On being a starving art critic
November 9, 2015 5:19 PM   Subscribe

"So, we all need to remember that except for like 1% of 1% of 1% of everyone in the art world, almost no one in the art world makes money." Jerry Saltz turn his pockets inside out out to reveal that, despite being one of the best known art critics working, he lives paycheck to paycheck. The original facebook post is here.

This stands in stark contrast to the princely sums that unimportant works are selling for at auction. Saltz refers to the the commodification of art that results in its price inflation as "the art world work[ing] by automatic trading programs." Artists don't see a nickel from the resale of their work, either. Makers and critics are divorced from the the financial fruits of their labor.
posted by batbat (30 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Other than vaginas --- that is what I am thinking about almost all day every day.

uh...

At any rate, it has not always been thus. Some painters of bygone years made a lot of money from their works - Monet built a pretty nice house, JW Turner made a good living as a painter. These days, yeah, not so much I guess.

Maybe visual artists should stop selling their works and only sell limited-use licenses to them.
posted by GuyZero at 5:29 PM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


It never occurred to me that the artist or their estate wouldn't get proceeds from a sale at Christie's or Sotheby’s. Wow. That's insane.
posted by sio42 at 5:34 PM on November 9, 2015


Why would they? First sale doctrine and all.
posted by GuyZero at 5:37 PM on November 9, 2015 [18 favorites]


My sister in law makes a fantastic income teaching art. Nobody got rich selling gold at the gold rush, they got rich selling shovels.
posted by Sphinx at 5:45 PM on November 9, 2015 [19 favorites]


But some artists' estates do retain the rights to reproduce the images--Monet's estate is notorious for collecting every nickel on mousepads, coasters, etc.. The Artists Rights Society also monitors licensing for a number of artists.
Saltz is a writer, his wife is a writer--for any number of people, $3000 in checking sounds like heaven.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:46 PM on November 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


The art world isn't minting millionaires any more frequently than it did, but in the visual arts, mid and low level sales are booming on eBay, Etsy, and other outlets. It's never been easier for people to sell their physical artistic output for a decent amount--at least enough to justify continuing making it.
posted by fatbird at 5:46 PM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Other than vaginas --- that is what I am thinking about almost all day every day.

Well, that big Judy Chicago revival is probably just around the corner...
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:15 PM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Maybe visual artists should stop selling their works and only sell limited-use licenses to them.

We do, which is how you actually make a living in art. Doesn't stop the ultra rich from using the original artifacts as investment vehicles in the unregulated art market though.
posted by bradbane at 6:34 PM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I find none of this surprising.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 7:01 PM on November 9, 2015


That "thinking about vaginas" line really turned me off this guy. I know it was meant as a throwaway line- but it made me think about dick- i.e. this guy is a dick. Also- I'm supposed to sympathise with him because he ONLY has 3k in one of his accounts? And because he hasn't planned for retirement? Oh how sad for him!
posted by Philby at 7:18 PM on November 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


I know plenty of artists that are living a decent life.

But what guy zero said, license art. Contracts are Queen in the art world in that they will take anywhere on the chess board you want to go, that is if we play our pieces right. That's where the shrewd work comes in.

Maybe I need a new agent....
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:52 PM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


In France, the EU (eventually), Australia, the Philippines, and California (from 1976-2012) artists can get ~5% of the value when their work is resold:

Droit de Suite (wikipedia):

Droit de suite (French for "right to follow") is a right granted to artists or their heirs, in some jurisdictions, to receive a fee on the resale of their works of art. This should be contrasted with policies such as the American first-sale doctrine, where artists do not have the right to control or profit from subsequent sales.

This is mentioned in the last link of the post.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:31 PM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


mid and low level sales are booming on eBay, Etsy, and other outlets.

Many artists still regard these sorts of sales as irrelevant to their career goals. For a long time, the assumption has been that if you're not showing in serious venues and selling to serious collectors, you're not participating the discourse and not even really making art; you're selling tchotchkes to grandma on the cheap.

(Personally, I would love to sell as many tchotchkes as possible to as many grandmas as possible, but I can't get anybody on Facebook to check out my Etsy store. To date, I've done better working through dealers than through my own feeble sales efforts).
posted by ducky l'orange at 8:35 PM on November 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


My sister in law makes a fantastic income teaching art. Nobody got rich selling gold at the gold rush, they got rich selling shovels.

Can't pay for healthcare by selling paint brushes.
posted by Beholder at 9:39 PM on November 9, 2015


I'm about to have my biggest payday ever, $450 for the sale of multiple pieces in a tattoo Shop in S. Dakota. It's taken me years to get to this point and I don't expect it to happen often. I do know artists who only make art and and live off the proceeds, I however, have a full time job. Art is something I do because I love it. Honestly, I stopped making sculpture because I couldn't store my work for years waiting for a sale.
posted by evilDoug at 9:40 PM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Some context is probably necessary - Jerry Saltz is very well known in the 'contemporary art world scene' (ugh), a complete presence on Facebook/social media, the husband of the NYT art critic Roberta Smith, and known as something of a jester/comic character.

So - this is not just any critic. It's a bad metaphor, but it's like if Stephen Colbert revealed that his finances were horrible.
posted by suedehead at 9:42 PM on November 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Doesn't stop the ultra rich from using the original artifacts as investment vehicles in the unregulated art market though.

