June 17, 2021 | Alyson Stanfield

Elitism in the Art World with Megan Auman

Elitism in the art world is not an easy topic to tackle. To help make sense of its complexity, I  invited Megan Auman back to the Art Biz Podcast.

Megan and I wrestle with what, exactly, the art world is. What are its boundaries and who defines it? We dive into problems that occur when entire groups of people are excluded from participating in that world.

Megan Auman hammered copper bowls in progress | on Art Biz Success
©Megan Auman, Hammered copper bowls in progress. 4 inches to 10 inches in diameter.

On the other hand, I believe there are multiple art worlds. And now that I'm thinking about it (after the recorded conversation), maybe there is just a planet with a lot of artists making things and it doesn't matter that we come to a clear definition of what the art world is or isn't. But that's another topic.

One thing is for certain. Elitism is rampant in the art establishment that is written about in newspaper reviews and whose artists are shown in museums and sold at auction, and that can be a real problem. Or is it?

In our conversation, Megan and I unpack the many layers of elitism in the art world, from the traditional artist models that need to be permanently retired to the concern that too many artists are undervaluing and underpricing their work.

There is a lot that needs to change, and this conversation is the perfect starting point for any artist who is interested in exploring and contributing to this difficult dialogue.


Music by Wildermiss

Highlights

  • Megan Auman shares the studio practice that evolved from her childhood artmaking. (2:19)
  • ‘This is the story that we’re not paying attention to.’ Is elitism running rampant in the art world? (4:52)Megan Auman metal artist holding copper bowl | on Art Biz Success
  • Megan defines the elite art world (with a capital A) and the inclusive art world for the rest of us. (8:58)
  • The definition of art from 50 years ago just isn’t cutting it by today’s standards. (15:29)
  • A look at the many levels of elitism in the art world, and what exactly is wrong with all of them. (17:12)
  • What effect does the democratization of the art world have on the monetary value of an artist’s work? (23:54)
  • The importance of valuing what you make enough to be paid for that value. (25:54)
  • The basis of gender inequality in the art world. (27:45)
  • Defining elitism in the art world, why it’s worth ranting against, and what we can do about it. (28:40)
  • Reaching the point that you can confidently call yourself an artist and make your art truly accessible (not affordable). (35:00)
  • If anyone could be an artist, how can we differentiate the makers of the world and value what those makers make? (41:36)

Mentioned

Megan Auman Quotes

“When I talk about elitism in the art world, it’s not actually the art world that I inhabit.”

“There is this level of gatekeeping that happens and it’s a problem because only certain, very specific kinds of people get paid and supported in making their art.”

“It’s a matter of whether or not you believe that what you’re doing has enough value that you should be paid for that value.”

“What I want is for more people to claim what they do as art, and for us as a culture to value that art. Meaning that we put our money where our mouth is.”

“Calling yourself an artist does not preclude you from also spending money on other people’s art.”

About My Guest

Megan Auman artist headshot | on Art Biz SuccessMegan Auman is an artist, metalsmith, teacher, writer, and business coach. She designs jewelry that is simultaneously bold and easy to wear. Though trained as a metalsmith, Megan draws endless inspiration from textiles and fashion, seeking to recreate the ease and fluidity of fiber and textiles in metal. She works predominantly in steel, forming each element and link by hand from wire, then torch welding each joint. Other welded metals, including silver and bronze, are sometimes used to add variety and contrast to her designs.

Megan received a BFA in metals from Syracuse University and an MFA in metals and jewelry from Kent State University. While studying at Kent, she developed a love for working with steel and torch welding, which led to the development of her current line.

Follow Megan on Instagram: @meganauman


Music by Wildermiss

9 comments add a comment
  • Judy Stoltz

    OMG – listening to your podcast and comment about zoom meetings giving us a window into peoples homes – and I was always thinking the same thing “people need more art in their home” and in their LIVES!

    • Alyson Stanfield

      Judy: Absolutely! Was that in this episode? I’m kind of thinking it was the earlier episode with Megan (#39), yes?

  • Thank you Megan and Alyson. Wow. This gave a lot of food for thought. And talked about a wide range of what’s occurring in the art world. I agree that art is undervalued, and that work esp in what was perceived in the “craft” area was particularly undervalued. And that women’s roles, and people of color have been written out of history. I do think though, that the reality is that though we first need to understand these interlocking and hierachal art universes…we are also faced with needing to know how to negotitate them, since change…(and I beleive it is beginning) is slow. For instance some of my work is more suited to an academic or museum gallery. But trying to find that audience, access that audience and create opportunities for myself in that arena is difficult for all the reasons you discussed. I think the pandemic, and the support artists gave each other throughout (through the artists pledge and the USPS projects) were very valuable and opened up and loosened some of the previously held ideas about not selling on social media etc. I agree we all need to support one another and value each others work. But the reality is most of us need to negotiate some of these systems…even if we hope to be part of change. More conversations please! :) :)

  • Susan Elcox

    Oh my gosh did this podcast speak to me! My profession was as a marketer and for many years advised businesses. I feel I was successful at coaching others on how to market their products. But when it comes time to market my own products, my artwork, I lack the confidence. I’m filled with constant self-doubt and end up sabotaging myself at EVERY turn. Pricing is only one of those issues. Thanks for bringing this topic to the forefront for us!

  • This is a great episode! Finally someone is not afraid to talk about elitism in art! I’d like to invite you both to be a guest on my video podcast on YouTube. You can watch my previous episodes here: https://veronicasart.com/video-podcast/
    It will be great if you decide to participate!

  • Loved this episode. I have taken classes with Megan Auman in the past and love her willingness to share with all. Thank you Alyson for bringing her to your podcast.

  • This podcast hit soo many buttons for me. I determined that I was an artist at a late time in my life,(50’s) even though I was an art instructor from my 20’s. One of the many reasons it took me so long, (despite me always, always making something) has much to do with what you call elitism.
    If you were a mother,
    If you weren’t in a gallery,
    If you didn’t work full-time at your craft,
    If you made work that was “too pretty”
    If your work was representational
    If weren’t making your living at your art
    (I could go on)
    then you weren’t a “real artist”

    • Alyson Stanfield

      Thanks so much for listening, Dawn Marie. I’m sorry you had to deal with all of that.

  • This was an incredibly interesting conversation.
    You know what thought occurred to me as I was listening? Regarding money and income Megan kept using the words, “to support their practice” in relation to what needs to be earned/charged. I say the same thing. So do many of my art friends. But regarding what other occupation does anyone say they need to “earn enough money to support their practice”? None that I can think of, but my brain might be tired. No doctor, lawyer, teacher, grocery store cashier – NO ONE says they need to earn enough money to support their practice. They support themselves, their lives, their families. Why is the artist’s financial goal so low as to just be able to keep doing what they’re doing on a repeated cycle? Is the overall mindset that we feel guilty saying we want to charge enough money to support ourselves and our family because making art is viewed as a hobby? The semantics are interesting to me, but I also don’t believe they are harmless. Curious to hear thoughts around this.

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