The artists role in the art industry.

The artist’s role in the art industry.

The art industry is huge with an annual global turnover in zillions of dollars. The top auction houses sell art for incredible amounts. Governments allocate multi million pound budgets to support national art galleries. Libraries and broadcasting organisations have large portions of their budgets and effort focused on fine art. Tourists travel constantly from and to all the interesting places in the world with art as their number one draw. Art is big business.

The less obvious middle ranks of the art business world have a multitude of everyday uses for images and other created objects made by artists in just about every product sector imaginable. Licensed design and artwork influences our everyday lives in the fashions we wear, the décor of our homes and workplaces, and our leisure time is full of art related content.

So it is not just about simple one-off paintings, sculptures, and pottery. It is about design, investment, historical interest, social commentary, and human emotion.

Art is recognized as being important, and artists are the people who make it.

So why aren’t artists lauded and feted with massive salaries and honours?

Good question.

Here is a stab at an answer.

The art industry is controlled by participants who live at the top of the food chain. The list includes national policy advisors, leading academics, famous commentators, institutional elite, and international art dealers. These guys get paid loads of money.

A bit further down the food chain are the dealers, publishers, licensors, printers, framers, and equipment suppliers. They run small, medium and large businesses using established business techniques and practices. The art product is treated much the same as other products like food, energy, clothing, household goods, etc. Some of these middle food-chain guys also deal in art services as well as art products. Services like teaching, insuring, renting, showing off, and other stuff.

At all levels further up and down the art industry food chain there are participants who are good at joint ventures, and who can use their left brains where they can be strong in business analytical systems, and where they can exploit the originators of the artwork because the artists are incompetent or already dead.

Whereas, at the bottom of the food chain is the humble artist. Artists make art. It is quite often a solitary occupation done in the loneliness of a back room studio or similar. The solo artist is also hampered by having a creative, right focused, brain. They are not expected to be very good at business, not very good at joint venture, and not very good at exploiting the potential of their product. Artists are expected to be happy if they can just survive making stuff for the sake of making stuff. Artists have accepted the role of poetic visionaries who don’t get paid much. This role exists because far too many artists accept it and believe it themselves.

Has this always been the case? No. It used to be that artists were seen as craftsmen. They got paid for carving stuff in cathedrals, capturing the likeness of kings or popes, or illustrating religious texts because no-one could read. As craftsmen they commanded respect and reward for their skill and hard work, but not for their poetic vision.

Will it stay this way? Probably unless artists get good at realizing their value to the art industry.

What can we do about it? Well my mission is to tell more artists to stop accepting the status quo and learn how to get their fair share of this huge business.

Onward and upward.

Who Am I?

Colin Ruffell FRSA. 

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