Investment or fiat currency? Investment or a way to launder money? Investment or a means to avoid paying tax on one's staggering wealth?

I guess those are all investments of a sort in the end. Still, it's despicable to see an artwork sell for $180 million because a 0.001%er doesn't care to be honest with his money.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:56 PM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


My sister in law makes a fantastic income teaching art. Nobody got rich selling gold at the gold rush, they got rich selling shovels.

And yet with the arts especially, people look at the teachers and say "those who can't do, teach." God forbid you make a living.
posted by teponaztli at 10:22 PM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


C'mon, in this economy, everyone knows the only ways to make real money are to be in finance, skirt laws by "disrupting" something, or sniff the asses of the 0.01%. Get with the program and become a "art investment consultant" to some Russian oligarchs.
posted by benzenedream at 11:13 PM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


My father in law used to restore modern art for the ultra rich, he's retired now. The rich are pretty good at buying stuff but they suck at storing them. He had ton of work restoring super expensive stuff from Duchamps, Haring, Christo that were almost completely ruined.
On the side he was also building stuff for artists that were not technically capable or just lazy, he was making quite a decent living out of it and he made unofficial pieces for him to keep when he liked the stuff he was commissioned to build.
His house is filled with modern art that's fake but technically exactly the same stuff as what's exposed in museums or sold in fancy galleries.
posted by SageLeVoid at 3:24 AM on November 10, 2015 [16 favorites]


I really enjoy Jerry Saltz's work (Saltz on "Huck and Jim," Saltz on George W. Bush's first discovered work). I would never have guessed this.
posted by sallybrown at 4:44 AM on November 10, 2015


I really hope laws pass where a living artist gets 5% of resale... Such a small gesture.
posted by Theta States at 6:37 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


(Personally, I would love to sell as many tchotchkes as possible to as many grandmas as possible, but I can't get anybody on Facebook to check out my Etsy store. To date, I've done better working through dealers than through my own feeble sales efforts).

Can we please see your etsy store?
posted by Theta States at 6:41 AM on November 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


He had ton of work restoring super expensive stuff from Duchamps, Haring, Christo that were almost completely ruined.

I like the idea of SageLeVoid's father-in-law carefully turning a giant pink umbrella right side out.
posted by roger ackroyd at 7:35 AM on November 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


Dammit, Saltz, I'm trying to keep myself motivated to keep grinding away through the burnout at my art history grad program. This isn't helping.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 7:58 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


On the side he was also building stuff for artists that were not technically capable or just lazy, he was making quite a decent living out of it and he made unofficial pieces for him to keep when he liked the stuff he was commissioned to build.
His house is filled with modern art that's fake but technically exactly the same stuff as what's exposed in museums or sold in fancy galleries.


There's a great conversation to be had about how exactly those pieces are 'fake.' They're manufactured in the manner, on behalf of the same 'artist,' literally the only difference is the 'seal of approval.'

It's really interesting (and odd) that the signature is what really holds the value, and that there's almost nothing of worth in the artwork itself besides that.

Weird.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:59 AM on November 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


"Prada?"
posted by ducky l'orange at 9:19 AM on November 10, 2015


There was another similar post recently from Noah Bradley, an artist doing illustration work for the Hobby Game industry (think Magic the Gathering, Fantasy Flight Games, etc) complaining about the low rates he gets paid. In an accompanying discussion (reddit) I read the following statement, which I would apply here: "Nobody owes artists a living."
posted by KMB at 10:24 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Investment or fiat currency? Investment or a way to launder money? Investment or a means to avoid paying tax on one's staggering wealth?

I guess those are all investments of a sort in the end. Still, it's despicable to see an artwork sell for $180 million because a 0.001%er doesn't care to be honest with his money.


I can't find the article (it may have been an old mefi post) but yeah, all of the above. There is a lot of shady stuff going on in the art markets driven by the 1% playing pump-and-dump and shell games that would be illegal if they were publicly traded commodities, but are perfectly ok if the investment vehicle is a piece of art being sold by an opaque auction house.

It's really interesting (and odd) that the signature is what really holds the value, and that there's almost nothing of worth in the artwork itself besides that.

Well we used to have a saying in art school, ideas are a dime a dozen it's the execution that matters and that execution is singular to the artist (even if they had their studio assistants do the actual work or whatever). Same reason no one cares if "my kid could do that". But really what matters in this context of NEW RECORD SET AT AUCTION!!! is the scarcity. See also the Andy Warhol Foundation.
posted by bradbane at 11:56 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also- I'm supposed to sympathise with him because he ONLY has 3k in one of his accounts? And because he hasn't planned for retirement? Oh how sad for him!

This is either very deftly crafted sarcasm or startling callousness. I'm not yet 64, like Saltz, but I'm already anxious about how infrequently my checking/savings balance is above $3,000 (and I'm in STEM, not the arts, which could use its own we don't all-make-what-surgeons-make kind of article). I may have grown up where $3,000 is a mint, but for the last fifteen years I've worked and lived in cities where that covers about two months' rent for me, my partner, and three kids. I don't expect that Saltz' interest in communicating this information is to provoke sadness. It seems clear that this is a statement on the reality of how one lives when one does what one loves in the art world.

Or, in his words, "This isn't a complaint. Just a fact. And … I AM LUCKY and incredibly privileged."
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:59 AM on November 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


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