There's No Money Anywhere


Studio in Gowanus

My former studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn.

About a month ago I opened myself up for Facebook chat and within moments good old EAG started typing to me. His first words: "hey ex-blogger". If I was an ex-blogger a month ago I don't what that makes me now. A forgotten ex-blogger, I suppose.

But I don't consider my blog closed. I just haven't been involved with anything art-related in a while. I closed down my studio in Brooklyn at the end of June, which took some time, and since then I've been busy with summer vacation type things, like going to Hershey Park and riding the log flume. Every so often I run down my newsfeed's list of art blogs and simply cannot bring myself to care about any of it. Paddy et al are still posting almost minute-by-minute reports on Work of Art, so that's well covered, which is good because I watched about seven minutes of it before wishing I could obliterate all of mankind with the power of my mind. I won't be watching any more.

In lieu of writing anything about actual art, though, let me write about some things I've been thinking about the art world, just to reactivate the blog so all seventeen of my regular readers will remember I'm alive.

One of the reasons I had a studio in Brooklyn for two years was to have studio visits. It was my idea that people would be more likely to visit me in Brooklyn than at my home in New Jersey. Not just people -- I mean art dealers. Because although in pure linear distance my house is closer to mid-Manhattan than Coney Island, in travelling distance it's a lot farther, and New Yorkers would always rather go to Brooklyn than New Jersey. So I thought, if I met a dealer and wanted to ask them to visit my studio, they'd be more likely to do so if I were in Gowanus than in suburban Bergen County.

The reality, however, was that the dealers I invited would not only not visit my studio, they wouldn't even acknowledge that I'd invited them. My studio might as well have been on Mars.

I had better luck getting other artists to visit but even then I wasn't looking to install a revolving door or anything. I had a couple of people come by. And each time was really great, I don't want to knock it -- I got a lot out of those visits and enjoyed the time we spent together. But it didn't happen often.

Coincidentally about when I was shutting down the studio I also returned to Facebook and that put me in regular contact with a number of people I hadn't been in touch with much, and so I decided, as one last hurrah, to invite Loren Munk to visit my studio. I expected he'd come by for a few minutes on his way to somewhere else, because he strikes me as a busy guy. Instead Loren stayed for a couple of hours and looked at a lot of my recent work and talked about it in some depth. It was very generous of him and really worthwhile. It made me a little sorry that I was moving out, actually.

On his way out Loren said a few things that really turned my head around. He gave me a little epiphany, which was followed a while later by another little epiphany. As I walked Loren down to his bike I thanked him for the visit and complained about how I couldn't get any dealers out to my studio. He told me not to worry about it, basically, because after all, there's the Internet. I replied that the Internet was wonderful in a lot of ways, but the big problem is there's no money on it. Loren answered me thusly: "There's no money anywhere."

Which I knew. In fact I'd written about this before, how we like to think that New York art galleries are making money and selling art but it's all an illusion. Loren added more anecdotal evidence to that, telling me how he'd spoken to an art dealer about the most recent round of art fairs and the dealer said they'd had a good year -- the gallery had made back half of what they spent on attending the fair, whereas the previous year it had been a total loss. Loren went on to say the same kinds of things I've said before: Many art galleries are supported by external means, like day jobs and working spouses and trust funds. Just like artists are. Dealers aren't making money from their profession any more than artists.

Even though Loren didn't say anything new to me, somehow the juxtaposition of art and the Internet struck me for the first time. I realized I'd been dismissing the Internet in relation to art because there's no money on the Internet. Except if there's no money in the galleries, either, what's the difference? It seems to me that artists are looking at the galleries as something of a fallback position: Here I am on the World Wide Web, I've got a domain name and price tags on my paintings, I post on eBay or Etsy or wherever, I've got viewers but I'm not making any money. So I need to break into the New York City art world! That's where the money is! Except it's not.

Obviously some few people are selling art. A small number of artists do break through and reach a point where they're supporting themselves through the sale of art. But very, very few. As Loren was speaking I was thinking of the artists I've known who'd grabbed the brass ring, who'd had a solo show in a Chelsea gallery -- only to fail to sell anything, only to go back to their day jobs. Although they didn't have to go back: They'd never left their day jobs. All those artists, all those dealers, and let's not forget all those critics, all of them teaching, speaking, writing books about art dealing, doing graphic design, illustration, computer programming, computer network administration, art handling, furniture restoration, waitressing, all those day jobs, everyone standing in as their own patron, or leaning on someone else.

