The Currency of Art
I want to let out my personal feeling about the art world these days. I believe the stakeholders around art and artists are severely broken. What I mean by stakeholders are critiques, writers, professors (art and art history), galleries, auctions, and museums. I sincerely believe they have no idea what is happening to art today, and artists and their works are suffering from that lack of insight. One of the biggest sufferings is that artists are forced to be philosophers.
Today, artists are required to have a unique type of talent. They have to make something, but they do not necessarily have to be skillful. You can make a hyperrealistic painting, or simply paint a dot on a canvas. They have to be creative, but they do not have to be unique. They can create a new concept of art like Picasso make Cubist paintings, but they can also bring something pre-made and claim as art like Duchamp.
However, no matter how they make art, artists are forced to build a complex web of philosophy around their works. It is because humans have to find reasons for anything they believe is significant. Why did World War 2 happen? Why do humans exist? Why am I so poor? In this case, people are trying to find out… “Why is this art so expensive?!” And people start investigating an artist who seemed to have caused it. But in reality, the buyer and the mediators (gallery, auction, etc) are the true causes, not the artists. Then why do artists have to make excuses for their works? Let’s blame it directly on the people who made that price.
I believe the currency of art is the shock, not money. The price of art depends on how much whoever that needs the shock is willing and able to pay for it. What do I mean by the shock? Shock is the potion of change. It can be either mild or strong, and it turns people more malleable to change. You can be awed by the scale of Sagrada Familia, and that’s a shock. You can shed tears in front of Rothko’s painting, and that’s a shock. You can laugh at Banksy’s graffiti, and that’s a shock. You can get angry at the Crypto Punk NFT series for its simplicity, and that’s a shock. Art creates shock, and people could use this element in many useful ways.
Artists are those who grope in darkness and find the new shock. During the stone age, it was a charcoal-drawn figure of an ox on the cave wall. In ancient Greece, it was a marble-carved statue. During Renaissance, it was painting that used perspective techniques. As is, the element that shocks people constantly change, and artists find and create a new narrative.
The process of finding the new narrative is very difficult and confusing because it depends on many unsure aspects. Factors like landscape, war, prosperity, poverty, family, and technology seed countless possibilities in our minds we don’t know by what we will be moved by. Artists who luckily find that new narrative are probably not the expert in explaining why people like that art. They don’t know why people feel the “experience” for minimalism, neo-classicism, impressionism, etc. How can they do that? It is not their expertise. Still, at art school’s classes, artist Q&A, and exhibition catalog, we ask artists for explanations and answers. Let’s stop doing that.
We have to ask those questions straight to those who use the art. Why did you select minimalism art for the hotel lobby interior? Why did you pay so much for this NFT? Why is this artist worth being displayed at a museum? Those questions are for those who want to use that art, not artists.