I was remembering the way Robert Hughes ends the Mona Lisa Curse documentary by pessimistically stating that if the current Art world isn't capable of answering the question of what it's good for, then we should pretty much just wrap it up. Art and the market of Art are not separate worlds anymore, they have melded into a media-thirsty pot, where it is now indispensable that the artist becomes a recognizable brand. And while I do agree that the business of art has opened doors that are going to be difficult to shut, I question if this apparent new direction is really all that different from the one that came before it.
It is true that there are more wealthier younger artists than before, and perhaps most of these artist will not stand the test of time, but I wonder if their motives are significantly different from the ones of artists centuries ago. I know people just love the starving artist stereotype... how Michelangelo had to write letters saying he was broke, how Poussin asked a patron if he would be so kind as to commission a small work because he needed the money, how Sorolla described the difficult times he was going through when he was a young painter, or the ever-popular Van Gogh sob story. We could say that the difference is that the artists used to work for the sake of their art and not for money... maybe so, but that doesn't mean that there were no wealthy artists. Velazquez, Rubens, Van Dyck, even Rembrandt who squandered all his money, were very, very wealthy at some point. In Rembrandt's case, lets not forget that one of his works is not known for its title, but for it's marketing merit- the Hundred Guilder Print. So lets not hurriedly state that the way art was viewed before the 1960's was untouched by the art market.
What does hurt, is that Art is becoming solely about money. The market, which was once an after the fact extension of a work of art, has quickly become an unavoidable conditional in the execution of a work of art. Hirst, which would've been born if Koons and Greed had had a baby, states his view of the Art world with one simple statement - If you were given the chance to own the Mona Lisa or the Mona Lisa's reproduction rights, which would you own? Obviously he would've been banking on the t-shirts immediately.
Hughes, again in the documentary, says an absolutely wonderful line when referring to Hirst's Virgin Mother - "isn't it a miracle what so much money and so little ability can produce (...)" . Just wonderful. But again, I wonder if artists before Hirst were not selfish. I mean, if we believe in l'art pour l'art then there is no other reason but selfish reasons for creating art. Whatever they may be, how ever pure or unpure they may be, they are selfish in the sense that an artist does a work of art only to satisfy himself. Now, this is obviously understanding that a vast majority of works of Art were created under some sort of directing patronage. But regardless of the fact that an artist may have worked within parameters, he or she always found a way to self-express within those limitations. It almost made for a more gallant effort in pursue of selfishness.
So I wonder... so what if those selfish needs involve money? What if those self-serving desires, when coupled with money, produce a wonderful work of art? Should we despise it for its intentions? I guess when it comes down to it, the decision to succumb to the tempting money gods, rests inside every artist. What I can't accept, is an artist who repeatedly betrays his or her creative desire to say what he or she wants to say, by constantly tainting the process of creating art with some pecuniary whim. It's even sadder when the attempt to create a commercial piece fails even at that.
I can understand that a lot of us, if not all of us, will be faced at some point with tough decisions in terms of how much we decide that our economic needs will affect our work. And I'm sure many of us will make work that we're not entirely proud of... the important thing is to remember, at least from time to time, is that Art is selfish... a good selfish if you will.
So what good is egoistic Art? Who the hell knows... Art just poses questions. Sometimes even questions that don't need to be answered. To think that Art is good for something, makes you think there's a preset goal when creating it, and that you're trying to achieve it efficiently. And I'm sorry but Art is not meant to be efficient... it's even at its worse when it's pretentious and pedantic.
So there you go... Art is selfish and useless. And those two things are the reasons I can't live without it.