Art and Money: A Rocky Relationship

by Aileen Mitchell 1. July 2014 15:36

Art and money may go hand in hand but it can sometimes seem like an odd relationship. Art wants to be free, innovative and individual. Money on the other hand is concerned with value, profits and markets.

Over the years, it has been a rocky relationship but you can't have one without the other. If you want your work to be out there in the world, society will attach some sort of price tag to it. 

The art of not mentioning money 

During the Renaissance, successful artists charged huge sums of money for their work but it was not socially acceptable for artists to publicly appear concerned with money. It was like it was a dirty word, better not mentioned, but happily accepted in return for a recently finished masterpiece. 

It was not until the 1960s that this convention was broken by none other than Andy Warhol. The pop artist began freely and openly voicing his desire for profits. In many ways, art had always been a business but it wasn't until now that the illusion was broken. 

When asked about how he found inspiration for his paintings, Andy Warhol said:

"I’d asked around 10 or 15 people for suggestions. Finally one lady friend asked the right question, “Well, what do you love most?” That’s how I started painting money." 

Art that rejects money

After Warhol spoke openly about money, it paved the way for many other artists to do the same. But what followed was far from a celebration of money. In 1994 the K Foundation (pop-stars-turned-artists), burned £1 million in cash in front of a small audience.  The act of burning bank notes was filmed and was quite simply titled K Foundation Burn a Million Quid

Whether you consider this to be an appalling waste or an inspiring anti-capitalist statement, or a confusing middle-ground between the two, it certainly grabbed attention. 

Perhaps a more poignant attempt at a similar theme was Michael Landy's Breakdown. For this 'performance piece' he systematically catalogued and dismantled all his worldly possessions, before taking it all to the skip. The material weight of his life came to 5.75 tonnes and at the end he was left with nothing at all.

The performance was watched by art-lovers, bemused members of the public and friends and family. Landy described the process as being like people coming to his funeral, watching the conveyor-belt take each and every one of his possessions to the 'afterlife'. 

In many ways, Landy's work represents the end of the line when it comes to artists rejecting money. Not only did he create an ephemeral artwork that couldn't be sold, in the process he destroyed all his possessions. 

Now that artists have burned £1 million and destroyed all their possessions, maybe we can move on with a more balanced approach to art and money.

A question of value 

Money is still a hot topic in contemporary art. Damien Hirst is perhaps the artist who's most openly concerned with money. His diamond-encrusted skull cost £14 million materials and sold for £50 million. It's interesting to look at the difference between the material cost of diamonds, compared with the added value 'art' can bring.

Banksy on the other hand has explored what makes something valuable in other ways. In 2013, Banksy began an experiment: he set up a stall in Central Park, New York and got a man to sell his original, signed artwork to passers-by. Unsurprisingly, the passers-by didn't recognise the value of what was on offer, with only eight paintings sold for a total of £263 – but their value is estimated at £140,000.

An affordable future 

It seems now art's relationship with money has been acknowledged, it simply can't be ignored. One positive from all this is that a fairer approach is developing. From art only being accessible to the super-rich, to a rebellion against the art market, in many ways, the art world has come full circle with the amount of people able to own art increasing

More people are looking to collect original art to decorate their homes and the rise of online galleries gives artists the exposure they need to gain an audience. Not all art is for the financial elite – affordable art is on the rise. Browse our range of art by British-based artists and see how you could start your collection. 

What do you think about the relationship between art and money? Has a happy middle-ground been reached? Share your thoughts below.

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Art History | Artists | Buying Art

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