Return to Articles



Happy Holidays, folks. This is allegedly the happiest time of the year, although an 85 degree day with no clouds and a light ocean breeze seems a hell of a lot happier than pouring rain creating rush hour gridlock for the normal commute of working stiffs, and topped off with Holiday Shoppers who still aren't even used to the Daylight Savings Time Change.

But if you are going to be happy, it will likely come from shopping for the most special someone in your life. You know who I mean. Yourself. The economy is on the uptick, but screw family and friends (scratch that, the first is illegal and your friends are ugly). Forget about your family and friends. Make a Photoshop document of a charity gift certificate stating that you have donated a hundred dollars in Aunt Mamie's name to Save the Planet. A good color laser printer can finish your shopping for all those other friends and relatives in about an hour.

So ask yourself what you want. Not a toy, like a new stereo, nor a practical gift like a Macintosh computer. Forget some lame request like art supplies or a new loft studio. C'mon, what do you really want? A solo show?

This year’s holiday gift that will keep on giving, Robert Greene’s “48 Laws of Power”, 1998, Penguin Books. Available at!
Your picture on the cover of Art Issues (oops, sorry, too late, okay, Artforum?). How about Fortune? Fame? Importance? Now we are talking. And it is getting a little warmer in here. The thing you really want is the thing you would sell your soul to acquire. Power.This Holiday Season, give yourself the gift that will keep on giving. Purchase Robert Greene's The 48 Laws of Power (Penguin Books, 1998). This is not a traditional gift for someone in the art world, and there are only a few anecdotes in the book relating to gallerists and artists in its 452 pages, but every single page of this book can be applied to the art world and anyone in it on any level. In fact, anyone who adopted even half of these laws as traits to use when interacting with the art world would, in my opinion, find it impossible to fail in their quest.

Want to be exhibiting in museums? Sure, that How to Make It As An Artist book can analyze, step-by-step, how Julian Schnabel or Willem De Kooning became world class artists. And you'll finish the book, move to New York, act like a jerk and die alone and forgotten, because all of those art world guides are hindsight analyses of how things have worked once or twice in particular time periods. 48 Laws is timeless. Reading it reinforces that human nature has not changed in 4,000 years, which is how far back its sources--used to vividly illustrate each of the Laws in action throughout human history--go. So the first thing you might wind up doing is flushing your idealism and integrity down the toilet. Of course, name someone in power in the art world who hasn't?

The variety of examples and detail given to exercising each Law reveals what a thorough author Greene is. He has researched historical anecdotes so well, that as you read this in your empty gallery or studio you will be a peer of Genghis Khan as he ravages the known world. And Genghis will hand you the keys to the kingdom; his techniques can be applied to your quest to take the art world as your own.

If you have been in the art world for any stretch of time, you have seen some of your colleagues succeed by applying some of these Laws to their careers. Ever get tired of making lugubrious abstract paintings and long to pull a Philip Guston and seize figurative imagery for a new series? You are simply applying Law #25 (Recreate Yourself), but the author's in-depth discussions of historical figures who did so successfully will give you a far greater blueprint on how to manage your transformation besides saying "I'm painting from life again. . ."

But that is a mere formal decision to jumpstart the art. How do you really get in with the right art world people? Well, we all know those How To Make It books have long chapters on slide packets. But of course, they never publish the lists of artists in MOCA's collection who started off with a stack of slide packets. But if you purchased this book and studied Law #13 (When Asking for Help, Appeal to People's Self-Interest, Never to their Mercy or Graditude), you would understand that slide packets inherently break this law. Look I am an artist who has teeny tiny reproductions of my art, would you please please risk everything you have by giving me a show in order to gratify my ego? Consider the people showing at galleries and moving up the art world food chain and you might find people with wealthy spouses or money of their own (and therefore, rich acquaintances). They can apply Law #13 because the self interest of the gallerist is to sell expensive paintings. The artist's ability to deliver rich friends to his or her art opening appeals to the self-interest of the art dealer.

But there are other ways. Perhaps the gallerist is attracted to you? Perhaps the curator is also an artist who wants to show in your dirty downtown studio on its next annual open studio tour. Maybe you are a friend to one of this gallery's best-selling artists whose loyalty to you subtly persuades the gallery that it is in the gallery's self-interest to give some shows to some of the friends of their family. Maybe you are a college student with nothing to offer until you overhear the old bat running the place asking what the difference is between the internet and e-mail. This is the real beauty of the book, imagining scenarios to different parts of your life, as well as seeing how many people you know and interact with are practicing some of these laws, probably without even knowing it. Even if you don't have the stomach for some of the harsher dictums, such as Rule #42 (Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep Will Scatter), understanding that conceptually will help you better understand the political endgame of that power hungry backstabber who is only nice to you when you are in a good show.

Think about it. Look back to how in every group you have ever been in, the person who advertised his or her perfection was the one that became the target and was taken down. He or she violated Law #46 (Never Appear Too Perfect). Regardless of whether it was in the art world or in school, this Law, when violated, distances a person from power. The gorgeous beauty is accused of insincerity, the wealthy patron scorned as a pompous noveau-riche ass.

The art world itself, culturally, follows many of these dictates. Law #36 (Dis-dain Things You Cannot Have: Ignoring Them is the Best Revenge) is regularly applied as an excuse to avoid ever including film as a fine art medium. If you have ever had a good-looking artist flirt with you, Law #32 (Play to People's Fantasies) explains why you bought his or her lousy painting even though you two never so much as made out. Conversely, there are a few of these Laws the art world could stand to practice a little more often, such as Rule #21 (Seem Dumber Than Your Target). I have never had a conversation in the art world where someone failed to point out his or her status as a genius. Well, y'all can keep your brains, I read this book a month ago so I got a head start on running the show. Buy the book and try to beat me.

Mat Gleason writes daily at He was a werewolf for Halloween this year.