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  • Portrait of the Artist in Red Ink
  • Jennifer Henderson

Portrait of the Artist in Red Ink was an installation of artists' financial portraits on canvas [1]. Inspired by an article of the same name [2], the work resulted from the application of 20th-century financial analysis models—socioeconomic research tools built on capitalist economic models—to artists.

I conducted extensive interviews of artists about their professional, lifestyle and family goals as well as their incomes, expenses, debt loads and where they wanted to live. These interviews provided the basic information for the custom interactive financial model I created, which included life expectancy, projected earnings, loan repayment schedules, asset purchases, expected Social Security benefits and retirement fund balance. This model enabled the artist to explore various economic options and see the different effects these choices had on income and expenses given his or her life expectancy. Lastly, I created the art object, a financial portrait of each artist, intended to "visualize the web of causes and effects" [3].

The financial portraits contain symbols of class from noble late Renaissance and bourgeois Baroque portraiture (such as home, pets and children) combined with contemporary business graphics (income and expense graphs) to represent the desires of the artist and the reality of his or her existence. Each portrait is large (42 x 65 inches), to give an overview of the complex economic and social forces at work. Small detail paintings (11 x 17 inches), arranged adjacent to the financial portrait, complement the overview (Fig. 1). Each detail painting has a caption with a question, such as "Artist A: Will I Ever Retire?"; "Artist B: Can I Afford to Have Children?"; "Artist C: If I Move Out of the Area Can I Afford to Teach?" The viewer can find the answers by looking at the contents of the detail paintings.

Portrait of the Artist in Red Ink shows, through the application of socioeconomic research models to the artist, the precise (albeit estimated) economic and class impact of art as occupation. None of the artists interviewed planned for income from art sales. Instead, most planned for income from arts-related professions such as teaching or web design. While all those interviewed knew that artists generally cannot support themselves from art sales, few knew that even the income from teaching and other arts-related professions is often insufficient to support the artist. Those artists who chose occupations outside arts-related fields fared best economically and had more money to support their art.

The application of financial planning models to artists highlights the difficulties an artist must contend with in the art economy. Systemic solutions are critical, and yet there is another option. While we may laud the idea of the artist dying penniless as heroic, such a fate is also predictable and avoidable by an exercise of choice. The paintings of the artist's financial portrait and of the issues likely to be encountered function as simulations that increase the artist's personal power and agency by enabling him or her to "visualize causality" [4], evaluate options and make better judgments. While the presence of money does not guarantee that artists will make art, the absence of money inhibits artists' ability to produce art. Portrait of the Artist in Red Ink shows that living a life with enough money to create art is perhaps the most creative endeavor of all.

Jennifer Henderson
217 Ada Avenue, Mountain View, CA 94043, U.S.A. E-mail: <>.
Manuscript received 18 August 2003. Accepted for publication by Roger F. Malina.


1. 28 April-2 May 2003 at San Jose State University, Art and Design Building, Gallery Two, San Jose, CA, U.S.A.
2. Thane Petersen, "Portrait of the Artist in Red Ink," Business Week Online, 10 July 2001. <>.
3. Brenda Laurel, Utopian Entrepreneur (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, Mediawork Pamphlet Series, 2001) p. 68.
4. Laurel [2] p. 68.

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Fig. 1.

Jennifer Henderson, Portrait of the Artist in Red Ink, Artist C: Portrait, 42 × 65 in, and Artist C: Details, each 11 × 17 in, archival ink...


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