I find this strangely liberating. If no one anywhere is making money from art, then it doesn't matter if I'm not making money from art. The goal has moved. There's no point in chasing after gallery representation any more than it's worth playing the state lottery. And as a mathematician once said about the lottery, yes, someone will win, but that someone isn't you. If you're looking to a gallery to provide a salary you might just as well start calling yourself a professional state lottery player or maybe a natural lightning attractor.

I'm still unsure of where this revelation leaves me. I have no idea how it will affect what I do or how I do it. But I'm still absorbing it. I'll get back to you.

The second epiphany came some time after the first. I was mulling over the lack of money in the art world, thinking through its implications, when I realized this: It had long mystified me how few people are really willing to say negative things about the art they see, and how angry people get when someone does. But if there's no money to be had, this makes perfect sense. Because the currency of the art world is good will. No artists are selling much, no dealers are making much, and everyone has a day job, so all they're really getting out of the art world is a warm fuzzy feeling of belonging. And no one wants to ruin it with a negative word. My negativity is like a turd in their punch bowl.

Thinking about this a bit more, it does sort of call into question these reviews I write. My reviews are predicated on the assumption that art is something of a professional enterprise, that people are trying to display that which is good in the hopes that someone will buy it. Removing the capitalist underpinnings, however, changes everything. Now what we have is people who like to belong to a club and are willing to sacrifice time, effort and money to do so. It doesn't matter if the art is good or not -- what matters is that making something and calling it art, or taking art and putting it in a room for which you pay the rent, gets you membership in the club. No wonder everyone gets so mad when I come in and tell them their art stinks -- that's like telling a golfer his pants are ugly. Sure they are, but it's beside the point. All I'm doing is showing myself to be rude and out of touch.

Again, I'm not sure what this means for me. I'm still thinking about it. At the moment my plan is to return to the art world in September when the new art season begins. Maybe in August sometime I'll finish my imaginary gallery. And otherwise I'll be setting up my home studio. Let me know if you want to visit.


As one of those regular readers (I am sure there are more than 17), it is good to know you're still around. Some people get so fused with their blogs in the perception of others, that we tend to jump to the conclusion that they are doing nothing in their lives if they do not post for an extended period.

I find your reflections on the discovery that there is no money anywhere in the art world, interesting, especially as regards that it may somewhat pull the rug out from the negativity of your reviews. I find that you generally go after the "high and mighty" of art galleries and artists, those who you feel have not worked hard enough or applied their talent diligently enough to really merit the acclaim they get. I would frankly be surprised if you really dissed a humble hard working artist who produces work of little interest to you. I remember a memorable piece you did on front yard art, those icons of americana like, say, statues of Paul Bunyons done with monkey wrenches and suchlike, and how you had a soft spot in your heart for that kind of thing. I cannot imagine you really spewing venom on anyone like that. Why? Because there is no pretense there, and it is precisely when pretentiousness is not backed by talent and work by certain types in the art world that you tend to get riled up.

So I can see why learning that some of the high and mighty are not doing very well, are not flying so high or flexing much might would make you reconsider (though not necessarily change) certain attitudes. I will stay tuned for developments. Whichever road you take is the right one if you honestly feel it to be so and write about it with your usual flair and humor. Obviously it is up to you, and I would not say you should be less negative, but if you do decide to tone down your negativity, I would dare encourage you to start with yourself. For all of the venom you vent on others, I always get the sense that you leave the harshest critique for yourself. In part this makes your attacks on others much less offensive, but it probably takes a toll on you. So be kind to yourself. You have an excellent blog, irrespective of whatever number of readers you may have. And as for your art work, perhaps getting into art galleries is no longer the litmus test or gold standard for artistic worth or for the artist's satisfaction. I read some excellent blogs by poets and writers who fret and obsess over whether or not they will be published. Sure, being published would be great, but they seem oblivious to the fact that, in some cases, they write their stuff on blogs that have thousands of appreciative readers, more, in fact, than certain small-scale publishers. I ask them sometimes, so what's the difference between being published by a small publishing house and being read on your own blog with 5000 followers? Money?

Well, I am babbling and rambling, but I wanted to share these idle thoughts on your post, not meant to lead up to any conclusion. Sorry if I sound preachy.

Very interesting... and a little encouraging, in a strange way. I can't say I do much more than dabble in painting (or any other kind of art or craft I mess with), but I've always held myself back from trying more - mainly because I figure that it's too late to learn enough to make anything worth selling, and that to paint or make art just for the fun of it is pretentious and self-serving. If it doesn't give someone what they want, or give me a tangible benefit, it just seemed like - for want of a better word - wankery.

