Are There Winners and Losers In Art?

Posted 5/10/2011 by smartblackboy in Labels: , , , , , , ,

Recently the person who has had the most influence on my thinking is a comedian.

Namely Bill Maher and his Real Time with Bill Maher show on HBO.

It isn't his political views that have influenced me but the way he pushes his guests, intellectuals, actors, politicians, and professional pundits - to actually take a stand. He is trying to bring back a framework where some things can actually be right, and some can actually be wrong. Ironically, this is a framework that conservative Christians has supported for years.

I don't claim a political party - but I am generally more liberal and progressive than not.

It is probably safe to say that many in the art world are more likely to fall into this camp than the right-wing fringe.

What I have always disliked about many of liberal friends is this idea that everything is relative, every side of an issue deserves equal weight, there are always two side to a coin, you just can't really be sure of anything.


I respect the fact that life is complicated, there are often grey areas, but I don't think everything is grey area. I think in some cases you can safely say something is right and something is wrong. I think you can say someone has won an argument and someone has lost an argument. I believe in facts and commonsense. I don't believe that every side of issue deserves to be considered equally. I think in some cases to do so is not only stupid but dangerous - and is the very thing I hate about most media.

For example, if I said President Bush was from Singapore. And in fact he is not from Singapore. I do not deserve time or attention. There is not a debate to be had. There is no question. I am just wrong. Period. End of story.

Here is another less obvious example. If I said we should not judge how certain countries with Muslim majorities treat their women because the United States doesn't treat our women well either.

This is the far more common and seductive relativism that I hear from many people I respect. However, for me it is a false equivalency. Sure our country has a long way to go in regards to gender equality. We pay women less, we often view them as sexual objects, we have a subversive rape culture(whether it is 1 in 5 or 1 in 20 is irrelevant), and we still way too often legislate rules governing women's bodies. This is bad and shameful. However, this is not the equivalent of literally making women faceless, relieving males of all responsibility for their sexual urges, having a system of acceptable murder directed only towards women, the forced marriage of girls who aren't even teenagers, blatantly giving women unequal treatment under law,etc,etc. Yes we have problems that we need to work on but they in no way equate to the reality of life for women in some countries. And there is nothing wrong with pointing that out.

How does this relate to the arts?

If there was ever a realm that embraces the idea of subjectivity it is the arts. I know I will infuriate people by saying that there can be winners and losers in art, but not only can there be winner there are winners.

I am 19 and I get a solo show at a respected gallery. I am winning.

I am 53 and have seen my sales go down for my last two solo shows. I am losing.

I am an arts professional who has brought together a bunch of arts organizations who don't normally work together to do arts festival. I am winning.

I am a multi-million dollar organization who can't get anyone under 40 to attend my events. I am losing.

I make a risky piece of work that no one understands. I am losing.

Ten years later that same piece of work isn't seen as a failure but a prototype ahead of its time. I am winning.

You don't have to agree with me about "who wins" and "who loses"; however, the idea that someone wins and someone loses - shouldn't be controversial.

But it is.

We like to think art is above such gritty reality. And maybe it is - when you are alone in your studio - making the art.

However, that is not how we deal with art. We deal with art in galleries, in museums, in homes, in restaurants, in the streets. We admire it. We buy it. We sell it. We talk about it.

And in that realm there are winners and losers. It is not subjective. Some people are able to make their livelihoods with it and some are not. Some people are happy with what they create and some are not. Some people influence other people and some do not.

As I say in the header of my new blog - Some people win. And some people lose. Very few do both all of the time.

I believe that this is true with all human endeavors, even those where we are competing only with ourselves.

Most importantly by believing that you can win and you can lose - suddenly you are motivated. There is incentive to make changes. The arts have lost a lot compared to other industries and professions. My life is dedicated to trying to figure out how to improve the creative field. I think integrating other successful business models and giving individuals access to capital is one way to do so. However, if you don't know what is successful and what isn't - then you don't know where you stand and what changes you need to make. You have no goal posts. There is no score.

One of the wisest things I was told as financial planner was "if you keep the score, then the score will improve."

I think it far past time for the art world to start keeping scores. Only then will we see our industry improve.

Darryl Ratcliff is the CEO of Green Bandana Group and Managing Partner of Creative VC. Check out his new blog "Winners and Losers" at

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