The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2023

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JUNE 2023 Issue
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Is our obsession with money a curse to humanity?

Bored Capitalist Turned Arts Patron

After spending decades in institutional financial services as a successful top sales producer, and then in the position of CEO of an institutional broker-dealer, I became less interested in “material things” and more interested in everything else—primarily the visual arts. I decided to explore this impulse. Many long, late-night conversations began with artists who, at the time, seemed to speak a different language. Conversations weren’t focused on money but instead our reality, life, humanity. It was refreshing and stimulating, and I soon began to realize that being obsessed with money—always thinking like a capitalist—was becoming boring. I knew life itself could be richer.

My journey began in 2018, while attending a talk between Antwaun Sargent and Titus Kaphar, during the Brooklyn Museum’s presentation of Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, an exhibition organized by the Tate Modern, and co-curated by Zoe Whitley and Marc Godfrey. Sargent and Kaphar’s conversation had the potential to redirect intellectual thought. Their words were impactful and insightful and near the end, Kaphar said, “Art will save us.”

His compelling statement piqued my curiosity, causing me to question my values.

Working in finance, groomed as a capitalist, everything of considered high value had a high price associated with it. The bigger the number, the more valuable, hence the Chanel bags, a Patek Philippe watch, the Porsche Carrera. All status symbols. Can the short-term rush we feel when purchasing a sparkling diamond, a high-performance car, or designer handbag be achieved by viewing a painting or sculpture? If it is possible for the person obsessed with money to maintain the frequency of short-term rushes by finding solace in viewing art? Is it necessary to be obsessed with money to enjoy life? Is it possible for those obsessed with money completely enjoy art?

How can Art possibly save us?

How is it valued?

Does this guide humanity down the wrong path?

But more importantly, can the intellectual perception or the vision of the world in the mind of those creating the work, guide us away from being obsessed with money?

As I became more involved in the arts community, I realized it was time to dig deeper into the minds of artists. Producing a podcast where I had the opportunity to interview artists provided the insight I needed in my pursuit of understanding Kaphar’s statement. The voice and words artists share—including their lost and found values, humanity, and history—are their views of the world. Viewing their works seriously will feed the intellect and answer questions. Art helps us reset our thinking.

In May of this year, my Cerebral Women Art Talks podcast celebrated three years and 150 interviews. Launched in January 2020, to further promote and highlight visual artists and art professionals who work at the institutions that feature them, it is a weekly podcast that provides a deeper, more direct connection to artists who are often overlooked including artists from the LGBTQ community and those formerly incarcerated. The work created by underrepresented artists, those of color and female-identifying, brings a necessary perspective to the dialogue. Recently, the value of artwork created by these artists has increased exponentially, but I would argue that the impact cannot be measured solely from a financial perspective. The Cerebral Women platform emphasizes how art can help us understand our history, our culture, our lives, and the experience of others in a manner that cannot be achieved through other means.

The interviews are viewed as primary research that can be used and referenced in papers and articles. Providing underrepresented artists an opportunity to be academized into history is critical to their sustained success. It is imperative to help normalize documenting and solidifying the contributions of artists into the canon.

Where do we go from here? Mars, outer space? And then what? We must ask these questions, and many more. Is it safe for humans to allow the obsession of money which leads to power to overrule the ability to appreciate that the simple things in life, the good in life, will save us?

Humans need to think about the value of their own lives, the value of others’ lives and the value of everything on our deteriorating planet, and artists continue to remind us that the simple things in life remain the most important.


Phyllis Hollis

Phyllis Hollis is a former business executive turned patron of the arts, and founder and producer of Cerebral Women Art Talks podcast; a media platform designed to highlight and promote underrepresented artists and art professionals.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2023

All Issues