This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY and Art Fag City. Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
I've been doing some research lately concerning the family backgrounds of artists who have received a steady flow of mainstream success over the last decade. I have found that many of the artists praised by the mainstream art world within the last decade have family connections that link them to celebrities and other people of influence. Due to my research I'm forced to ask -- is mainstream success within the art world more about who you know than about the art itself? Is it more about the family you were born into? I know I'm not the first person to ask these questions nor will I be the last. In fact, I have found examples of these questions being raised by art writers -- and the general public -- off and on throughout the last 60 years. With movements like Occupy Museums in full force -- people questioning how much big money and big influence has shaped our culture -- I'm certain that some individuals will dig further into the core of this matter. I'm not going to point any fingers... yet -- but I will offer some thoughts.
I want to be clear on a few things before I go any further -- I am in no way suggesting with this article that people born into wealth can't make fantastic artwork. In addition to that, I'm not saying that it is wrong for friends and family to purchase art from a loved one -- but in the situations that I have been exploring it does go back to the question... is mainstream success within the art world more about who you know than about the art itself? Again, at this time I'm not going to call anyone out. Consider this an exploration of the topic.
The question, "is mainstream success within the art world more about who you know, or the family you were born into, than about the art itself?", deserves to be explored -- especially within the context of our current cultural climate. After all, the artists I've looked into for this research appear to have sprang up out of nowhere. They also have something else in common in that they all have direct family or friendship connections with celebrities or extremely successful business people -- connections they had prior to becoming rising art stars. It is as if one day they did not exist on the art worlds radar and the next they are exhibiting at prestigious spaces such as Saatchi Gallery or the Whitney Museum of American Art -- with prices ranging from $20,000 to well over $100,000. Is it any wonder why some culture critics call the mainstream art market a "playground for the rich"? Think about it.
If the mainstream art world/market is a "playground for the rich" -- meaning that mainstream art world/market success is largely based on who you know from within that wealthy percentage -- I would think, based on some of the research that I've done, that it is also a "playground" for their close friends and family who happen to be artists. After all, I'm finding that some of the most successful artists within the mainstream art world at this time -- earning high prices at high profile art galleries and auction houses -- are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of oil tycoons, Hollywood stars and other people of influence. Several have direct connections with what you might call 'old wealth'.
With the above in mind you must ask -- are their stories of the boot-strap variety -- a rolling up of the sleeves... success gained by their artistic prowess and dedication? Or were their careers crafted by the wealthy connections they had prior to gaining fame in art -- was that fame 'cultivated'? Did those connections 'buy' them a place within the context of art history as documented by art critics and art historians? All questions should be considered. Most of the artists I'm thinking about can be 'discovered' easily if you follow the mainstream art market... specifically that of New York City, London and other cultural hubs of the world. You might consider doing some research yourself on a snowy day.
Again, I'm not going to point out specific artists (or maybe I have already if you read between the lines -- criticism can spring out of nowhere as well.). That said, what concerns me about this situation from a cultural standpoint is that these individuals have had accomplishments that have taken other artists -- with humble beginnings and no prior influential connections -- decades to achieve. They did it with little to no following... and in some cases, with little to no background in creating art. One day they decided to be an artist -- and the next they are on a path to becoming the next 'Great'... hailed by the movers and shakers of the mainstream art world. The merit for their creative endeavors is intertwined with their relationship backgrounds -- relationships that happen to be very influential from a financial standpoint. Could those connections be why they have risen so quickly? If so, what does that say for art? What does that say for our culture? These questions are worth exploring.
In closing, the individuals I'm thinking about have received press for their celebrity and family connections as much as they have for their artwork -- yet they are considered the 'stars' of the United States art scene... championed by influential art museums and high profile art critics. The connection of wealth in regard to their success is not hard to make -- would they have been so successful had they not had those connections prior to taking on the world of art? The question proposed by this article -- "is mainstream success within the art world really about who you know, or the family you were born into, than about the art itself?" -- lingers on.
Take care, Stay true,