HOW THE ART WORLD KILLED ME
Article by Jonathan Greene
There was a time when my obsession with art consumed me. To the point where it was all that I thought about. I would see paintings in my dreams. I would stare at artist books for hours. I would talk about the craft with anyone who would listen. But it didn’t last. Eventually, I lost my appreciation of art.
With its perfect white walls and wine-infused opening receptions, I got caught up in it. I was a part of it. Everyone who is involved in the Art World thinks they are somebody. It’s only later that I realized I wasn’t. And never should have been. Because we, as gallerists or curators, are just conduits for the artists and their imagination.
But the Art World makes a spectacle of the participatory nature of its being. Artists need galleries to show their work. Galleries need art fairs to further showcase that same work to a wider audience. And the Art World, as a whole, takes photos of it and revels in its circular elegance.
Then the Art World kills you.
// Art as a Commodity
I remember the first time someone asked me, in my gallery, what a particular painting would be worth in five years. I laughed. And then I’m sure I gave some unguaranteed soliloquy about the upward trajectory of this particular emerging artist in order to justify the purchase price. And I truly believed what I said. But I was laughing because art as a commodity is meaningless.
It’s priceless and valueless at the same time. A subjective anomaly based on no mutually agreeable intrinsic factors. What you see in one painting could be diametrically opposed to what I see. Your reaction to the same painting we are both looking at will always be viscerally adjusted. Because art is an aesthetic feedback loop that differs from person to person.
But somehow it’s a commodity. One that’s value is based on the subjective representations of high-end gallerists and auction houses. And of course, the records that so bind the auction prices to the work. It is commoditized by a system and structure that hides behind a glass wall. The general public is both uninterested and uninvolved. And so it remains.
// Art Appreciation
It seems unlikely that something I once appreciated so much could just fall off my personal radar. That one day I was spending hours in a museum and the next day, it was all dead to me. Or maybe I was dead to the Art World because I ceased my participation in the carnival.
I used to gaze wide-eyed, inspecting the brush strokes of a Syd Solomon painting. I used to ponder the mindset and process of Jackson Pollock. I used to try desperately to understand the demons that ailed Francesca Woodman. And then one day I stopped. And it all remains, without me.
I lost my appreciation for art because the Art World killed me. It killed me with its elitism. It killed me with its hypocrisy. But just prior to the final blow, I was still a participant. One providing Kevorkian-like assistance to viewers who just wanted it to be easier. But we always made it harder. Because the harder it is to understand, the more valuable it seems to be.
// The Death of Art in My Soul
It was just too much for me. My life became a constant curatorial experiment. I was always searching for something no one else could find. And then when I found it, someone bigger would just come in and usurp me. Because that’s how the Art World functions. It cannibalizes itself by stealing artists from one another under the guise of helping that same artist.
And it’s not the artist’s fault. They toil away, most of them in complete anonymity, for years just trying to get a nod from someone important. But if you know enough artists you will come to find out that when the mainstream importance comes from the work and the Art World takes over, the production becomes less enjoyable. Because the Art World kills them too.
It can bring an artist to the top of the rainbow, only to let them slide off into where the pot of gold used to be when a review doesn’t corroborate what they originally saw in the work. You are someone to the onlookers and aficionados one day and no one to them the next. Until you are again. And then you are not.
Art died in my soul because I let it. I could no longer appreciate it as I once did. Because I got too close.
// Art and Artists
It’s not the stark white walls of galleries that should be revered for their minimalism and attention to detail. It’s not the million dollar museums clamoring for your annual membership that should be crowned as the champion of the arts. It’s not the auction houses who earn great sums for the collectors of art that should be granted the utmost respect.
It’s the artists you don’t know. It’s the painting you see before it’s a commodity. It’s the drawing that moves you, that viscerally takes a hold of you and refuses to let you go. It’s not the sculpture that gets moved from collector to collector just to sit in a storage unit, a fourth home or on loan to a museum for eternity.
It’s the object you can still appreciate. The kind that hasn’t been corrupted by capitalism and mainstream semantics. It’s the piece you must have on your wall. The art that only has a value to you. The kind that feeds your soul. And that’s how I lost my appreciation of art. Because I allowed all the periphery to redirect my view of it. And then I was dead, to art. Because the Art World killed me. Or maybe I just did it to myself.
Jonathan Greene was a small participant in the Art World. He owned Greene Contemporary, which moved from Sarasota, Florida to the Lower East Side of New York City in 2008. In that time he participated in nine art fairs. He worked as a Gallery Manager at Nicholas Robinson Gallery in New York City and as Director of Business Development at Collectrium. His last job in the Art World was as Director of Exhibitions at the Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton, New Jersey in 2012. He also taught Exhibition Design, Art & Law and The Business of Art at Montclair State University as an adjunct through 2014. Since then, his appreciation for art has been dead.
Photo by Una Laurencic from Pexels