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These Are the Still-Life Fruits of Capitalism

Marianne March

I am not a socialite. I cannot recall ever having worn white gloves, but for a minor fraction of my disposable income, my gluttonous eyes have feasted upon the works of Pollock, Picasso, and DaVinci.

These are the still-life fruits of capitalism. I trade my talents for a paycheck. Artists trade their creations for money. And I happily swipe my debit card for a long, hungry look at a canvas masterfully coated in paint. Can you imagine a feudal peasant with such an opportunity? Surely, those people loved beauty no less than I, but without capital or access, how could they indulge?

100 Million Buckaroos

Everyone is talking about the recent auction of this piece of artwork that sold for an astonishing $110.5 million (to put that in perspective, that is enough money to buy more than 368,000 Nintendo Switch game systems).

Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Untitled”

2017 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, via ARS, New York, via Sotheby’s

The artist, the late Jean-Michel Basquiat, was a New York Graffiti artist and the son of an Haitian immigrant. Known posthumously for his work, which has been called “unstudied but skillful,” Basquiat collaborated with Andy Warhol before a tragic 1988 drug overdose that resulted in his death at age 27.

I, in my TJMaxx flats, have gaped at Salvador Dali's surrealism.

The sale of Basquiat’s Untitled at the legendary art brokerage firm, Sotheby’s, set numerous records, including the highest selling price for any work by a black artist, the highest priced work by any American artist (interestingly, Warhol held the previous record of $105.4 million), and for being the 6th most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction.

The purchaser, Japanese billionaire and founder of Japan’s largest online mall, Yusaku Maezawa, has been quoted as saying that he wishes “to loan this piece – which has been unseen by the public for more than 30 years – to institutions and exhibitions around the world… I hope it brings as much joy to others as it does to me, and that this masterpiece by the 21-year-old Basquiat inspires our future generations.”

Not Just for Billionaires

Art used to be reserved for the top tiers of society. Who else could afford such luxuries?

Obviously, most of us cannot afford to spend millions of dollars to fill our empty walls, but that in no way means that we are excluded from the art world.

Beauty is not just for the richest beholder. Not anymore. At my nearest art gallery, I only need to be holding $14.50 to gain general admission (how many of us spend as much on Starbucks every week?). This is how I, in my TJMaxx flats, have gaped at Salvador Dali's surrealism.

We have more opportunity than any previous generation to appreciate the power and value of art.

And I need not limit my gluttony to a borrowed view. I can also purchase an affordable print for my own humble walls or download a digital copy as the background on my desktop or iPhone. After a run to the craft store and a quick YouTube tutorial, I can even recreate my own pathetic version of the masters'.

Critics might complain that millennial culture is too heavy on selfies and too light on Frans Hals, but we have more opportunity than any generation before ours to appreciate the power and value of art. Furthermore, it takes far less time and money to snap an Insta-post than it did for all those lords and ladies, kings and presidents, to pose for portraits (and some call my generation self-obsessed).

Being creative comes at a small premium these days. It’s easier than ever to DIY art and décor and decorations for Christmas, birthday parties, or for no reason whatsoever beyond my own whimsy. I also try my hand as a pretend makeup artist on the daily (and my winged liner is fierce, honey).

If you too are into creative, ‘DIY’ experiences, you may have heard about painting parties. Here, would-be-creatives sip on adult beverages while a local artist guides them through the recreation of a painting.

Some art lovers may turn up their noses at the practice of art-through-imitation, and my fancy friends may object to displaying amateurish artwork in their homes, but everyone should be able to create and display truly terrible art if that is their wish.

Put Your Monet Where Your Mouth Is

Although we may not all agree with Mr. Maezawa’s taste in art or his subjective valuation of $110 million, he has the right to do with his money whatever he wants. And my fellow art lovers can take comfort in knowing that this is how the arts will survive.

According to the New York Times, “many of the largest arts organizations in the United States survive with just a smidgen of federal financial help.” So if you are worried about the proposed elimination of funding for the arts and humanities, fear not.

If you love art, prove it. Visit a museum, go to an art festival, read an e-book about Monet. As long as individuals can privately support the arts, we don’t need government endowments.

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