First, I was caught by the Vincent Syndrome: a good artist must be poor and suffering. Now, I know better. Maybe the very best old master who ever lived, Rembrandt van Rijn, was a successful artist-entrepreneur.
It is time to deal with a myth that has been harassing me for too long now. Almost two years ago, I wrote about it and I named it the Vincent Syndrome. The question is simple.
As a true artist, can you make a lot of money from your art?
There seem to be two camps in the art world. The strict, dogmatic group, maybe romantic even, who feel that an artist must suffer and from the suffering comes great art. Like Vincent van Gogh. The starving artist with a bohemian lifestyle. (Many members of this group are starving artists or not artists at all, often art critics and some art buyers …) Hmm. And there is the loose, free thinking, entrepreneurial, pragmatic group, who make art for art lovers who are willing to pay well for their art. Like Jeff Koons, former Wall Street trader, always impeccably dressed and ‘filthy rich’. (Many members of this group are artist-entrepreneurs and some art buyers, who are succesful entrepreneurs themselves …)
Unfortunately, both groups seem to have low respect for each other. There is the dogmatic group who feel that artists like Koons or Damien Hirst are impostors, and that their ‘artworks’ have nothing to do with art. And there is the pragmatic group who feel that suffering, worrying and fretting artists who create great artworks, but never sell a piece – the Vincent Syndrome – are total losers.
And, I feel, it should not be like that. It simply isn’t the one or the other. It can be both.
In my earlier story, I referred to Pablo Picasso, who made millions with artworks that are widely recognized as masterpieces, even by the dogmatists.It is widely known, that Leo and – especially – Gertrude Stein launched his artistic career into the stratosphere. I call this the Picasso Patron model.
By 1905, Picasso became a favorite of American art collectors Leo and Gertrude Stein. Their older brother Michael Stein and his wife Sarah also became collectors of his work. (…) Gertrude Stein became Picasso’s principal patron, acquiring his drawings and paintings and exhibiting them in her informal Salon at her home in Paris.
Source: Wikipedia, Pablo Picasso
Also, Andy Warhol was very explicit about the artist-entrepreneur:
Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.
— Andy Warhol
But now I found an even better example, an example of how you can be a brilliant artist and a successful entrepreneur. My own countryman, Rembrandt van Rijn!
I read this book Rembrandt Inc. It clearly and convincingly demonstrates how Rembrandt was both a brilliant artist and a successful entrepreneur.
If Rembrandt could do it, I really feel no hesitation anymore to pursue an artist-entrepreneur career. I rest my case. And there are many others. Think of German artist Gerhard Richter, for instance. He demonstrates, that you do not have to be so publicity-seeking as Koons and Hirst are and yet make great art and a good income. Or Christo, or Ed Ruska, or Sasha Jafri, or Cao Guo-Quiang, or David Hockney. Once you start digging, there are so many of them.
Of course, my artworks must be of top quality, as I expressed in an earlier story. But there is no reason at all not to make good money with it.
And there is another reason – as I expressed in my earlier story Le Prix de l’Art. Making good art can be very expensive. So to be continuously able to make good art, you need a lot of money.
So, forget the Vincent Syndrome or even the Picasso Patron model. From now on it will be Rembrandt Inc.
Or, Case Inc, that is …
And again, the goal is not to become ‘filthy’ rich. There are better ways for that than making art. No, the goal is to generate funding for a great workshop and the creation of great artworks, many of which non-commissioned, and for living a decent life.
(UPDATE – Jan 14, 2023)
Today, in one of the leading newspapers there was an article about the national art (funding) system. Basically, the message was: the public must appreciate art better, the government must fund the arts more and artists must unite to force these changes. Well … I don’t know. Maybe, I think too much as an entrepreneur.
First. Art lovers – and art buyers (not the flippers) for that matter – love art. You cannot demand someone to love something. You cannot force your customer to buy your product; you will have to tempt, to seduce them. Superpleasing is what I learned long ago from David Maister. If you think appreciation of the arts is too low, the artist is doing something wrong, not the public.
Second. in principle, governments do fund things that are of national interest and that somehow will not be funded by the private sector. For instance in my country the Netherlands, building dikes to keep our feet dry. So, the question is: how important is art for a nation? This has been a debate for many years, ages even. A complex topic. My position is, we need to find the right balance. Of course, I do agree that art plays an important role in society! Fair pay, the newspaper article says. But what is fair pay, and for who? Not so easy.
Third. Uniting artists. Uniting artists is like herding cats. Artists are among the most individualistic people that I know. And that is fine, no judgement whatsoever. The newspaper article suggests a revolution in the art scene, Individual artists should unite, create alliances, break the power of the (museum) elites. Really?
I do agree that the arts are important for a society and need to be cherished and (legally) protected (in the sense of freedom of speech etc). I also do feel that many artists would help themselves by being a bit more entrepreneurial, just like Rembrandt was. It can be done.
Personally, in the Rembrandt Inc perspective, I am inspired – next to the familiar Dutch artists such as Marlene Dumas, Daan Roosegaarde and the likes – by Dutch artists like (a random list of examples that spring to mind) Jasper Krabbé, Peggy Kuiper, Jeroen van der Most, Peter Riezebos and Joseph Klibansky or even Micky Hoogendijk. They all show the way, each in their own particular way. They produce great art. And (as far as I can judge) they (seem to) generate enough income to fund their artistic activities and live well off being an artist.
So. It can be done.
Just superplease your art lover and deliver quality art!
In your own way.
Just like Rembrandt did.