I watched this documentary the other night, “Who the *$&# is Jackson Pollock?”
It’s the story of a retired female long-haul truck driver, Terri Horton. She purchased a painting for $5 at the local thrift store for a friend. The friend ended up hating the painting (and it wouldn’t fit through the door of her trailer), so Ms Horton ended up keeping it — eventually a friend saw it and told her “wow, that looks like something by Jackson Pollock” — which led Ms. Horton on a quest to get the painting authenticated.
It’s a really entertaining story and Ms Horton is a character with a tenacious drive to get someone in the art world to take her seriously. I won’t spoil the story, but in her endeavor, she came upon some real jerks — specifically the guy who used to run the MOMA, Thomas Hoving.
Herein lies the issue I have with the film — well, not specifically the film, but the powers that be in the art world.
(A) Most artists are not the eat cheese and drink wine types. They aren’t a part of the monied society people. This is where the dichotomy meets… the starving artists sells a painting to the monied folk, where the price is driven up even higher. The commodity the artist sold is now the very thing that separates him/her from the establishment. Sure, some artists become rock stars and very wealthy, but those are very few and far between. For example, Van Gogh died penniless whereas his art continues to set new records with each sale.
(B) The treatment of this woman with the possible Pollock painting made me sad. Few people took her seriously because she didn’t travel in the circles of the artistic establishment. If this were Steve Wynn, Dennis Hopper or Elton John – serious celebrity art collectors – the process would have become much more seamless and I imagine the painting would be hailed as a new discovery of a lost Pollock work. Snobbery is at the heart of this issue… and that infuriates me.
Visual art is like music – it cuts across socio-economic divides. But unlike music, there is a divide that is established by the monied faction of people who maintain that the art world should contain a void to keep the unwashed masses from attaining certain works. I have always found and continue to find that attitude unsettling.
For the art world to open it’s doors to all people – which isn’t going to happen – would be a win win for everyone. Artists would enjoy much more publicity and the public would be rewarded with an enriching experience. But sadly, there will always be the gatekeepers – like the ticket scalpers who drive up concert ticket prices that keep the die-hard fans away — and that’s where the art world is cutting it’s own ear off to spite it’s head.