea of great artists first launched by the Dadaists, followed by the conceptual artists in the 1960s, weren’t concerned about the influence of money but on the ideological support that the galleries gave to the state/war criminals.

Drew’s light-hearted approach lacks any subtly, depth or understanding of art or social history. He doesn’t take the audience to anything new or offer any new insights. Given the subject matter that he wants to deal with it is a shame that Drew does not appear to have read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing or, even the arch and sardonic Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word (as Wolfe was at least informed about modern art history when he wrote it). For a much more detailed analysis of the contemporary art market I would recommend reading Judith Benhamou-Huet’s The Worth of Art – Pricing the Priceless (Assouline, 2001).

Unfortunately Art vs Reality is just another jeremiad, posing as a comedic commentary, a general complaint about how art has lost its way, declined and become decadent.

Street Artists making $

My blog entry Street Art & Galleries attracted a lot of comments some of them espoused a non-commercial ideal for street art. However, much of the free art on the streets appears to be advertising for street artist’s highly commercial enterprises, (see my blog entry Advertising & Graffiti). Street art is the most commercially accessible of contemporary movements; street art is far more commercial than even the Surrealism.  Street artists produce art from the high to low price range, from museum quality pieces to badges, and this allows anyone to purchase the artist’s work. Keith Haring opened shops in New York and Tokyo for his merchandise and generations of street artists have followed his example.

The marketing strategy of street artists is similar to that of KISS, the most commercially successful rock band ever. KISS gave extravagant concert tours at less than cost ticketing, as a promotion for the band’s t-shirts, figurines and other marketing spin offs that is KISS’s main revenue stream. Like fashion designers many of these artists also produce diffusion ranges – the number of sneaker, t-shirts and figurines by street artists is incalculable. Collectable is a sales feature for these limited editions designed by street artists.

Toys, miniatures and street art are not something that I’ve paid a great deal of attention to although I know that many well-known street artists make limited edition toys. It is not that I don’t understand that models making and miniatures are an art, especially after painting many models in my teenage years, it just isn’t my scene anymore. Dean Christ, who I met when he was exhibiting at the Melbourne Stencil Festival, sent me a link to some of his toys. These are not cute, they are very much boys toys. Dean Christ combines military vehicles with insect forms.

Street artists make many other promotional deals: from minor deals like putting a business’s name or logo on a legal work to major deals like local artist, Phibs’ YouTube video promotion for VB Raw. These many different income sources means that street artists, unlike most other artists, are not entirely dependent on gallery sales, arts council grants or other institutional funding.

Now I’m not opposed to artists making money and I am not criticizing these street artists mentioned for any of their commercial work. I am opposed to the idealism that generates the denial that street art is not commercial; a denial that is not unique to street art but is encountered in so many areas of the arts. Parts of the art world are reluctant to talk about money, as they want to be seen placing certain ideals above financial concerns. Medieval knights and royalty were not meant to engage in business or industry and some artists ape these antique manners. However, this is to deny the reality that art is connected to life, where artists have to live and make a living.

I am impressed with the marketing of street artists; many artists in history would envy their success. Many modern art groups wanted to be able to market their art democratically so that people of different income could afford it, however the technology and distribution market often did not support these enterprises. Marcel Duchamp tried producing men’s shirts, travel chess sets and picture discs (records with op art images) but there he was no internet to help generate international sales for him and none of these enterprises made a profit. The success of street art, an art movement that has spread around the world, is in part due its ability to be commercial successful.

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