with No Comments

Post No.: 0594artist


Fluffystealthkitten says:


According to the markets at least, it isn’t so much about judging artistic creations according to what they’re depicting or portraying, or their intrinsic quality of execution – but more about the stories and people connected with them, and current trends. Associations, expectations and wider market forces play key roles in determining how much a piece of art is monetarily worth.


So it’s not just about judging a painting, sculpture, dress or some other creative work in it’s own right – the context, present popular culture, trends, the PR or hype, provenance or history, connection to world events, the artist and the artist’s personal history, how popular a piece already is (people follow where others go), who endorses or is associated with the work, and even whether it was involved in some crime, for example, can play a major role in influencing whether a piece will become extremely popular, beloved, forgotten, infamous, expensive or whether it’ll even have a chance to be considered by critics as being art in the first place.


In other words, expensive art isn’t so much about the artistic merits of a piece as conveyed via the canvas, marble or whatever material(s) alone, but about a whole bunch of peripheral factors. Furrywisepuppy briefly alluded to this at the end of Post No.: 0556 but I want to discuss this point further.


Who created something (which includes whether an AI did) matters more than what something is, what it’s communicating and how well it was actually executed. We all kind of know this, yet the art market loves attempting to justify why some pieces are apparently worth a million times more than others based on merit (e.g. emotiveness, meaning, hand-eye skill) alone! Shallow, discriminatory reasons are masqueraded as sophisticated, intellectual reasons when expressing the appreciation of art. Like fine wines, there are certainly good and bad wines, but the difference between various £25 wines can be vast, and the difference between a £25 wine and a £500 one can be minor, non-existent or the cheaper one can even be preferred – when blind-tasted.


An art critic might be shown a piece that she/he has never personally seen before and assesses it as masterful, but because it’s from an unknown artist, its value will be low. That critic might then assess another piece as amateurish, but once told that it was from a famous artist but done early on in her/his artistic career, its value will be deemed many times higher than the former piece(!) People in the snobbish, pretentious and aloof art world would rather have a technically and emotively inferior piece by a famous artist than a technically and emotively superior piece by an unknown artist.


When trying to work out whether a piece is a forgery or genuine, people can go, “Wow, this piece is accomplished. The skill and the way it makes me feel is deep and earnest.” But once they realise it’s a fake they’ll declare, “I cannot and don’t feel the same way about it anymore.” That piece hasn’t changed but because it’s not deemed as having been touched by a famous artist’s hand, it suddenly becomes judged differently. This is fickle because it shows that it’s not primarily about the art. It’s not about the content – the thing one actually experiences firsthand when observing a piece – but about superficial beliefs and ad hominem appeals driving feelings. It’s not about what something is but who did it and the story around them and/or the piece rather than the piece of art itself. It’s about the associations and attachments we make inside our minds – which are sometimes pretentious and external to what’s really being presented on the wall or plinth. (That’s why celebrities are used in adverts – in an attempt to associate their traits with the products, even though this won’t actually change those products, except possibly through a placebo effect.)


Even the most illustrious painters in history occasionally produced dud pieces – whether due to having an off-day, trialling a failed experiment, testing an early draft or abandoning an incomplete piece – and admitted so themselves by virtue of not intending such pieces to be seen in the public domain; never mind sold. Yet, after their deaths, when their inheritors uncover such works, these pieces will still fetch much more desirability and monetary value than deft and profound pieces by unknown artists, because of who painted them rather than the merits of the works themselves. Critics might rationalise the valuation as down to ‘revealing the, though flawed, thought processes of a pre-eminent artist’, but why aren’t other people’s flawed thoughts just as valuable? The same idea might be judged as cheesy if it comes from an unknown artist yet as inspired if it comes from a famous artist.


In Europe at least, part of the ‘who’ rather than the ‘what’ wasn’t just someone’s fame but gender too – the vast majority of famous artists that didn’t come from the last century were male because of preconceptions that women shouldn’t paint or if they did then they were incapable of excellence. Some therefore disguised themselves as males to make it. Works by female artists are still being valued less than works by male artists today. Artists who weren’t ethnically white were discriminated too. Thus it’s unfortunately not just about having talent and working hard in your specific creative field – one must understand the broader aspects such as cultural trends, industry prejudice and consumer pretentiousness. The art market isn’t strictly meritocratic. The most technically competent pieces aren’t always recognised or rewarded. Meow.


It’s like assuming someone cannot possibly rap brilliantly unless they come from (certain places in) America, which is basically racist for judging the person rather than their work on its own merits. And just because someone may come from America, it won’t necessarily mean they’ll automatically have experienced that kind of life to be able to be an authentic rapper anyway.


