How the other half plays art

July 25th, 2011 | Posted by Alistair in art | gallery

Fortunately it’s safely imprisoned behind the Times paywall and therefore not available online to the great unwashed but Alex Pearl- who will probably appreciate me pointing out that he’s not usually in the Sunday Times’ demographic- sent on pictures of a horrifying article about what it takes to be a successful artist or curator these days. The answer is to be an old Etonian or an heiress, basically, just like every other prestige profession.

Some nuggets from the article:

I feel totally vindicated in what I’ve been saying for a while, that moneyed idiots and celebrity offspring who don’t have the intelligence to actually work at anything and barely know how to operate a doorknob are increasingly rebranding themselves as curators or the founders of fashion boutiques, or both. This is cooler than the more traditional trustafarian options of artist or musician, because being an artist or a musician still involves doing SOME work, even if you’re Lord Grouseraper’s son or you have the amoral, acquisitive business sense of Damien Hirst. If there’s one thing these people don’t understand or have any truck with, it’s lifting a finger to do anything pragmatic. Usually there’s a whole slew of things they don’t understand, actually, but that’s the main one.

“… he jangles a Cartier-bejewelled wrist in the direction of a Banksy.”

Tyrone and Jamie (son and stepson of minor Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood) run Scream gallery in Mayfair and it turns over £5-10 million a year. Jamie: “Artists are the next footballers… it goes back to Warhol, Lichtenstein- when artists started doing cool shit.” Note to self: MUST START DOING SOME COOL SHIT. Ty: “When it comes to art history I’m like Hello? My skill is with people.” Profound. Note to self: ADOPT THIS PHRASE AS A GENERAL EXCUSE FOR IGNORANCE.

“It Girl” Tamara Beckwith opened The Little Black Gallery in Chelsea with a business plan sketched literally “on the back of an envelope.” I’m guessing the envelope itself was more than large enough to contain not only everything she knows about art, but also everything she knows about ANYTHING.

Ivan Massow, former chairman of the ICA: “Young trustafarians are attracted to the art world because it seems fashionable. They’ll have friends who will buy their work- and friends with galleries they can sell it through.”

Artist, Old Etonian and Edinburgh College of Art graduate Ian Bruce: “There’s an internal culture where anyone who wants to get into the art world needs to work in a gallery or as an assistant for free for some time first. And who can afford to work for free in London? A whole load of well-connected, wealthy, privileged young people. So that’s who you get working in the art world- and when they start to have some success, who do they know but more well-connected, wealthy, privileged people? Meanwhile, if you’re an artist without means or connections, you look to the Arts Council, who are cutting funding. It’s terrible- a real shame.”

Artist William Roper-Curzon (Charterhouse, Prince of Wales Drawing School) is also refreshingly candid and sensible in acknowledging that his family have no real idea what work is and that he wouldn’t have a career if it wasn’t for his family’s wealth and his own rich friends.

“A recent survey showed that 60% of music-chart acts were privately educated, it is tempting to wonder if art will go the same way.”

Hello? My skill is in getting annoyed.

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21 Responses

  • Would you like to elaborate? “Oh shit” as in “I wrote that article”? “Oh shit” as in “Oh shit I’m not independently wealthy? If it’s “oh shit” as in “I’m on the Times Rich List and I just opened a little gallery/fashion boutique in Chelsea, feel free to assuage your guilt by giving me thousands of pounds.
    - Alistair

    • Yes, if Market Project achieves nothing else then our research will at least have established unequivocably that to be a successful artist in the 21st century you need to have an inheritance AND be friends with Viscount Childefondler’s sons AND date models AND do cool shit. And people say being an artist is easy… all of this model dating, trust fund spending and cool shitting is hard work, actually, especially if you’re only vaguely aware of what work is in the first place.

  • oh crap, I didnt realise that my comment would go onto the blog…I would have said something much more interesting. Sorry.

    • Don’t worry, Corinna. We’d actually like to document all those generally private-ish moments when artists read something about being an artist that leaves them lost for words at the shittiness of it all and left with not much else to say but things like “oh shit”.
      These happen a lot actually, in my experience. More often recently.

  • Alex Pearl says:

    Thanks Alistair I thought you might make something out of possibly the most depressing thing I have ever read. (only a tiny exaggeration).

