I have been thinking much lately on the topic of what it takes to be numbered in the ranks of wealthy artists. With that in mind, this morning I followed a tweet from Miranda Aschenbrenner over at Learn To Art to an interesting article over at ARTINFO titled, “The Worlds Wealthiest Artists?“.
As they say, “A mere handful of artists have made considerably amounts of money during their lifetimes. But those who have succeeded have done quite well indeed.”
The article goes on to chronicle the successes of art icons, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Brice Marden, Julian Schnabel, Anish Kapoor, and Jasper Johns – all very wealthy artists. I’m not sure if that is an actual ranking with Damien Hirst being the most successful and Jasper Johns the least – in any case, John’s sale of False Start for $80 million in 2006 is not too shabby!
My first thought was the article I wrote a few days ago about Picasso, “Pablo Picasso: 12 Interesting Facts“. One of those facts was that “No artist has ever been as famous in his own lifetime”. I wondered if that was actually still true or if some of the current crop of art superstars had overtaken Picasso’s fame. My guess is that Pablo still owns that one but it makes you think.
My second thought about this list was that I couldn’t see too many women in the line up – which I guess is a confirmation of that old adage, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”! It’s a shame – where are all the great female art moguls? Where are the women who rank in the wealthy artists?
My third thought: What does it really mean to be one of the world’s wealthiest artists anyway? It’s not necessarily suggesting that you create the greatest art. I personally really dislike a lot of Damien Hirst’s work. But then again, financial success is really important – anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t experienced a lack of it. I think being a wealthy artist means simply that you get to have your cake and eat it too!
My last thought – and this is an important one – was that most of these guys are all superb business people. ARTINFO’s article describes Hirst as, “a consummate financier who runs nearly a dozen sundry businesses on the side” and mentions that Jeff Koons is “a former commodities trader on Wall Street who knows how to leverage his value”.
The article goes on to describe the business empire of Murakami: “Murakami.. went the way of Hirst and Koons when he established an art factory of his own, Hiropon, in 1996. Now called Kaikai Kiki Co. Ltd., with spaces in Tokyo and Long Island City, Queens, his company has more than 100 employees working on his paintings, sculptures, Louis Vuitton bags, inflatable balloons, videos, T-shirts, key chains, and plush toys.”
This fourth quality of being consummate business people is the big take away for me – and something I’ve been trying to hammer home in a number of recent articles on Art Marketing Secrets. The starving artist is a myth! It is entirely possible to be a great artist and a great business person and to enjoy success in both rooms – if you are willing to learn what it takes.
I’m not meaning to disparage the path of the artist who truly wishes to pursue his or her artistic dream without the thought of commercial success. Art can be so incredibly pure that it becomes a spiritual path of it’s own – and that is a beautiful thing.
But – if like most artists you dream of commercial success (meaning being numbered among the wealthy artists), one thing is clear: You have to think like a business person and learn how to speak that language and make decisions in a way that a business does. Starving artists typically make very poor business decisions and that is why they are still starving – even though they would really prefer to be dining in a superb 3-star Michelin restaurant!
And for women? Well – just like in most things – you have to be even better. And I am cheering you on all the way!