Design Drama

documenting the delicate dance of design

Artistic Snobbery July 10, 2008

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.


10 Responses to “Artistic Snobbery”

  1. Chris Wage Says:

    There’s a great character in this miranda july movie “Me and You and Everyone We Know” who epitomizes that element of the art world.. It’s fairly hilarious — I recommend the movie for that alone..

  2. missbethd Says:

    Thanks Chris… I’ve been in a quandry as to what to place in the netflix queue… I’ve seen everything, or so it seemed…

  3. Aletha Says:

    Snobbery is sadly a fact of life, but whether the art world admits one psychologically or not (the physical doors are usually open since this is a museum phenomenon), the art itself admits whomever is pleased by it. If you understand the image, then in some sense it belongs to you — to your spirit — and regarding that more significant kind of ownership the museums and the curators hold no sway.

  4. missbethd Says:

    Very valid points, Althea, (and love your blog!) but here’s the thing — with the snobs of the art world denying the inclusion of this painting aren’t they cheating us, the viewer?

    Imagine if you will that this is a FOR REAL Pollock painting. By the snobbery that exists, aren’t we being cheated by it not being validated as authentic? If it continues to sit in Ms Horton’s private collection, aren’t we all missing something?

  5. bradley Says:

    I appreciate your contempt for the effete snobbery of the art aristocracry. Luckily for us, art, like love, does find a way, in spite of the the profanity of the well-heeled. But, there are those “monied” persons who have promoted and sustained artist and their art through generous commissions and patronship respectively. So, we take the good with the bad. I think you’ll like this:

    Also, do you suppose it’s the art aristocracy keeping my fine, pornographic stick figure droorings under its boot heel?

  6. missbethd Says:

    Yes, Bradley, I think the art aristocracy has an axe to grind with you and your pornographic stick figures drawn on Beyond The Edge cocktail napkins. I say “Screw the man” and take the Basquit route… adopt a clever moniker, like AscotMan, and scrawl them everywhere with a can of spray paint!

  7. bradley Says:

    I liked the “Reject False Idols” campaign. But I will take AscotMan under consideration. Be forwarned: you might get spray painted one late night at AC.

  8. missbethd Says:

    Be forwarned: you might get spray painted one late night at AC.

    Oh, I fear not, as I don’t cross the river that often…

  9. bradley Says:

    I’ll be ready.

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