Why Are Artists Poor? The Exceptional Economy of the Arts

By Hans Abbing | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Sacred Art Who Has the Power to Define Art?

Feeling Uncomfortable About Art

Alex, who is both artist and economist, lives in a house with six adults and
two children. They share a living room and eat dinner together. The other
adults have above average educations and work in technical professions.
Alex noticed that at home he usually behaves like an economist rather than
an artist. That way they all speak the same language. When he begins to
behave like an artist, his housemates feel less comfortable.

Once a week Alex picks little Judith, one of the children in the house, up
from school and they spend the afternoon together. Sometimes they visit
galleries or museums. Judith is four and still enjoys it. The other day her fa
ther, Eddy, confided to Alex that he is pleased that Alex is bringing some
cultural education into Judith's life. She really can't expect to receive much
cultural education from her parents, Eddy added apologetically.


Cultural Superiority versus Inferiority

Alex finds it hard to characterize his own art. People knowledgeable about
art usually characterize his artwork as so-called contemporary or avant-
garde. They add that his art reveals aspects of outsider art or `art brut'. 1
Alex thinks that this puts him in a no-man's-land where his work is
respected in both avant-garde art and traditional circles. He exhibits in both
areas. However, Alex soon discovered that these two areas in the arts do
not carry the same weight in the art world.

Each year Alex exhibits his pastel drawings of `heads' — as he calls them — in
an annual portrait show. The portrait painters who exhibit in this show have
one thing in common: they are not ashamed to reveal their traditional
schooling. One day during the course of the show, Alex had to be an atten
dant. He had plenty of time to watch people. From earlier experience he
already knew that the longer visitors remain in front of a particular artist's
work the higher their appreciation of the work. Most of the people, how
ever, pass right by his work without stopping, as if there's nothing to see.
When he confronts them later, they usually apologize, even though they do
not realize he is the artist. They usually say something like: “I suppose it is

-17-

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