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In the last few decades, art has been perceived, and is to many, an elitist endeavor.  The artist does work for money after all.  With the rise in value for some paintings in the hundreds of millions, it is no wonder many collectors buy with the goal of increasing their wealth.  Museums need visitors, so they follow the trend as well, buying and displaying such works as Munch’s the Scream, purchased at auction for nearly $120 million.  The Mona Lisa, for example, brings about 6 million viewers to the Louvre every year.  Its value based on this alone puts it in the $100s of millions if not billions.  These are commodities, marketing icons.  One might ask one’s self, is that so bad, exposing millions to important works of art?

AUCTION-edvard munch

Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” sells for $119.9 million at Sotheby’s in 2012

Marketing Creates the Illusion of Value

The effect is not limited to museums.  Contemporary works sell for millions regularly at auction houses and galleries.  Many of these works are important, many of questionable long term worth.  The auction house and gallery have a vested interest in promoting and maintaining these upward prices.  The buyer expects increasing returns, critics and experts influence and perpetuate these expectations.  A very small range of works continue to rise to stratospheric levels while tens of thousands of artists languish in obscurity.  Fair?  Life isn’t fair, right.  Play the game or don’t cry about it passing you by.


“Interchange” by Willem de Kooning sold to Kenneth C. Griffin for $300 million in 2015

What is Art For

But step back and remind yourself of the true purpose of art, its intrinsic value.  Art is created to communicate ideas, concepts and emotion.  When it succeeds it is good, when it touches your soul, it is great.  Is a $100 million work touching some one’s soul?  Sometimes, but often not.  The price has nothing to do with its connection to the viewer.  Its measure as a commodity makes it inaccessible, available only to those who can afford to be touched.  Do these wealthy few have a special or unique type of soul that money has given them?  Hardly.

Paul_Cézanne the card players

“The Card Players” by Cezanne sold to the State of Qatar for between $250 and $300 million in 2011

Can You Put a Price on Your Soul

Our value driven culture has pushed aside so many potential art enthusiasts, given them them the illusion that if they can’t afford it, they can’t appreciate it.  It has created an elitist view of art in general, that somehow the wealthiest have some kind of special ability or gift that you do not posses.

gold toilet by Maurizio Cattelan

Working Gold Toilet by Maurizio Cattalan in the Gugenheim Museum bathroom in 2016 valued at $2 to $3 million

A King’s Ransom for a Painting

This is hardly a new concept.  Kings, noblemen and the religious institutions paid great artists to create works for their palaces and churches for centuries.  The 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries made art far more accessible to more people.  Prints, portfolios, illustrated books and drawings were “affordable” for many.  We are going backwards in a way, returning to the times of kings teaching us that art is out of reach because we can’t afford it.


“le Massacre des innocents” by Peter Paul Rubens sold at Sotheby’s London in 2002 for $76.7 million

But It’s all a Lie

Art is a uniquely human experience available to all.   You can go to many museums for free or a modest cost and be touched by great works.  You can visit galleries and artist studios to see unknown masterpieces.  You can even buy them if you choose.  But money is not the measure of art’s worth, your experience is.  Ignore the money circus and search for yourself, decide for yourself what is great art.  It takes education, experience and effort.  The rewards are manifold.  You feed that infinite spark inside you called the soul, you are richer for the experience, more human, more you.  Art is important to all of us.

Goya Grande Hazana con Muertos

Goya’s “Grande hanzaña con muertos” sold at auction for $500

Goethe said in his beautiful way:

Hatred is something peculiar. You will always find it strongest and most violent where there is the lowest degree of culture.