The Good Things In Life Are Not Free

Art is goddamn expensive–a fact that has always struck me as odd. I can’t imagine creating something from the depths of my soul and then hoarding it behind a price tag with a watermark so no one can see it. The whole point of art is to give birth to your vision and share it with the world. At least, that’s how it is to me and I ought to know since I’m an artist. That’s artist, not artiste.

Yes, art supplies are ridiculously expensive. I have stood in an art supply store, counting change and weighed the value of more black acrylic paint over eating. The paint usually won because there is just no way you can not finish a piece simply because you’re out of paint. That’s silly.

Mmmm Winsor & Newton.

Mmmm Winsor & Newton.

I’m certainly not saying that art should be free. Artists need to make a living, too. We are notoriously bad at pricing things. We are renowned for being terrible at the business end of creativity, because how can you put a price tag on creativity? That’s why gallery owners exist. They are the lawyers of the creative world. They handle putting a price tag on your vision and they usually overcharge. They have to make money somehow.

Doesn’t it strike you as odd that the value of a work of art is based primarily on how much name recognition an artist has? Imagine if the price of books, movies or music was based on how popular it is. You could buy a garage band’s album for $3, but forget about being able to afford that awful Blurred Lines nonsense that’s floating around. Robin Thicke is only for rich people, sorry.

Have you heard of Mark Rothko? Even if you don’t know the name, you’re probably familiar with his work. He does simple paintings of colored squares. Now, have you heard of Theodoros Stamos? No? Well, Stamos and Rothko were contemporaries in every sense of the word. They were both part of The Irascibles, a group of painters who set the trend for abstract expressionism in the mid 20th century.

Can you tell which painting is which artist’s?

Picture 5

Picture 4

The first painting is “Classic Yellow Sun-Box” by Theodoros Stamos from 1968. The second is “Untitled (Gray, Gray on Red)” by Mark Rothko from 1968. Which one do you think is worth more?

There’s a Stamos coming up for sale at Christie’s auction house with an expected price of $6000-8000. Meanwhile, last year, a Rothko sold for a record-setting $75 Million at Sotheby’s.

Now, why is that? Is it because Rothko is a better artist than Stamos? I don’t think so. It’s name recognition. That’s all. Rothko is a recognizable name and Stamos, not so much. It’s all subjective. Yes, all art is in the eye of the beholder, but when I say subjective here, I mean financial. How much is a name worth?

I just moved into a large room from a tiny one. I now have a ton of wall real estate just begging for art to be put on it. I have a respectable, if small, collection of original artworks. None of them are really recognizable artists, at least, not on the scale of Rothko or even Stamos, but they are original works. I like owning original art, because it puts food on the table for some artists scraping by. I don’t care about names; I care about art. If something moves me, if I like something, I want to look at it.

Art makes me happy, but alas, I cannot afford it. The problem with art is that the only people who can really afford it are the people who care about it the least. Do you think the person who spent $75 million on a Rothko really cares about that particular painting? If anything, aesthetics were a minor factor. It’s all about the money. Someone spent $75 million for a square on canvas in oil paint, the same medium that Bob Ross used, as an investment.

Yesterday, instead of writing or reading posts, I went art shopping. I didn’t buy anything. I didn’t buy anything because I couldn’t afford a thing. I wanted to find a print of one of my favorite paintings, Max Ernst’s 33 Girls Chasing Butterflies. The cheapest one I could find was $50. For a print. For an unframed print. For an 11×13″ unframed print. Seriously?

Max Ernst, 33 Girls Chasing Butterflies, 1958.

Max Ernst, 33 Girls Chasing Butterflies, 1958.

OK. Well, how about Kandinsky? I wanted to at least have Composition VII, my favorite. $27 for a poster? The same kind of posters I had hanging on my walls of my favorite bands when I was in school? And it’s got this cheesy as shit “KANDINSKY” bullshit across the bottom…

Just in case your friends weren't impressed with your taste in art, we put this tacky name across the bottom.

Just in case your friends weren’t impressed with your taste in art, we put this huge tacky name across the bottom.

Fuck you, world. Seriously. I’m not paying $30 for a poster. No money from the $30 poster is going to Kandinsky. You know why? He’s dead. He’s been dead since 1944 and I assume he’s going to stay that way.

Alright then, original art it is. I have zero problems paying $30 for a print, even if it’s unsigned, as long as some of that money goes to the artist. I went to my favorite gallery’s website and found at least $500 worth of original art and prints I would like to buy. My budget was about $50. The one I really, really wanted was $80 and I just couldn’t pull the trigger on $80 for one signed print. Sigh.

So, Redbubble it is then. I ended up with eighteen items in my cart. I narrowed it down to seven:

Picture 6These are all original artworks. None of them are signed or number or even limited edition, but at least some of that $54 I’m spending will go to the original artist and I didn’t even have to spend $75 million.

Image from

Image from

Unless otherwise stated, all images from

There are 38 comments

  1. donofalltrades

    I’m not very artsy, but both of those first paintings look like something my 4 year old could have done and the one looks like something even G$ could pull out of his ass on a good day. Somebody may need to explain what I’m missing.


  2. NotAPunkRocker

    I love the Ernst piece!

    I think you should put whatever makes you happy on the walls, name “brand” or not. Artists inspire other artists, so you can discover the next new thing in the style of whoever you want.

    Redbubble now thanks you for my next paycheck LOL.


    1. goldfish

      I love the Ernst piece, too. It’s so unlike everything else he did and the name is just awesome.

      Yeah, I don’t care about brands. It just so happens I love Kandinsky, even though he’s a brand name.