    I have an ex-colleague (again I would like to point out that I do not usual spin in such rarified circles) who’s daughter decided art was the thing. Rather than taking the usual route (foundation, degree, job in tesco) she was sent straight from the upper school of Uppingham to learn portrait painting in Florence. I have no doubt she will soon be portraitist to the moneyed. I don’t feel bitter about this. Frankly it is a profession I would not enjoy, it’s a dirty job and she is welcome to it. Probably the artworld has always been stratified along class lines. Telegraph readers making art for telegraph readers, Times readers for Times readers and so on. Perhaps now, in straightened times, these divisions are more obvious.

  • Alex Pearl says:

    Just reread my comment. Tone a bit sententious. Purely accidental I assure you.

  • Paul Neale says:

    What about a show called Cool Shit?

  • It also just hit me- apparently to our friends Ty and Jamie no art before Pop Art is cool. Artists before that were so boring and old, actually bothering about art and stuff instead of being celebrities. Sorry, Leonardo: Renaissance flying machines and the Mona Lisa are not cool and neither is being a genius. Jackson Pollock, Yves Klein, Mark Rothko? No dice, daddio, uncool. Dadaists are not cool. Lascaux, Chauvet: even being 30,000 years old is not cool.

  • Treacle Fortescue-Smythe says:

    I’m a rich person and I have the answer: Turn this website into dating site for COOL artists to mate with SHIT artists so that we end up with COOL SHIT that us rich twats will buy?
    It’s a winner.

  • The Darwinian nature of your proposal is highly appropriate. So very Recession, survival of the shittest.
    Careful, though… getting a eugenics regime off the ground is difficult! For a start there is an obvious excess of shit artists compared to the small number of cool artists. And even if you mate a certified cool artist with a truly shit artist, the complexities of genetics mean that you may just as easily end up with double shit or double cool offspring instead of the cool shit artists that are so sought after by people of the class whose fathers or distant ancestors achieved something.
    Keep working on this idea, though, it shows promise.
    Meanwhile, in the brief period before this site turns into a full-on dating site, if there are any model / actor / whatevers, It Girls/Boys or expensively educated but pig-ignorant trustafarians who would like to date any or all of us and promote our work based on factors other than unfashionable, boring old things like talent or merit (but we’re all about diversity if you’re reading this, Arts Council: all genders and sexual orientations can be accommodated), we will consider all reasonable offers. No mingers or poor people, we have to draw the line somewhere.

  • Treacle Fortescue-Smythe says:

    Would you like to mate me? Looking at your work we would end up with WEIRD RICH SHIT that I think I could get my Daddy to endorse.
    I love the way you artists think things through! And I would like to hear more of your previous attempts to get a eugenics regime off the ground, sounds fascinating (and useful really). We just all got sent to the same posh boarding school without any contraception.

    • Re: previous eugenics, let’s just say we confirmed information that rich people really need to know about but probably aren’t ready to hear: DON’T MARRY PEOPLE YOU’RE ALREADY CLOSELY RELATED TO.
      I will need to see references and proof of your income before we start discussions about any mating that may occur.
      Also, since I am weird the outcome of your breeding equation suggests that you are rich and shit. Don’t be so down on yourself, I’m sure you have a lot to offer, even if it’s only money.

  • Alex Pearl says:

    Dear Treacle, how rich are you? My shit is nearly as weird as Alistair’s I’m also up for mating. Do you know Conrad Shawcross or Polly Morgan? MY NUMBER IS 07545678945.

  • David Kefford says:

    Hi treacle. If you mated with me we’d probably make WARM POO so best leave me out of your eugenics experiment

    • “Warm poo” is a remarkably apt description of many art projects and exhibitions: just left there like a dog turd on the pavement, for no particular reason or purpose except that the artist needed to go and nobody stopped them. Everyone just walks on and forgets about it.

  • Treacle Fortescue-Smythe says:

    Alex Pearl OMG I don’t know Pol or Rad – do you? Wow. Yes let’s mate (sorry Al). I’ve been thinking that because most artists don’t wash and care for hygiene we could go IVF, or maybe even the surrogate route so I don’t have to actually go through anything that could count as a proper life experience. Mummy and Daddy say they don’t want little old me to change!
    David, thanks for thinking about the possibility. I will get PA man to cross you off list.
    This IS exciting!

    • The upper classes are so fickle.
      Anyway, must go, things to do. It Girl-slash-model-slash-suppository heiress Bunty Felchhummer and celebrity child Apple Martin-Paltrow are collaborating on a little boutique-slash-gallery space in Mayfair, and they want some cutting edge paintings of old Etonians to go with their new collection of ugly jewellery, absurd clothes and disturbing marital aids.