14
Aug
09

Art and Personal Finance

A friend recently sent me this article from the New York Times, about Annie Leibovitz and her shocking debt. In a year that has included many astonishing bankruptcy announcements, Ms. Leibovitz’s financial predicament is only surprising in the context of her unparalleled success as a professional photographer. With Richard Avedon and Henri Cartier-Bresson now deceased (both men died in 2004), Leibovitz is arguably the most famous photographer alive. Her clients include Disney, Louis Vuiton and Dior, and a regular gig at Vanity Fair — Leibovitz certainly has a considerable and reliable stream of income. But it seems that she’s invested her money poorly, and now stands to lose her archive of photographs including her negatives and all rights to the images, which she put up as collateral against a loan.

This is a common theme in history — the most brilliant artists somehow sink into inescapable debt. Possibly this is related to an attitude among most artists (successful or not) that money is . . . sometimes irrelevant. The sense of “value” is necessarily different for an artist than for other people. The work in progress (the painting, the novel, the sculpture) has no certain value. The artist will invest all her money and all her time in a pursuit that offers no remuneration. And when artists do get paid, they are more satisfied, I think, by the validation (“someone else values this thing I have created”) than by the security that money usually represents.

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