koonsFormer commodities broker and artist Jeff Koons.

Making art work is like any other job, which means that intrinsically it has the possibility to be a real drag or the only way for some to live. Or both at once. The connections and parallels between artists and entrepreneurial business people are shocking despite the outside differences. Both take a risk to gamble on themselves and to show others that the work they do not only is important and can affect their lives but that it has value; either a dollar value and a cultural value and with luck both.

You have a take on the world that others do not have the guts to and try to make opportunities that others in your field have not seen yet. How you execute those insights and the quality and number of people who see what you made will bring to you and the things you have made both respect and a comfortable life.

That’s a lot; but that’s just what you want others to feel. As important as those things are you have other things to deal with. The work itself is trying to kill you sometimes. It wants to break you and the details of the daily grind can bring about boredom and a feeling of pointlessness. In the worst cases a loss of self-esteem or drive due to the sheer impossibility of the ordeal can take you to dark places, especially when the investment is not performing.

rothko studioMark Rothko in the studio. Click here for an excellent short doc on Rothko and where his painting took him.

I guess you could say that being involved in this life doesn’t make me believe in the milquetoast ideal of the lazy artist hanging in coffee shops and talking about “expression”. Those types are out there no doubt but the most successful are strategic, highly competitive (at least with themselves), and extremely intelligent and knowledgeable about their field.

Which is why the wealthy and the established “get” art. Education and the option of being able to afford luxury items is a factor, as is bragging rights and the want to show culture and your taste to your friends and competitors. The real appeal though is in the mindset of the artist and being around those who have balls, arrogance or at least confidence and an ability to see the world differently than the rest; there is a kinship between the extremely successful and the artist.

They both pursue different goals but chase after them with a fury and single-mindedness that can include extreme narcisism and fierce self-determination. The extremes vary, but I’ve known artists that would be just as suited in a boardroom as they would in a gallery if they were chasing after a different thing.

Eli BroadPhilanthropist and collector Eli Broad with Mark Rothko paintings in the background.

We could say the business man and the artist have a kinship and a certain co-dependency. One can live without the other, but maybe not as well or not as completely. I’ve been in beautiful homes with bad, cheap art and it just hurts. It hurts me and the owner; they are filling space and showing nothing more than a desire to do what’s expected to the least degree. At a certain point the Sub Zero and the Eames chair become a sort of standard as does real art by serious artists. You know what I’m talking about but when you see the opposite  glaring. I’ve also been in small homes and apartments with great collections built on meager budgets and more than unread books on philosophy or Sun Tsu, they breathe class and true richness.

Artists can continue to make work that piles up in their space, respected and admired work that is talked about and adored. But the final proof is the acceptance of this work by others – be that of the museum or collector. The financial aspect of being paid for work solidifies the commitment of a buyers adoration. For the artist, the sale is their start-up taking off and the breathing of fuel back in the tank. It’s confidence and energy replenished and rent and bills paid. It’s the start of the next venture with the emotional and financial capital in place. It’s hard to admit that the financial and peer or societal approval means this much for some of us, and for others the opposite could be true. But it’s a complex thing letting go of a piece.

We’ve talked about seeing art, about going to galleries and asking questions to acquire some of the necessary tools to make good decisions. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be interviewing a few people on both sides of the fence; collectors, patrons, and artists. I want to talk about how they first came to buy work and why, what they got out of the exchange and their relationship with the artists they support, and how these things are perceived or accepted from the artist’s point of view.

Joseph Staples – Office Supplies Incorporated