Recently, an artist made international news headlines for taping a banana to a wall and selling it as ‘art’ for $120,000. The series — by Italian satirical sculptor Maurizio Cattelan and staged on the wall at Emmanuel Perrotin’s gallery — was actually an edition of three bananas. Picture the produce aisle at your local grocer and it’s easy to surmise why it was a edition of three – the typical bundle size of nanas. I would have chosen grapes and not bananas, for a higher profit margin, but I digress…
As an artist, my first reaction upon hearing this story of the golden banana was complete annoyance. I’m sure I rolled my eyes and dropped an F-bomb, as I was at the moment literally covered in paint and at the end of an 80 hour work week, spent in my studio, creating art. Creating, with tools and paint and canvas and my bare hands – not adhering fruits to walls and adding a cheeky price tag.
As my artist friends and I chugged our Trader Joe’s Cabernet out of reused plastic parade cups, we traded sarcasms about this news of the million dollar banana. I will own up to a shred of jealousy regarding the hefty price, because adding zeros to the price is something to which all artists aspire. But as the conversation deepened, annoyance seemed to be the prevailing emotion.
Most American artists earn less than $10,000 a year from their art
The challenge of any person declaring themselves to be an artist is to humbly try and recreate the wheel, and to stand out in a world bombarded with imagery on every level. It’s not easy.
According to a 2017 survey of international artists by Artfinder, three quarters of American artists made $10,000 or less per year from their art. Nearly half (48.7 percent) made less than $5,000. With somewhere around 4% of artists actually able to make a living selling art, you realize what an absurd challenge we face, and that it is truly a labor of love, driven mostly by the intense need to create because, as with any other passion, it is what we were born to do. This is not an easy career path, which is why so many artists are chided by parents to ‘get a real job’, or labeled by society as misfits and weirdos (we are). It can be a lonely profession, fiercely competitive and prone to strife, as any situation loaded with ego and money would tend to be.
So when a hardworking, dedicated artist hears a tale such as this banana situation—a situation created by a thoughtful artist of real renown, one should hasten to add—it creates a mix of emotions that include annoyance, confusion and surprise. It’s what I call the gameshow of life, with surprise winners that don’t always make sense, but it’s not really a surprise when we look at our current lottery culture. It’s a Kardashian world that we live in, so is it really a surprise that a random banana was the star of Art Basel?