The other day heard about an art scam aimed at young, successful artists. The story goes like this: Painter graduates with an MFA and gets picked up by one of the big galleries like Saatchi Gallery. She is immediately a hit. Once Saatchi buys a painting, art collectors all over the world pay attention. They know it’s a good investment and soon the painter can’t produce enough work and begins selling even her old drawings for thousands of dollars. As an artist, it seems you can’t ask for anything else. But that’s not the scam, that’s the real art world.
The scam happens when that artist gets a letter from a man in London who writes that he has an autistic son who has been so moved by her work that he has begun drawing. He now has a whole collection of drawings and he would like to send the artist a couple of them. There is one particular drawing of yours that the man’s son has seen and loves and he would like to buy it for $1000.
Suddenly, the painter is getting something that she hasn’t gotten in a long time. Someone who truly appreciates her work and is moved by it in a very personal way. Even with all the money and recognition she has gotten from selling her paintings, she is touched by an autistic child who likes her work. So she makes a deal with the dad and trades one of her drawings for one of his son’s drawings. After the trade she gets a box of chocolate in the mail from the father then never hears from him again. And she doesn’t think about it again until another painter, also represented by Saatchi Gallery, tells her the exact same story, down to the box of chocolate, only it happened to him.
I found the story interesting enough, but the part that really stuck with me was that you have this artist who you would think has it made. Success, fame, money, right out of art school, and I’m sure she’s thrilled to have all those things, I know I would be, but there’s something missing in it all. The people who are buying her paintings are buying them as an investment, not out of a love and appreciation for her work. And this is what she wants, so much that when she believes an autistic child is moved by her work she is willing to give him one of her drawings. That’s how bad she wants her work to be understood and appreciated for what it is.
As I listened to the story I realized that although I don’t have fame, and recognition and I don’t sell my work for thousands of dollars, I do know that my work is loved and appreciated and understood by many people from all over the world. Almost everyday I get an email from someone telling me how my work has touched them. How something I wrote on my blog has meaning for them. So I have the one thing that the artists who are getting scammed don’t have. I don’t necessarily think it has to be a trade-off, either recognition and money or appreciation, and if I had to choose I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t want the other. But maybe there’s a middle ground, where fame, recognition, appreciation and money are more evenly balanced. I think that’s where I’d choose to be.