On Warhol: Business is the best art
It’s a typical Andy Warhol quote: “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”
A statement like that is looked at with contempt by those who are attached to a more romantic idealist view of art and artists: That artists should only care about their art and not give a hoot about money, and that art should be something completely different from business.
According to this view, the artists of the old times were true idealists, suffering for their art, following their vision and “uncorrupted” by money. The only problem with this is: That view is factually wrong.
The starving artist, completely free, a true revolutionary despite having no money, a real anti-capitalist, a hero …. that might make a better story to tell — but it doesn’t have much to do with reality. A brief survey of art history shows how the poor, starving artist that achieves great things is the exception, not the rule. Most artists who achieved something lasting were financed by family money or an inheritance, or had sponsors and collectors to finance their art, or simply and had an entrepreneurial spirit and conducted their art work like a proper business.
Fans of the romantic view today frown upon artists like Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst or even Ai Weiwei, who employ assistants and often only supply the idea and vision for an artwork, letting their assistants do almost all of the manual labor, while they themselves travel the world like celebrity salesmen. Fans of the romantic view deplore this “decline of art”, look down on these artists as “just good marketers” and drone on about “the capitalist art market destroying art”.
But they readily wax lyrical about the great artistry of the likes of Michelangelo and Rubens.
Michelangelo made extensive use of assistants throughout his career and was, despite the Hollywood-movie-myth of the renegade artist, very skilled selling his services to the rich and powerful of his day.
And Rubens? He employed a group of assistants who painted large parts of his most famous works according to his specifications while he traveled to make visits with the nobility to persuade them that they really needed his works to demonstrate their high status in the world.
Both Michelangelo and Rubens were not just great artists, they were brilliant entrepreneurs as well.
And what could be wrong with that, as long as the art that is created has meaning to the people it speaks to (and not all art speaks equally to all people!)?
Maybe Robert Mapplethorpe summed up the age-old relationship between money, business and art in the best way:
“My theory about creativity is that the more money one has, the more creative one can be.”