Blog 3: “The Price of Everything” & Berger “Ways of Seeing”

Victor 25448 by Jean-Michel Basquiat

In “The Price of Everything” documentary Nathaniel Kahn chronicles the current issue around the art market and art when it comes to artists. At the start of the documentary it is said, “The only way to make sure culture artifacts survive is for them to have commercial value”. Throughout the rest of the documentary many artist like Larry Poons and art sellers speak on their perspectives with the selling of art marked up triple and more times much than it’s original selling value. Also, how older art is valued in comparison to contemporary pieces. The central point of the documentary relates to Berger’s point in “Ways of Seeing” on how much their has been a shift arts value. In addition to this how the social class of the rich is the center of the issue. In “The Price of Everything” art seller, Gavin Brown spoke about the purpose of art changing. Berger had said, “The experience of art, which at first was the experience of ritual, was set apart from the rest of life-precisely to be able to exercise power over it. Later the preserve of art became a social one. It entered the culture of the ruling class” (32). Therefore the main argument is that art changed overtime to become what it is because of the ruling class/rich and wealthy having power of what is valued. For them, the power comes with money that excludes them and the art pieces they are able to purchase out of the hands of others or anyone from the lower class. Due to this, the way artists are looked at and their work has changed. With emphasis being on the more wealthier or in the mainstream an artists is, the more their art has value in the eyes of others.

Another thing that is mentioned is how the older works, that are preserved and sold at art shows have a connection to the rich buying them. Berger mentioned that, “the museums [art] are fully of holy relics which refer to a mystery which excludes them: the mystery of unaccountable wealth. Or, to put this another way, they believe that original masterpieces belong to the preserve (both materially and spiritually) of the rich” (24). For those that are rich them purchasing older works goes hand in hand with their mentality and perspective on wealth and needing to preserve with and the value of those exclusive pieces that they buy. An interesting analogy that was made by Barbara Rose is contemporary art being alike “a luxury brand”. Even though contemporary art pieces are more modern there is a connection made with calling it a luxury brand since luxury thrives off and markets primarily to the upper class that have the power through money to have accessibility to stuff over those from the lower class. Overall money gives the wealthy class the accessibility to purchase those art pieces and preserve who has access to it as well.

I think to a certain extent art should be held ethically accountable when it comes to how artists are getting the treatment that they do. A quote that stood out to me from Larry Poons is “I don’t think I’ll be alive today if I got rich then”. I read his quote as saying that for him he would have lost his place, his own ethics would have been messed up with how wealth when it came to art changed everything. His quote relates to ethics and Berger’s argument with art’s shift and who has the real power of things due to money. It is imperative that not only should art be ethically accountable but those buying the art and those selling it as a markup of artists original work/selling of it. Art and capital should be able to co-mingle to the extent when it comes to artists supporting themselves and creating. Artist should be able to get paid for their work without them getting the short end of the stick because someone is selling their work. Its their work they created and they should benefit from it. However the issue that comes up and is often asked with artist wanting to be paid of their value and their work is, The intention behind their creation(s)? Also with their purpose in being artists? Is the work they are creating for the sole gain of being known and wealthy or to be expressive and paid their work?

I agree with the point that intersects between the film and Berger. I feel as though art has shifted in the intent with creation. Wealth and the upper class is at the center of the art buying and it is looked if art is not being bought it’s not good or has no value at all. In the long run this has an effect on the way art is valued and how that affects other artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat of the past and contemporary ones as well like Njideka Akunyili Crosby. From the documentary it was mentioned that at he told George Condo his work was not being sold and had no idea if it was due to his race or him being an outcast to those around him that were successful artists in a different social class he was in at the time. Since wealth shares a connection to social class and race as well their is a lot of influences in how artists work is treated, consumed and valued. For many artists and those of the past it was a gamble taken to be one and on the outside of the art market with art selling being on the rise.

My position on that commonality speaks to my answers in 2 because of how their is a lack of ethics being taken around art being sold and the way artists are treated as a result. For art sellers they want to sell the art pieces their value is placed on benefiting from a sale(s). For artists they are put in a challenging position with possibly creating art that will sell and sacrificing doing what they want instead. For those in the upper class they are buying into what needs to be preserved when it comes to material in terms of wealth and art. Lastly, the question that can be sparked with knowing how artitst and their work is being effected, is how things can be worked out to their benefit with money/capital being connected to their art? Because as Gavin Brown explained it the two are “Siamese twins”.

“Dot painting” by Larry Poons
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