A Little Red Herring Conversation

An artist wrote to me asking for clarification on my use of the term red herring in the introduction to the article on Ron Fundingsland.

“I don’t think it is always a given that: ‘Earning a living by making art is a red herring.’ ” The artist wrote.

He went on:

“I agree that money motivation is the lowest form of motivation and making money/ making a living can side track people from their dreams & compromise their integrity. One should certainly not alter their fine art in order for it to sell. At the same time, I’ve seen potentially good artists abandon the arts to become doctors, lawyers, and such in order to have a real job.

The artist then went on to mention Time magazine’s art critic, Robert Hughes and his book: Nothing if Not Critical.

“The idea that money, patronage and trade automatically corrupt the wells of imagination is a pious fiction, believed by some utopian lefties and a few people of genius such as Blake by flatly contradicted by history itself. The work of Titian and Bernini, Piero della Francesca and Pousin, Reisner and Chippendale would not exist unless someone paid for them, and paid well.
Picasso was a millionaire at forty and that didn’t harm him.” (Page 388)

The artist goes on to say that he is: “Proud of never having ‘sold out.’ I certainly know that lack of funding can take attention away from creating (lack of materials and food cancertainly limit the production of Art) (and creating art is what it is all about…the more one can create = the better). And, as you know, I hate the cute commercial crap that sells for Art and seek to prevent myself from selling through crappy commercial galleries.”

The artist said he wanted to make sure that we encourage as much supportof artists as much as possible.

“In a perfect world,” he wrote “all artists would be making a fine living and creating without restrictions of any sort.”

I wrote back to him the following:

Here here! I agree completely. To me, a red herring is a diversion–something misleading or distracting. I think too many artists get misled or distracted by the idea of making money, whether they give up their creative career for something more practical or they “sell out” to the marketplace.

Perhaps it would have been more precise to say that for most artists, earning a living by making art is a red herring. It is linked to the statement that such small percentage of artists actually earn a living. And there is this new celebrity fueled, Vanity Fair art market out there that is enticing people to get rich by collecting art. Too become a celebrity by being an artist. It’s more than Pop art. It’s a frenzy. Art students are plucked from art schools and people with too much money and not enough appreciation of art are buying work by some artist from a gallery in New York via digital picture because the gallery has made this new star. Are these kids “great” artists? No. Most of them are not.

My favorite comment from a recent article in Vanity Fair came from collector Ingvild Goetz: “Art should move you, it should make you think more than only one minute, and it should remind you again and again. The problem is that there is so much bad art on the market. I would say there’s very little that’s great. I would say 80 percent is not. It has been done, it’s a deja vu, it’s old-fashioned, it is boring, it doesn’t touch you anymore, it doesn’t make you nervous, it doesn’t make you hate it. Let’s say there is a lot of nice art around. I don’t like to collect nice art.”

There are too many artists in this area who take their work to market too soon, paint more of what sells and never move into creative exploration with little thought of the marketplace. And as you point out, too many who give up because they have to earn a living. Neither is good. You and Ron and others are finding their way–being true to the work and selling what they can.

I have not read Robert Hughes book, but now will look for it. But I could give an equally impressive list of artists who starved and were never famous until after their death, or later in life, who never gave up their art and just kept doing their work. It has to be first and foremost your primary passion.

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