Your Next Get-Rich-Quick Scheme: Become an ArtistS

Planning on attending the spring art auctions this week? You might want to bring a spare suitcase-full-of-cash or two: At least a dozen pieces are priced in the $20 million range, including works by Picasso, Monet (pronounced Mo-neyyy), and Maurice de Vlaminck (he was a Fauve). But how can a poor struggling artist like yourself get that kind of dough?

Apparently, art buyers are feeling "flush and giddy" these supposedly recessionary days, which is making business boom at Sotheby's and Christie's (and their lesser-known Staten Island counterpart, Lisa Ann's Auctionz and Collectiblez). Though it took a dip in 2009, the market's quickly recovered, says the Wall Street Journal:

As a result, the art market's current state, while off from peak levels, still feels slightly breathless. Record prices are being paid for individual favorites like Pablo Picasso, whose "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust" sold at Christie's last May for $106.5 million, the most ever paid at auction for a work of art.

Where's the money coming from, if nobody in America has any money anymore? Well, China's spending on art has "nearly quadrupled" in the past five years. So there's a clue.

Hmmmm, wouldn't you like to be able to quadruple your spending on art? Of course, but how? Well, one way is to become one of the artists whose work goes for high prices. "Oh," you say, "but to make the serious bank you have to be dead, like Picasso and that de Vlaminck guy." It's true that most of the big-selling works are by artists who departed from earth many years ago—but not all of them! For example, Damian Hirst's fortune is worth around $388 million.

"Oh," you add, "but I can't be an artist, I have no talent." Pshaw! Lacking talent has never stopped anyone from becoming a successful artist. For example, Damian Hirst's fortune is worth around $388 million. Of course, you can't just dive into your brand-new art career without having a strategy. Based on the Journal's reportage and observation, here's a few helpful hints on how to make some good art money:

  • Avoid making "trendy" your personal brand. "Those who lost fortunes when contemporary-art values plummeted are treading carefully now, no longer afraid to walk away if a trendy name seems overpriced," the Journal says. If you're naturally trend-minded, you might have to work at this. Try moving out to the woods and staying there for 10-20 years. Don't talk to anyone the entire time. When you're finally ready to leave that rickety log hovel full of spiders behind, you won't be trendy anymore.
  • Make brightly colored art. "Brightly colored art ... seems to be attracting extra attention this season, from the saturated palettes of Picasso and Andy Warhol to cheery-colored Chinese vases to diamonds in intense shades of pink and blue," the Journal reports. Not being Picasso, Warhol, or Chinese might be a requirement for this tip to work, but you can try pretending to be one of the three and see how it goes.
  • Base your oeuvre on "universally understood" subject matters. The Journal lists these examples: "love, death, family, pretty scenery." Make paintings of dead families scattered all over beautiful beaches or mountain ranges, or a drawing of the Grim Reaper chasing your grandparents around a lake.
  • Sculpt Venus. "[D]emand is rising" for marble statues of the goddess of love, probably because she was pretty and nice. Marble is a popular material, but it can be expensive; try making your Venus out of plaster, soap, mashed potatoes, or Styrofoam.
  • Paint "crisp, lush Victorian-era portraits of beautiful women." This will require traveling back in time to the Victorian era, if you're going for total authenticity. But you can also skip that step and just paint a beautiful woman, or use your Styrofoam Venus as a model. (It can be our secret.)
  • Acquire a loose pair of paint-splattered pants and walk around your town looking dejected. The rich people in your town will notice you from their limousines and ask you to take them to your studio. There, they will give you their spare suitcases full of cash. Then you'll be ready for next spring's auctions.

[WSJ]