Why you should care

He gives and gives and gives and what does he get in return? Nothing. And that’s sort of the point.

David Hockney, 76 year-old pop-art polymath, could have comfortably relaxed into a dotage of collecting checks, paying gouge-tastic U.K. taxes and being, well, David Hockney. Which is to say patting himself on the back in perpetuity for painting such masterpieces as his primary-colored “Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool” or his “Beverly Hills Housewife,” both borne out of his multi-year love affair with Los Angeles. But with much love comes much responsibility, and Hockney has stepped up with a certain sleek genius. In fact, he’s stepped up so big that it boggles the mind.

How big, how boggled?

A nice $124 million dollars in donations to charitable causes that’s how. The figure put him at the top of the heap for charitable donors in the U.K. in 2012, even though others on the list donated more in absolute numbers. What made Hockney’s donation special? The fact that he gave away not 10 percent, not 20 percent, not even 50 percent of his personal wealth: he gave away twice that.

Giving away large chunks of your fortune increasingly seems to be the desired two-step for those who have enough to give: Bill Gates, David Geffen and the terminally ill co-creator of The Simpsons, Sam Simon, have all pledged to give away significant percentages, if not all, of their prodigious fortunes. But in Hockney’s case, the donations come in the form of gifting his artwork to his charitable organization, the David Hockney Foundation, which is dedicated to public access to, education in, and appreciation of… art.

Hockney made the donations quietly, without any fuss, though it’s possible to imagine that the rush of attendant press (and in some cases runaway bidding) has the indirect effect of stimulating the market for the rest of his artwork, lowering his tax position and making him seem like an all round hail fellow well met. Which he is. According to the Daily Mail, Hockney’s gesture is a purely philanthropic act and not an artful tax maneuver; were he still making his home in the U.S. however, that wouldn’t even be a possibility. Since a tax law change in 1969, artists themselves can only deduct the value of the materials used to create their masterpieces – folks who buy the work and donate it are free to deduct the work’s market value which, in Hockney’s case, can be in the neighborhood of $8 million.

Is coming out of this donation flurry garlanded in roses an unintended consequence? Extra sauce, baby, extra sauce. Or, as our group leader likes to say: a win-win, especially if bragging rights to the fact that not many in the U.K. have given more matters to you. And Hockney himself still has in the neighborhood of $52.5 million walking around money left over. It’s easily as genius as anything else he’s done, this giving away more than he has, and that’s saying something.

English artist David Hockney, 25th August 1969.

English artist David Hockney, 25th August 1969.

And while not many of us have millions of dollars worth of art hanging around to give away, there’s something inspirational about seeing your talents as a form of wealth that can be given away to the causes you care about. We all, on not even more than a second look, have more to give than what’s tallied up in our bank accounts.

As for Hockney, in addition to championing creative uses of newer technologies and launching another major retrospective of his work at San Francisco’s de Young Museum this month, he’s also been voted one of the 50 best dressed men in the U.K. by The Guardian. And despite a recent tragedy connected to a young assistant falling to his death with a stomach full of poison in an apparent suicide at Hockney’s studio in California, he is still a force for positive change.

“I am an artist,” Hockney said to Intelligent Life. “I am allowed to change things.”

Most definitely.

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