I’ve been thinking about money. We all have recently, in various ways, though we probably always have done so, and always will. But I’ve been thinking that money has been dominating the news, and the arts news for too long.

First it was the spiralling Price = Value money news, where we knew a Koons was good because someone we’d previously not known of (unless you happen to be close to the Royal Family of Qatar) had spent $23.6 million on it. Gosh, what a committed collector, one might have thought, unless you felt either apathetic or somewhat nauseated (in the same way as you might while absently totting up the cost of the handbags hanging casually off the backs of chairs in a Dublin bar: €500 here, €1,600 there…).

So now – apart from the poor (perhaps literally?) old Los Angeles County Museum – who are still committed to buying Jeff Koons’ $25 million hanging-steam-train sculpture, and could be forgiven for wondering what message this is sending out to those who fund them (the only possible answer to critics being “well, it seemed like a good idea at the time”) – the talk is now of how the recession will let ‘good’ art be made again. Thinking about that, the image that comes unbidden to mind is of Money, whip or gun in hand, forcing Art to be bad…

Anyway, now the news is all of good art finally being set free, while galleries close here and there. What’s forgotten in all this is that there are other value systems, and even in the crazy, financially record-breaking years, Koons, Hirst and their cohorts were not the only game in town. I never met an artist who became an artist because they wanted to get rich. It’s often not even a choice at all, but the culmination of a series of events that perhaps might have led to investment banking (had you turned left instead of right one day), but these people really were inevitably driven to making, thinking, and not earning very much at all.

If money-value isn’t the thing, then, neither is media-value. Money helped the mainstream media ‘get’ art, and gave the headline writers something to emblazon on their pages; and when trying to convince an editor that an artist is worth writing about, money (or a famous relative or relationship) could usually be a clincher. So the media values are skewed too? Of course, but try telling the PR for a large gallery (and even for some artists) that they shouldn’t want to be in the news that much…

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