Money -Art -Integrity

A public painting as a billboard, Diego Martin, Trinidad showing a heart without pretension or scullery. NP gas station attendant where this wall painting is across the street ; I want he to put dat on meh back, I go look wicked with de ladies….

Of the many conversations that I have with artists, one of the most contentious is about money, not to be confused with making a living. Most artists are not specific about their financial needs, so much as they are interested in the alleged financial successes of others.

This may come from living in a small place, or from the fact that the artist community is also so very small, that it cannot be helped that many people in and around the arts have a tendency to focus on how much money is being made in it. Yet, when these conversations come up, I find artists to be both prudish and shrewd. Many people assume that when an artist has a show, everything sells. Many believe that whatever they make at the show, they get to keep. Neither of these statements is true. Looking deeper, one also has to observe the number of people practicing art and the number of new people cropping up every day, vying for the same small pie.

Everyone knows that Trinidad and Tobago is oil rich, but how many of us know how many of our wealthy citizens actually support Art? So many buildings are being built and have been built and very little Art ills these structures. I can assume that many people who buy art do so for their homes, and so artists should really not get too upset when their patrons want that work because it matches their couch and curtains.

What about the cost of a lot of what is out in the gallery spaces for sale? Sometimes you wonder how did that piece of work fetch that price? Overall, I find that the local patrons of art are very kind in their choice of purchases. I have seen works fetch ten and fifteen thousand dollars, knowing that it would be a better buy from another artist of greater skill. Does the patron know this? Are they buying for love or for sentiment or are they purchasing because they want to just spend money?

Of the patrons I know, it can be a bit of all of the above. Yet there is a real tiny market of people who do make very good livings on art investments. However, they have their own challenges, as they have to do a lot of homework to find quality. So what invariably happens is buying a lot of specific names and trading based on that name, and doing some ambulence chasing as well.

The artist LeRoy Clarke has enough work made, and enough of a mystique surrounding himself as to be the equivalent of a Naipaul in terms of cache. Whether you like his body of work or not, he has been working for a very long time, making Art that has met with a certain level of acceptance in our society. His art has even managed to cause great controversy over cost, a controversy that for many may now seem particularly absurd.

I believe that artists should talk about money, because they should talk about value, and they should educate their patrons about value. Artists should determine these standards, although anyone may seem to be able to, as the saying goes, ‘wash their foot and jump in…” to the art arena, and clearly the arena is willing and able to absorb them. The art world of Trinidad and Tobago needs to set standards of quality. If so, everyone will rise to the level that they are comfortable with, and things would not be so ambiguous as they presently seem to be. – Adele

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