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Populist vs. Elitist Musings

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

Populist vs. Elitist

I went to a prestigious art school that often people ooh and ahh over. But what did they actually teach me about making a living as an artist? Sorry to say but, "no mucho". The other day, I had to lay down some truth to a young woman with the job of cold calling alumni for donations. “Unfortunately, no. I am not able to contribute to the student fund. Because to be honest, the school never taught me how to make money!" It does appear my school is better these days at preparing students for the so called "real world". And I know the task of carving out a career path lies with the individual. And for this I take full responsibility. So, as I take a real stab at making a business out of my art a dilemma surfaces for me. It surrounds the notion of populist vs. elite. I get my fancy Art News newsletter but only glance at it and on rare occasions, click through. That world highlights news of Biennials, Guggenheim museums and Art Basel. It speaks of Getty’s, Soros, and Christie's auctions. Such and such sold for 40 million dollars. Such and such new artist's work draws 1.2 million dollars. You get the picture. Then on the other side where the 99% live....there is new technology and print on demand. Artists have more tools than ever before to produce their work to scale. You have an opportunity to reach thousands if not millions of people online. Sure you can try to sell originals for decent sums. But now you can make prints on canvas and a variety of items for prices accessible to all. I chatted with portrait artist William Stidham about this. He told me he thinks of himself as a populist when it comes to selling art. I really get that. Populist - noun. A person, especially a politician, who strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups. There has always been something so disturbing to me about the cost of high fashion and of high art. We have created a society that glorifies $1,000 designer bags and sneakers. Might we glorify say, notable achievements instead? The disparity between the haves and the have nots continues to grow. But shifts in consciousness happen all the time and we must not lose hope for a better and more fair world. In the meantime, I'll continue to find my authentic (overused word but hey, it’s true) path. Looking for balance between high art and low and what it means to me. In the end, I'm an equal parts lover of Homer the Greek and Homer Simpson. Taking a deeper dive into that meaning is a motivating factor for me and my art. *Check out William Stidham's portraits on Instagram: @williamkstidham


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