Business as Art?

Writing for the New York Times, Blake Gonik  posits that one of Andy Warhol’s most important contributions to the world of art was a thing called Art Business. Art Business is, according to Warhol, “the step that comes after art” and lumps together everything that the artist does as “publisher, publicist or salesman” into “one boundless art work: part performance art, part conceptual art and part picture of the market world he lived in.” Gonik goes on to establish that other writers and museums share this view.  Further, he brings into the discussion such artists as Jeff Coons, Damien Hirst, and Banksy as examples of artists who followed Warhol’s example.

The notion that the marketing and sale of art, or anything else for that matter, constitutes an art in and of itself is certainly stretching the definition of art. Still, Gonik says that Warhol’s Business Art is as important to the art world as was Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. And he may well be right, although the idea does not seem to have caught on among artists in general, or perhaps, those artists feel that they do not possess the right set of qualities and skills to make their business operations into “artistic” endeavors.

The former choice is, I think, the most representative of the reality of most artists. Many got into the world of art in order to express themselves, to say something that they thought needed to be said. These artists are not necessarily concerned with theories on what does and what does not constitute art; they only know that the things they are making fall under that umbrella. They view the marketing and selling, not as another art, but as an ancillary to art. These artist would consider promotion and sales as art only metaphorically, as in “that marketing effort was a work of art.” They would never consider business operations as art itself. Indeed, some would say that business as art opens the door to “everything as art,” a concept which is ultimately devalues art.

Perhaps these artists just don’t get it. Writer and curator Jack Bankowsky has said that Business Art is the backstory behind “any sophisticated artistic practice.” And it is a sophisticated idea that the promotion and sale of artworks can be “about” something. It is easily understood that Duchamp’s Fountain was a comment on the art business; Banksy’s self-destructing sale may have been a critique of the art market. It seems, however, a far stretch to say that marketing and sales, in addition to being marketing and sales are also art works about some aspect of the promotion and distribution of art. That’s a bit too sophisticated and perhaps self-serving for some people, and again smacks of the everything-is-art-ism.

Personally, I have trouble with everything-is-art-ism. Certainly, any activity can be taken to heights that transcend normal execution. Any activity can be made elegant and well-formed, “art-like” if you will. That doesn’t make it art, at least under any definition that I know of art, the ideas of the critics and curators quoted notwithstanding. It may be that Duchamp’s declaration “that artists alone get to define what is art” is correct, but in my experience, declaring something to be this or that does not make it so. That requires an acceptance from the audience. What is art is, after all, determined by the culture of which it is a part, and that culture is developed and maintained by members of that culture, in other words, the audience. And despite what critics say, today’s general art audience as well as artists do not see business as art.

Please feel free to disagree. If you have thoughts on this subject, I would be very interested in hearing them.

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Date: Monday, 12. November 2018 0:33
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