This past week, Elon Musk, founder and CEO of the private spaceflight company SpaceX, revealed the first passenger of his ambitious BFR rocket’s trip around the moon: Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire, entrepreneur, and art collector. In the SpaceX press conference where Maezawa’s involvement was first announced, he stands radiantly in front of the audience and proclaims that “I choose to go to the moon,” a famous quote uttered by John F. Kennedy nearly exactly 56 years ago. Maezawa’s intention to venture into the final frontier? A “universal art project” titled Dear Space, in which he aims to take six to eight artists of varying backgrounds and disciplines on the mission with him, hoping to inspire original works of unbeknownst magnitude. As an avid art collector himself, Maezawa considers art to be a means to create world peace, and believes that the vision of Earth from outer space will inspire art that conveys a strong, unifying message.
This isn’t the first extravagant gesture Maezawa has made to express his passion for art. Last spring, he purchased a record-breaking $110 million Basquiat. While these grandiose displays of wealth suggest an enthusiastic support of the arts, we must put into question the concreteness of Maezawa’s actions. Financial support of the arts, especially federal funding for the arts, continues to be a divisive topic for many. Some people are in favor of funding art education, while some remain staunchly opposed; either way, we’re currently witnessing a drastic dwindling of art education programs in schools. These programs desperately need financial support, and since they cannot be sustained on federal funding, they must turn to private funders for money. People like Musk and Maezawa, who possess absurd amounts of money and would be ideal private funders for such programs, decide to squander their wealth on empty and self-indulgent “projects.” Instead of increasing the presence of art in daily life, they continue to make art more and more inaccessible. Purchasing multi-million dollar works of art and choosing an elite few artists to travel to space for the sake of “universal art” is not only glaringly obvious in its irony, it is also sadly an accurate reflection of the general lack of accessibility within the art world.
Art collecting in itself is deeply inaccessible financially, as it revolves around the academicization of the piece itself and the status of the artist. Art is an incredibly powerful tool of self-expression and narrative sharing, which promotes acceptance and understanding at an extremely human and universal level. Therefore, the reservation of art for a select few people simply contradicts the purpose it is supposed to serve. The use of what is estimated to be billions of dollars on a project that supports only a small number of artists to make a flashy statement instead of implementing actual, tangible support for creatives is wildly contradictory.
However, the nature of the art market is starting to shift as we witness the rise of creative entrepreneurship and online art sales. Whereas before artists were heavily reliant on auction houses and galleries for the majority of their sales, the internet age has encouraged connection between artist and consumer, and platforms such as Instagram and Etsy have made sharing and selling art more widely accessible. Though some view creative entrepreneurship as a downgrade in the consumption of art, it can also be seen as a refreshing alternative to the traditional hyper-intellectualization of lofty artistic works, created by a small circle of high-status artists who have an established reputation. While there will always be a population of famous and genius artists, art should be encouraged in daily and casual settings, as it promotes literacy, achievement, and positive thinking. Art and creativity are things everybody should be able to participate in, and the encouragement of art for solely the small elite reveals Maezawa and Musk’s lack of genuine support for creative, and highlights only their indulgent self-interest.
Isabel Lamont is a senior at Sarah Lawrence College and serves as an admissions assistant with VAR.