So we need to consider not only the human psychological factors concerned when people examine an artistic creation in its own right, but also the human psychological factors concerned with whatever’s around it contextually too. It’s therefore true that skilled artists need to consider and anticipate the wider surrounding contextual factors. But they cannot control this (e.g. non-white artists cannot make themselves white in a market that overwhelmingly favours white artists).


The name of the artist matters more when judging pure forms of art – as in art that has no function other than to be aesthetically appreciated – compared to when judging cars, buildings or other pieces of design. This means that it’s often more about an artist’s historical reputation rather than their present efforts that determine a present piece’s desire and worth, which is unfortunate because then it isn’t truly about the art.


Moreover, if a famous bladesmith designed and made the odd shoddy sword, we wouldn’t pay much for those swords. That’s one difference between ‘design’ and ‘art’ – design needs to also function well whilst art can get away with a name.


As pieces of design with physical functional value, people will rate, financially value, buy and drive Volkswagen automobiles mostly based on the vehicles themselves without regard to the company’s Nazi history. But if a singer becomes disgraced then her/his musical discography – no matter the musical merit of those songs themselves – will become avoided like the plague. Inconsistently however – if a painter becomes disgraced then her/his paintings might end up being worth more(!)


Whatever the case, a piece of purrely artistic work won’t be judged or appraised based solely on its intrinsic merits without whatever it is (ostensibly or veritably, unfavourably or favourably) associated with, such as who created it.


…But if an artist does something controversial in her/his own private life – should we, or could we if we tried, separate the artist from their art?


A piece can be deemed confusing and worthless one time, then suddenly deemed adept, multi-layered and narratively deep and valuable another time. This happens a lot, like when an artist’s work only becomes critically acclaimed and valuable once they’re dead. It just confirms how immensely contextual art appreciation is. Okay, it’s a piece of (future) history – but literally anything can be if we decided to preserve it. The market value often influences a piece’s perceived cultural, emotional, spiritual, philosophical and intellectual value to us. But should the cart pull the horse?


Market value is indeed determined by what the market collectively agrees something is worth, so if enough people believe that the name of the artist is most important then they’ll collectively self-reinforce this belief. People can believe that something is precious just because someone else believes so, and so forth. (This includes things that have no ‘intrinsic value’ like, arguably, cryptocurrencies.) That’s what neoclassical economic theory got right about how markets work – value is perceived and can be completely divorced from the material or functional worth of a product.


Many works are consequently way overvalued in terms of their opportunity costs. Super-rich people pay vast sums of tangible cash for an artist’s intangible reputation. It’s the psychological value, which has no capitalistic limit – and it’s perhaps highly irrational or irresponsible because that money could be used to save many physical lives or at least buy something that’s more useful instead.


Girl with Balloon by Banksy appreciating in value after it was, partially, shredded tells us all we need to know about the art world(!) Like Marcel Duchamp, he was really mocking the art world. Banksy has been somewhat democratising his art by putting works up in public spaces for everyone to freely see. His work wasn’t meant to be claimed by only the rich and then concealed in mansions for only a privileged few to see. But when he stuck a big middle claw up to this part of the art world – it gave itself a big round of applause and valued the piece even more(!)


There’s the psychology of looking at or owning the original versus a print or facsimile fake. Some estimate that possibly 40-50% of works in the art world are fakes; and many forgers are extremely confident in producing convincing fakes, especially for more modern pieces. If it were all about judging the art then every fake should be obvious for being obviously inferior. If that above statistic is anywhere near true then that’s worrying for the industry. Yet even so, most investors are incentivised to maintain the hush otherwise they’d risk losing millions i.e. few would want to admit that they’ve bought a very expensive fake. That’s a huge problem for the industry. The art market is full of super-rich money-launderers and tax-dodgers too.


It’s also an industry where a relatively small number of individuals and organisations – including critics, galleries, those in charge of the catalogues raisonnés of each artist and authentication committees – have too much power in determining what is valuable.


It also tends to be the case that already-wealthy inheritors will be the ones who’ll uncover hidden gems within their possessions, and poor people who suddenly claim to be in possession of pieces from past masters are met with suspicion as if they or someone in their family had stolen it! This keeps the rich as rich and the poor as poor without talent or hard work having anything to do with it. But I suppose they do need the money to afford the expensive upkeep of their huge estates(!)


Meow! I’m not saying that art isn’t culturally important or there’s no technical difference between good and bad art, and I can appreciate that many praised pieces do deserve their plaudits – but there’s evidently far more to it than that. The art market reveals more about the fickle and flawed human condition than the greatest pieces of art do themselves! That’s pretty meta I think. The problem with saying this is that the super-rich art market is going to **** over itself even more!


Comment on this post by replying to this tweet:


Share this post