Art Snobs and Status Symbols

Art Snobs and Status Symbols

Since status symbols seem to be a human universal, they will probably never become extinct. Ancient tribal leaders wore special hats, gold necklaces and rode fancy horses to separate themselves from the common peons. Queen Elizabeth passed a law that lower class folks could not wear silk, since they might be confused with their betters. If every one went stark naked, would we respect police or judges?

Think about it.

People have always been willing to pay a lot for status symbols, something to tell passers-by, “I am more important than you.” Diamonds, furs, luxury cars and mansions are needed for this little game. Art snobs spend millions for art by a famous name, so they can say, “Come by and see my Max Ernst.” Not that it is a beautiful or profound painting, but that it is a status symbol. As art, it may be crap, let’s face it.

That’s why I think Wolfgang Beltracchi, the most exhibited artist in the world and called the best artist of the 20th century, is a hoot. For forty years he studied the styles of the the big names and painted what they “would have painted if they were good enough.” His paintings hang in museums, galleries and collections all over the world. Asked why, if he was so good, he didn’t sign his own name, he said, “Because nobody would pay three million euros for a Beltracci.”

He was finally caught, not by an expert, but by a laboratory that found the alleged artist did not have access to the pigment titanium white. Beltracchi was sentenced to six years and had to pay some collectors back. When asked what he had learned, he said, “Don’t use titanium white.”

Status symbols are here to stay, but don’t fall for their sacredness. Would the Hope Diamond still be beautiful if it turned out to be a cubic zirconium? Surround yourself with what you love, don’t fall for the status symbol game. You are already important.

Wolfgang Beltracchi

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