1. Chris Howard
    December 3, 2005 @ 8:23 pm

    Bravo, Jeff. Great post with a laugh out loud first paragraph. As you know, I don’t buy a lot of art, and the few galleries I’ve been through in San Francisco (years ago) had more of a commercial bent. Your studio is beautiful, and you do a superb job of keeping your pompous jackass side under wraps during the open houses. (Okay, ha ha).

    I’ve looked in gallery windows, and many of these places are intimidating. I typically wouldn’t enter and ask about something on the wall–even if I really liked it. I just wouldn’t bother. I know it won’t be a pleasant experience. I’m thinking that maybe there’s a connection with an intimidating atmosphere and lack of confidence in the artist. I also wonder about the source of apparent misplaced value in art or the artist. How many artists possess a sort of self-generated arrogance, and how many really rely on those around them telling them how great they are? Is there a kind of feedback loop scenario where an art buyer who spends more than a work is worth is–out of embarrassment?–forced the justify his purchase to his friends, elevating the work–or the artist–way beyond its actual value?


  2. Jeff Hayes
    December 4, 2005 @ 4:14 am

    Well, I suspect there are a lot of people who should be going to galleries, who don’t simply because of a few negative experiences. Very sad.

    It is a REALLY interesting question about the factors that go into pricing art. In at least certain segments of the modern art market, the “value” of the work depends almost entirely on the concept… the technical skill of the artist in producing a beautiful piece of art plays almost no role whatsoever. I’m thinking of Brit Pop in general, and Damien Hirst in particular. Running a (hopefully) dead cow through a bandsaw and pickling 1/2 of it in an acrylic box requires nothing of what has traditionally been thought of as artistic skill. It has shock value to be sure, and I suppose it makes some comment about the relationship between nature and art. In fact, the whole point of pieces like this lies in their layers of such commentary.

    I have zero interest in this stuff, but I respect the fact that many people do, and some people pay a ton of money for it. Looking at it purely from an economic and investment standpoint, the question is then did these people buy something with lasting value, or did they flush a lot of money down the plumbing on a transitory phenomenon. (And a secondary question – even if they did waste their money, will they really enjoy having 50% of a dead cow in their living room?)

    Of course, who knows, but I’m inclined to think that the high prices paid for older works of art stem from inherent artistic quality coupled with supply and demand forces. These two don’t seem to work separately. There are some terrific artists, dead and alive, whose work doesn’t seem to demand a whole lot of attention. Conversely, it’s not just a question of the rarity of the work. I’m sure we could poke through the rubbish bin of art history and find plenty of perfectly dreadful artists who only produced a handful of works. Rare, but in no way valuable. We value Holbein because the paintings are just so damned gorgeous and expressive, and there aren’t too many of them.

    So do buyers and sellers get caught up in feedback loops that keep prices for bad art artificially inflated? My guess is that’s true. Will pickled cow parts still be worth millions of dollars in 50 years? I doubt it…


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