  3. Christopher

    Ugh. It’s so annoying. I don’t dislike abstract as a group, but I can’t stand Rothko, or Mondrian. I understand that there’s something about it I’m “missing” but I don’t care. Not my cup of tea, and I wouldn’t pay $100 much less $75 Million for a Rothko.
    It does really stink that people feel the need to over charge for prints and posters and such. If something is signed, or a limited edition, or even an original painting, I can understand an up charge. Charging lots for a glorified photocopy is bullshit.


    1. goldfish

      I’ve never liked Rothko either. I just used it as an example. I like abstract as long as it’s evocative. A square isn’t really evocative of anything except a square.

      A glorified photocopy is exactly what that Kandinsky “print” is. Booooo.


    1. goldfish

      I don’t think so. I would still really love to have Composition VII and 33 Girls Chasing Butterflies, but I may end up printing them out myself. If they weren’t dead, I would feel guilty about that, but they are, so it’s not hurting anyone besides the people charging $50 for prints and screw them.


  4. draliman

    You couldn’t pay me to put one of those abstract things on my wall. I like some abstract art but a big square? What’s the point?
    I also just like what I like regardless of who painted it.
    If you’re stuck for quality art, feel free to print out a DraliDoodle. May I recommend the Dralisaurus one? I’ll even print out an original, sign it and send it to you if you like :-). Who knows, I might be famous one day. I bet they’ll be worth a fortune once I’m dead.


    1. goldfish

      Rothko attempted to examine the phenomenon of Bugs Bunny as a methaphorical interpretation of both De Kooning and spooning.

      What began as a personal journey of asshatism has translated into images of bananas and elbows that resonates with vegan people to question their own redness.

      Rothko embodies an idiosyncratic view of Elvis, yet the familiar imagery allows for a connection between Bob Barker, pinatas and radishes.

      –Brought to you by Artist Statement Generator: :)


  5. Katie

    It really is all about how well-known the painter is… I was at the Art Institute this past weekend, and I remember being overwhelmed by the idea that, “OHMYGOSH, I’m a foot away from a Renoir!”


  6. Melanie

    $75 million for art? Holy fuck. Not in my lifetime.
    I have an original work of art hanging in my living room. I found it in a garage and the previous owner knew nothing about it and it no longer suited her decor, so I got it for free. I know nothing about it, other than I love it. It’s signed too. Surely it was “worth” more than free, but I am ever so grateful to have it. Art is wonderful.


  7. evilsquirrel13

    I remember Rothko from my art appreciation classes (which I took 3 of, compared to zero actual art classes… go figure), and while I can’t really paint worth a crap, I’ll bet I could do a square. That’s unfortunately true about the name recognition…. one you become a “famous” artist, you could blow your nose on a canvas and it’s instantly worth millions….


  8. gentlestitches

    I just looked into my crystal crochet hook and guess what? In a few short years you will be able to afford art supplies much easier AND be in the position to buy more Art. Sadly the 75 million dollars ones probably will stay with the people who buy for perceived status but at least we have Art Galleries. big sisters of the libraries. Its an amazing planet. People buy expensive Art and donate to public galleries and others do it so everyone will know they are a wanker. I will stop now. :)


    1. goldfish

      Yay! I hope so. I’d at least like to be able to afford an $80 print when the mood strikes. $80 isn’t a lot, but in my current circumstances, $80 for art might as well be $1000.

      Nobody really needs a $75 million dollar painting anyway. You’d have to insure it and stuff.


  9. No Blog Intended

    Permission to make you jealous? I’ve recently been to an exhibition of Kandinsky. It wasn’t just his paintings, it alos showed other works that were somehow related, and Russian culture stuff.
    But okay.
    You’re really right about those names, that is so stupid. I would only pay a lot if something really appeals to me. But to be honest I like the ‘old’ art more. The not abstract stuff. It seems like Rothko does things you could more or less just do too. (Perhaps you hate me now for this, but I can’t help feeling like that…) While Van Eyck has amde suchs tunning works…


    1. goldfish

      I am jealous. I’ve never really seen Kandinsky in person. I am a fan.

      Rothko was all about context. He was the first person to make squares. It wasn’t about talent, but just happening to be in the right place at the right time.


  10. dhonour

    Not only is it name recognition, but it is totally arbitrary as well. Or at least down to luck of the draw. The older I get, the more I realize that I like to surround myself with the things that I like. Perhaps others don’t like them (hot pink perspex?), but that doesn’t matter because I do. Sometimes these things cost a lot (and I am fortunate when I am able to buy some of them), but sometimes they are junk store finds. I would challenge most people to tell the difference.


  11. C.K. Hope

    All the art in my house was done by friends, my kids, and family; some don’t want to be known,some are unknown, some are becoming known and I got ’em all free! Except my 9 year olds, she charges anywhere from $1 to $10 for her work, I’m pretty sure at the rate she’s going she’ll try charging 75 million by the time she’s twelve ;)


    1. goldfish

      Yay! Same here. All of the original art I have was done by friends or friends of friends.

      Good on your 9 year old! She’s already doing better than me at the business end of art!


  12. t

    I love art, most kinds, and like you I love to own original art because I enjoy it and I hope the money helps the artist get by. I don’t really care if its by someone famous or not, its the art itself that has to appeal. I recently had a similar experience – saw some original pieces I really liked but they were £3000+ each so I though ‘I’ll get a print’… I came away with nothing because unframed, unsigned prints were £99 and no matter how much I like it, I have bills to pay.


Your words go here.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s