I was already a fan of Adam Ruins Everything, a popular web series of 5 minute videos that show why conventional wisdom around various topics are wrong. Yesterday, they released this glorious video.
How the Fine Art Market is a Scam
The video is really short. I highly suggest you watch it. They highlight, in a hilarious way, the reality of the totally unregulated fine art market.
They also source their facts, referencing several high profile articles, which I dug up and linked to below.
They also reference the book The $12 Million Stuffed Shark, which is a fantastic, if chilling, read.
One other resource that I will add to the mix is the book Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art, which estimates that between 20% – 40% of all art on the market is forged.
What Individual Artists Can Do to Avoid These Scams
As an artist, the best thing you can do to avoid falling victim to art world scams is to cultivate your own following. Ideally, that is a mailing list, so that you have their actual contact information. Instagram and other social media are great, but you’re still playing by someone else’s rules there.
I can’t tell you how many successful artists I’ve spoken to who spent decades selling their art through galleries that then abandoned them or went out of business, leaving the artist with no one to sell to and no source of income.
Cultivating your own following does NOT mean becoming a scammy, spammy marketer. It means developing real relationships with potential customers, talking to people about the ideas that underpin your art, and being an approachable human being who cares about others, who is also unafraid to ask people to pay for your work.
It’s not glamorous. This is not what will get you into the big parties and written about on Page 6 – but it might get you into the MoMa, pay for your kids’ school, and help you make a difference in your own way.
There’s not a lot that an artist can do about wealthy power-brokers manipulating art prices. I’ve seen individual artists do is just completely refuse to play the game at all, or, as Mark Grotjahn did, play the game until you become famous, then begin forcing the dealers to play by your rules or stop producing art for them.
You can absolutely make a living from your art without the big dealers. You may not sell your art for millions of dollars, but you can make enough to live comfortably and be happy. Its not easy.
We talk about that a ton here at TAA. Long time readers already know that we offer hundreds of blog posts, podcasts, and other free content on making a living as an artist, including interviews with successful artists and art professionals.
We also built The Abundant Artist Association as a way of connecting artists who want this other path. Our members support each other, get access to business training and courses, as well as access to things like group health insurance discounts and legal help.
We built the Association precisely because so much of the fine art world is a scam. They don’t work in the interest of the artists – they work in the interest of wealthy collectors who are flipping art to make more money.
It’s about time artists take back control of their own industry, one artist at a time.