Saturday, June 25, 2016

If Artists Were So Lucky

My best friend and I have been having roughly the same argument over the past decade. About what you ask? Well, my feelings that sports figures make too much money. I always mused how can a man or woman who is playing a "game" demand and GET the sums they are being paid to play said games. A million, ten million, twenty-five million a year to play ... baseball, basketball, football, soccer, tennis; games we all played as kids and often played for our PE requirements in high school.

The most valuable soccer teams and players in worldwide soccer
We had a particularly heated "discussion" the other night after a few Margaritas when I brought up the topic of the 10 most valuable soccer teams and players in the world. We were watching Argentina beat the pants off the Americans in the Copa America Championships at the local watering hole. I had read the article on the left that afternoon at lunch. It was an eyeopener.

Later that evening, I spotted an article online talking about art and how the market was red hot right now. They mentioned a series of new museums where billionaires show off what they have collected over the years as they have reaped their fortunes.

Suddenly it dawned on me there were three things at play here:

  1. You have the artist, usually a poor starving creature, that in death might become famous. Van Gogh certainly comes to mind where an unsigned painting of his, recently re-discovered, is worth $25 million and he never made a dime.
  2. The collector who literally buys low and reaps the rewards as the years go by. Think of Peggy Guggenheim with all her Jackson Pollack's today worth hundreds of millions. One Jackson painting now being display in Iran from the Shah's wife's collection was appraised at $250 million.
  3. And finally the collector to be that amasses a fortune and then wants to do something with it. You could think of Carnegie, Rockefeller, Getty, Broad and possibly today Magic Johnson. 
I had to consider, what is the difference? And artist toils away for up to decades often in obscurity. A successful athlete, probably less than 1% of all players in the market has at best 10 - 15 years of potentially high earning power. If you watch ESPN enough, the talking heads prattle on about some of these athletes with terms usually used to describe a painting, or book, or music ... men and women who are artful, inventive in their moves, have a vision of each play, willing to try new moves. Wouldn't that describe paintings directly from the mouth of some docent?

The difference of course is that as a friend said, "Never invest in something that eats." The lifespan of a star athlete is as long as the next serious injury ... and event that will end his career instantly. The sad thing is that many will end up bankrupt in 8 - 10 years, about the same amount as lottery winners. With crippled bodies and with or without college degrees (ever seen the writing of O. J.Simpson?) many are almost functionally illiterate. For every Magic Johnson 20 or more will be poor and bankrupt in a few short years. While many artists toil away, unless they breathe in too much solvent, or fumes from some other material they use for their art, they generally have a longer lifespan. Picasso died in his 90's painting almost till the very end and was one of a very few artists, like very few athletes, that became extremely wealthy. Sadly though, not as wealthy as the patrons who bought his art and later had it appraised for far more than they paid for it! Supply and demand. It is the same for the world of art as the world of sports.

One of the guys in my old church group would repeat, and often, when discussing the world, politics in particular, "Money turns the crank." I realized as I apologized the next day, that who am I to judge? No one is putting a gun to anyone's head to reap those millions bouncing a basketball, hitting that home run or barreling down a football field in front of thousands of screaming fans. Sports, like any kind of art, takes us to another place, a place where the burdens of life are momentarily put aside allowing us to appreciate what we ourselves cannot do.

Ultimately though, great artists like great athletes can only offer the world their talent. Their talent is what makes them unique. Or, as George Orwell says at the end of ANIMAL FARM, "Some animals ARE more equal than others."

Thank you for reading my blog. Please check out earlier blogs that discuss how we and many others design the lives we live.

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