The art world is one that is very hard to understand, and I think those that control it want it to be that way! Which artist fetches the top dollar for their work? And why? It doesn’t always seem to be about what we (amateurs!) call quality, in fact some of the absolutely hot, top-grossing artists create what seem to be bizarre and often childish work! (Watch me get shot down here, everyone!)

You know Jeff Koons and his inflatable poodles? Worth millions now. What about the Chinese artist who started the crazy baby movement? Was Picasso really good – I mean talented not just eccentric? Was Andy Warhol an artist or a con-artist, because he certainly fooled a lot of people! Could Joan Miro really paint? A lot of his work looks very messy! All of these folks reached the absolute pinnacle of success and became household names. But how would their art teachers score them in school? 

Is art an accumulation of skill, talent , inspiration, creativity and experience? Or just great big brass balls and exceptional lucky timing? Here in Bali we have some really brilliant artists, who honestly fit the first description and we have a whole lot more  who are just artisans, pumping out the canvases and carvings for the mass market, but who honestly have great skill and technique, they only lack originality and inspiration. I would say there are very few who are just lucky. Perhaps the island is too small and people are too well known!

Museum Rudana Ubud Bali Balinese art
Artists at work at Museum Rudana – photo by Andy Lysander

I do have huge respect for artisans. The stone and wood carvers, the makers of decorations rather than ‘art’ but have serious talent,  enormous dedication and who are the authors of Bali’s landscape. Before western style ‘development’ (my term is destruction) came to Bali, every house, every compound, every temple, every market, every wall, every roof was crafted with skill and talent, following traditional patterns and motifs.

Bali was Balinese to the edge of life. Somehow we came along and  broke the rules and got away with it. Rows of appalling, classless shop houses, concrete and steel mansions better suited to Beverly Hills than Seminyak; futuristic structures that would look great in Shanghai, but not in the hills of Ubud. Bali no longer looks and feels like Bali, unfortunately.

Oka Kartini Culture Workshops Bali
Wayang carvers at Oka Kartini – photo by Andy Lysander

But back to art. Art is a commodity bought and sold according to the rules of Christie’s / Sotheby’s / dealers/ traders/ collectors/ galleries. Some make it to the top. Most don’t  So is art worth investing in? Obviously yes –  if you own an original Van Gogh /Monet/ Rembrandt you will be a very wealthy person – but for me investing in art is investing in life.

Buy for love not for future value. Buy for the joy you get from the piece and the joy you give others. And everybody who owns a hotel, villa, office, or even a factory, call in the artisans and make your building Balinese again. That will be truly inspirational, and make a lot of people very happy!

Read more about Balinese art in our column: Art in Bali .

Alistair G. Speirs

Alistair G. Speirs

Alistair G Speirs, OBE, is the Publisher of NOW! Magazines. He has been in the publishing, advertising and PR business for the last 25 years. He started both NOW! Bali and NOW! Jakarta as each region's preferred community magazine.