But if you're right, if there's really no money anywhere even for the real talented pros, and if even those who DO make money don't necessarily earn it through talent but instead through "networking" or hype... why not try to learn anyway, I guess? If I remove the "must reap tangible rewards" idea from the equation, and just paint because it's internally rewarding to make something, to learn new techniques, and to put my mind in the unique and pleasant brainspace it inhabits while I am Creating Things... then I'd lose some of the pressure and guilt. Of which there is a lot.

I always feel like I ought to be ashamed of wasting time stroking my own ego when I could have been doing REAL things - and that, if I have the gall to dare being creative again, it had damn well better be GOOD and give me some visible benefit, to get myself back "in the black." I lose sight of anything I've learned or enjoyed about the process, just because the finished product isn't up to snuff, couldn't be sold or made worth anything, and shouldn't even be shown to anybody else. By the time I dare to try anything again, I'm rusty enough that I've lost those techniques or insights anyway.

I dunno, I'm probably still just a hack anyway, and won't ever be An Artist of any stripe. But it's a little encouraging to think that it's not all about the money or the publicity or other "end goals" like that, but just about what you do and how well you do it, for its own sake. Or something.

I have to take SEVERE exception to your remarks, Chris. I happen to think that chasing after a NYS lottery ticket is slightly above in value than chasing after a gallery.

Boy do I sound stupid. I guess this makes me feel better about the Internet.

There is money for some few -many are called few are chosen right? Who said money has taste though

I agree that grabbing for cash is bad on several levels- the lottery level, where art is a tax on the poor, the disiveness (which gallerists can use to create cachet or ignore as "sour grapes" or irrelevant to the art) as well as the level where the masters tools can't dismantle
The masters house- that is, subversion doesn't work unless the object of subversion is available to be subverted-you can't drink from a glass and eat it too.

Jerry saltz has capitulated
To the side of community- he is not wrong- but there is another uncompromising side- one eageageag points to but also ridicules-the
side that says there are winners and losers, that people do starve to
death trying to win something and that mediocrity is not only not ok, it is evil. Now I don't think it actually takes as much work to be an artist as a cyclist or a physicist- but it can, and it should.

heywhooooa? gimmie sum'n ta read please. I'm get'n a wittle impayshunt wiff you.


So basically the life of an artist is harder than it looks to be?

But there is money everywhere. Between all the "bailouts" there's over a trillion dollars of new money floating around.

If I get you correctly, you had your epiphany about there being no money for art, and then proceeded to shut your studio down and take up log fluming.

Sounds like you were just looking for an excuse to give up.

I might be wrong as I haven't indulged myself with your entire blog. But as a painter pouring more money into my studio and practice than many an addict dumps into her own habit of choice, I made a deal with myself a while ago that I wouldn't be coming up with excuses. And as I've known enough successful artists, I understand there's as much money in the world as there ever was, for artists.

I do appreciate that you express yourself in your blog. But perhaps dealers didn't visit your studio because they just didn't take a liking to you, or to your work. Perhaps, if you want to make some bucks through them, you should work on your delivery, or your work.

Or, perhaps, like many other so-called artists, those tedious, tragic flaneurs, you just cant be taught any new tricks?

Anyway, good luck. And maybe you rediscover something worthwhile about your art.

They are all better looking than you are fatso.

I was just joking around Chris. Fuck them all.

Yes although I torture myself and visit the popular art blogs every once in a great while, I swore off leaving comments on any of them. Ed is a successful art blogger. If he doesn't do well financially as a gallery owner and he is getting by through use of an alternate cash supply he should fess up and tell his devoted readership how he manages to survive. But then again, I no longer give a flying shit about the popular art blogger circle jerk or the disease known as the "art world". Hence, the death of EAGEAGEAG and my art cartoons. Although I have thought about selling buttons with images of my art cartoons on them, I can't imagine being able to sell even one of them.

I don't care. Realizing this has freed me from a lot of nonsense. And yes, gallery representation is not a ticket to financial well being. Just like getting signed to a record label isn't a ticket to stardom. Most bands that get signed to labels get nothing but bad memories from the experience. In this day and age, you would have to be nuts not to try and do it all on your own. Fuck the system. It has fucked you and will continue to fuck you, so the hell with it.

Don't stop writing! Great blog! Very refreshing to read truthful, earnest and very humourous meanderings. No BS, straight from the hip! I love it! The "art world" needs more folks like you! I sure am glad to have found your blog. Fact is, lots of people are no doubt reading, they just don't comment. Hey don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things. Catherine Meyers

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