Never has one man done so much for so cheap.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Advancing the metric of cheapness...

There is a problem with the art world and that problem is that the price of art is inflated. Rather, I should say, that is -not- a problem. That is a set of circumstances that have arisen from market forces and the supply and demand of the intangible art aura, which has long ago outstripped the actual production cost of most works of art. This is not a problem because it came to be in a natural fashion. What it is, is an opportunity.

I want to advance the metric of cheapness within the criteria of the art-purchasing decision. To date, on the back of immense cultural tradition, we as humans have a tendency to place more emotional value on things that cost more money, irrespective of other factors. This makes sense, but it must be challenged. I want to encourage people to find emotional satisfaction not only in the "art experience" but in the comparative bargain of the art experience. This is of course a directive for the public at large. The savvier art dealers are already well-versed in the ancient art of buying low and selling high - they couldn't remain in business otherwise - and we are all their dupes if we continue to consider "fine art" as a rarefied something elevated above the grasp of economic forces.

Outside the sphere of emotional intangibles, generally speaking, human beings strive for bargains; the supplies and raw materials we need for sustenance and prosperity by and large are bought on the cheapest market and sold in the dearest. It happens this way for two reasons; one, because the distribution of material things in the physical world is inherently unequal, and two, because the criteria for want-satisfaction for every individual human being is different Those two circumstances alone have given birth to communication, cooperation, trade, society, and civilization. In short, the only way to get what you want in this world is to trade with someone who has what you want. Value is subjective. In order for trade to happen, the other person must value the thing you want less than you do, and value something you have more than you do. The father of the Austrian school of economics, Ludwig von Mises, put forward that on account of these inescapable conditions, trade itself is the primary driver of human action. All human action, for the entirety of human history.

This is fundamentally capitalism, and while that's a dirty word in a lot of art circles, it works. It works because it is the only system that allows every individual to decide for themselves what they want in order to improve their condition. So, then let's apply this to the art sphere. It's a business like any other business, possibly unique in the way most of its customer base wears its ignorance of the business end of it like a badge of honor. Like most things that fall under the banner of culture, it is prone to the phenomenon of the superstar, the veneration of a very small percentage of artists as Big Names who subsequently fetch Big Prices. Just as in the motion picture and professional sports industries, this happens because the "product", imbued with emotional intangibles as it is, is freed from most of the limitations of physical material production and trades on emotional value alone. The hope of every artist is that they can ride the snowball effect of name recognition and eventually arrive at a place where mass society decides that their work Means Something. This meaning can then be sold at a higher price because it is pervasive. Once prices become high enough, however, the original meaning has a tendency to fall away and the art object's primary cultural value is that it is very, very expensive.

This has even happened with Andy Warhol; an early painting of his depicting a car crash recently sold for $71.7 million. That is a number that, to the casual observer, will outstrip any other cultural notion. It's a cheerful irony for Warhol's legacy, being as he was one of the first art "superstars" (he was even fond of that word) to directly identify, illuminate, and attempt to convey the beauty of the inescapable economic aspects of art to the art-buying public. He was, in primacy, a commercial artist. It frustrates me to no end that the majority of self-styled tastemakers among the art aficionados I've crossed paths with remain indifferent at best to the pro-capitalist nature of Warhol's work.

Then again, so much heinous shit has gone down in the world that, while not even remotely connected to free-market capitalism, has been done in the -name- of free-market capitalism, that the words themselves have been injured. What can we do when the word for a thing no longer means that thing? We are left continually explaining ourselves. We've never even -seen truly free markets in modern civilization. The vast majority of the heavy-duty corporate evil in the world has come about not from the process of free trade but from direct government involvement to benefit one party at the expense of another. This is because the state of being in power almost invariably trends towards the pursuit of unfair advantage, generally with consequences ranging from ineffective to disastrous. But this is a mild digression.

I am fascinated by's Market Performance Reports.

"The seven charts in each artnet Market Performance Report compile yearly auction market information from artnet’s Price Database on over 4,300 of the most important artists driving the global public auction market. Considered collectively, these charts provide information that assists collectors, appraisers, advisors, curators, financial institutions and art investors when tracking such market trends as liquidity, volatility, sales volume, and pricing for artworks of interest. A brief description of each chart is provided below and a sample artnet Market Performance Report is shown on the Market Trends home page."

My point is this. To paraphrase Warhol; art is business, and business is art.

I am Tim Hansen.

Nobody sells for less.


Post a Comment

<< Home