My Wealth is Determined by the Number of Modiglianis I Have

Ever since Ifemelu and Obinze made their ways to the US and England, respectively, they’d been surrounded by people of higher status, and their desire to succeed. A universal belief of success means this so called successful person possesses wealth, whether in the form of land, oil, stocks. etcetera. Okay, so by that standard, Curt, Kimberly, Emenike, and the other ladies and gentlemen Ifemelu and Obinze rubbed elbows with at dinner parties were wealthy.

These seemingly impressive characters are somehow of the “higher order” either through their work, income, or possessions. Their favorite pastimes include gloating about their success (pardon my excessive use of “success”), using verbiage to give an air of higher education, and collecting trinkets from countries formerly under imperialism.

People commonly use the amount or lack of paintings in one’s home to distinguish their socioeconomic status. What is it with paintings that gives someone the facade of having so much money that even God would ask to borrow from them? “Rich people” only buy from the dead who can no longer paint, thus displaying their superb taste for only the most “limited and original” paintings in existence.

Believe me, I’m not going to hate on the arts; it’s not the artist’s fault some guy who inherited money from his robber baron ancestors wants to impress the bookish girl with his interpretations of the meaning behind the harsh and dark lines as a way for her to sleep with him. It’s a bit hypocritical that the wealthy enjoys hoarding high art, while simultaneously letting art majors starve because they’re a dime a dozen and need a real job in order to make money. Does the wealthy feed off of the jealousy and admiration one receives of owning one-of-a-kind pieces of art that this superficiality oozes out of their skin and splashes onto the marble floors their maids have to clean?

What can you do with art other than fill up your ego and assure yourself that you’re wealthier than someone? What kind of stability does money protect and give the beholder? Financial, yes. Relationships, maybe. Mental, nope. I can’t speak for all, but the wealthy people readers find in books, namely Americanah, contain hollow, shallow bodied individuals who rely on material possession for an establishment of power. Maybe it’s a trope, but I think Adichie was getting onto something when she created lackluster individuals who had money but no way to happily spend it and be content.

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1 thought on “My Wealth is Determined by the Number of Modiglianis I Have”

  1. I’m not sure what it is about art, but it seems to represent the higher class, as you said. Ironically, much of the pieces that are so acclaimed today were created by lower class, posthumous artists. While contemplating the connotation of wealth that comes with art, I think back to my sophomore year AP European History class, specifically the Renaissance unit. The Renaissance is often remembered as a revival of ancient Greek and Roman classics, culture, and, yes, art. Perhaps the coupling of this age of intellect with a deeper study of art and other forms of what was considered high culture closely lined art with the wealthy, making these “hollow, shallow bodied individuals” appear more intelligent. In modern society, perhaps art is not as much collected to show off intellect, but to show off in general. The more expensive the piece, the longer dead the artist, the more rare the style, the more exotic the culture, the more coveted the work, the more rich a person is. It’s a shame that truly magnificent artworks cannot be enjoyed by connoisseurs and aficionados but rather are left to collect dust as mere trophies of money.

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