Our current art world is entirely regulated and controlled by reputation and status. The result? An ego-centric art market in which genuine art has gotten swallowed up by. For example, in large-scale auction purchases, it’s buzz words and name recognition that will drive up prices most dramatically. This has always been the case, especially when collecting historical works of art. Museums need a competitive edge to keep people coming in the door, and the best way to do that is exhibit art that masses of people will recognize. While this fact lays a backdrop onto why ego controls the art market, it’s ultimately the emergence of the self-indulgent contemporary artist-celebrity that brought it to full-fledged fruition. Artists like Jeff Koons who revel in their own vanity, exemplified so clearly in his nude, flexing photoshoot for Vanity Fair, bring a glamorous air towards creating art that seems less-than-genuine. Further, the art of Marina Abramović, so beloved by fake-deep hipsters that it earned her the title of “the grandmother of performance art,” has turned from mind-provoking art to name-recognition hype that is a clear result of her rise to fame.
As an artist, how do you escape this egotistical art culture that seems to be the only promise of “making it?” How can you ensure that you don’t get swept away in the trends that seem to dictate the art market? It seems impossible, especially since this culture is the context in which you create your art. But think about some of the most significant and inspiring works of art you’ve seen. How many small-scale, unheard of artists have you discovered that have struck a state of wonder you could never have been prepared for? How many tiny, small-town bands have you accidentally stumbled upon that froze you in your tracks? And how many of these creatives will probably never be discovered, and still create their art with such graceful nobility regardless? It’s the existence of these “nobody” artists, the ones who remain so deeply dedicated to their craft without the promise of shallow fame, who give us hope in the existence of pure, untouched, genuine art in a world where art is tainted by toxic ego.
And when it comes down to the bare bones of what art is, what art really is, we realize that it’s just people sharing their truths. As an artist, think about what it is you have to say. Everyone has a message to share with others, and everyone has a message that will resonate with other people. The real challenge of creating art is how to convey this message in a way that remains true to your own character. If you maintain your character without a message, or vice versa, your art gets lost in the sea of countless other creatives trying to share their own truths with the world.
If your ego is clouding your creative vision, you will lose touch of both your message and the unique way in which you share it. Your ego is fed by the adoration of others, and the more others feed the way you view your art, the less you create it in your own genuine manner. Ego is the enemy of authenticity. And authenticity is at the root of what makes art art. I can’t argue that the egotistical art world is ruining art nowadays, because for every Jeff Koons wannabe that exists in some stale Chelsea gallery there is a passionate unheard-of artist that is still plugging away despite the non-promise of fame, fortune, or glory. It’s these artists, the ones who will probably never get the large-scale fame they deserve, that feed the passionate dedication that is what art is really, truly about.