A customer recently asked me what I thought of the movie Exit Through the Gift Shop. It is a mockumentary (my view) about street art that also passes judgement on the current art scene. Whether is a real documentary or not doesn't matter. It raises questions worth pondering.....or expounding on.
The main character has his interest turned from filming street artists to becoming one. His focus is on the marketing and branding of himself rather than creation of art. All effort is spent on creating hype and spectacle. It is equal parts chutzpah, money and grotesquerie. The jaw dropping wonder of this film is not that someone is creating bad art and trying to sell it but that critics and buyers believe what they have been told and are willing to hop on the proverbial bandwagon.
And this will bring me full circle to a point that I try to make again and again.... believe your eyes. It is not a bad thing to know the sales history of an artist, but it should not be the sole criteria for judging a piece of art. Being critical about art requires looking at a lot of it.... and making up your own mind. Don't be sucked in by publicity, hype or a gallery telling you that an artist is collectible or an investment. Remember that trend setting collectors, auction houses, artists and galleries have a stake in seeing prices on art sky rocket.
And this comes to my final point- the transaction. Why should and how much should you pay for a piece of art? How do you know if you are paying too much? Artists' prices are set and will be the same regardless of which gallery you purchase from. There are some galleries who have responded to the customers' demand for a discount by pushing the price up, but in general galleries and artists are charging a price commensurate with their skill and demand for the work. I try to get buyers to understand that the value is not necessarily in the object but in an exchange of money which supports an artist whose work you like. Simply put- you are not buying a piece of art you are giving an artist a direct grant and in exchange you get a fabulous object to look at. So the questions to ask yourself are "can I afford this and do I love it X number of dollars worth?" And this is true of any cultural pursuit.... if you value it and you think it has a place in your community then you should support it with the money that allows it to continue. This is true of music, film, books, the visual arts, dance and more.
I had a conversation recently with a long time collector. I called her bluff by pointing out that we both knew that she purchased many pieces to provide the artists with an income. She gave me a wink and pointed out that she only purchased work that she wanted and was willing to live with, but she is well aware of her role in changing the cultural landscape with her purchases. You too can help create the community and world you want by spending money on the quality of work you want to be surrounded by.