Art Lovers discussion

Open for Debate > Can Art be 'Priceless' in Troubled Times?

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Heather (new)


What explains the quick return to confidence in the art market?

This month, a painting by Picasso, “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust,” became the most expensive painting ever sold at an auction when it exceeded expectations to fetch $106.5 million at Christie’s. In February, a sculpture by Giacometti, “Walking Man I,” sold for $104.3 million at Sotheby’s, setting the previous world record auction price.

What accounts for these auction prices? Are investments in trophy art any different from investments made in an office park or a sports team?

message 2: by Heather (new)

Heather A Few Opinions:

Beauty Should Be Expensive
Denis Dutton is a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. He is the author of “The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution” and the editor of Arts & Letters Daily.

Generally speaking, art is a poor long-term investment. Though the popular media concentrates on a tiny class of aesthetic objects that have risen spectacularly in price — like Van Goghs or Picassos, for example — most works of art tend to decline in value from their first point of sale.

Why is it acceptable to pay $100 million for an ugly building, but a scandal to pay the same amount for an object of enduring beauty?

The fundamental aesthetic expressivity of works of art is delivered to audiences in very different forms. Literary works are words strung together in order to be cheaply reproduced and sold in large numbers. Although there is a market in first editions and, rarer still, original manuscripts, anyone can fully enjoy the aesthetic experience of “Pride and Prejudice” by reading a dog-eared paperback.

While music, drama and dance offer audiences the frisson of live performance, they are also endlessly replicable — and pleasurable — in recordings and films.

Paintings and sculptures remain the locus of yet another kind of value. A painting is in principle the singular physical product of an individual artist’s hand and mind. Its complex textures and color gradations will likely make it impossible to trust the accuracy of any reproduction. As we see it today, “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” is, down to exquisite detail, exactly what it is because of Picasso’s skill and expressive power.

In this respect, the painting is a perfect, intricate and utterly irreplaceable record of a historic artistic achievement. Whether or not you regard it as a truly great Picasso (personally, I don’t), it is a solid investment: Picasso’s place in the foreseeable future of art seems assured, and with it the interest and value of this painting.

The high prices commanded by top-end works of art are often ridiculed as somehow crazy or even obscene. Why is paying $100 million for an ugly downtown office building acceptable, while the same sum paid for an object of enduring beauty is a scandal? I rather find reassurance in the idea that in at least some of its forms, beauty can be a traded — and sublimely expensive — commodity.

message 3: by Heather (last edited Aug 22, 2010 02:04PM) (new)

Heather Donald Kuspit is the distinguished professor of art history and philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. His most recent books are “The End of Art” and “A Critical History of Twentieth Century Art.”

The huge sum of money conferred on a Picasso painting and a Giacometti sculpture accords them great significance — not because they’re major works of modern art, but because they’re very good investments.

The brand name is the high-priced, desirable, one-of-a-kind commodity, not the work.

Long before the economy almost collapsed a year ago, art-savvy people argued that works of art are the new equities: one can make more money in the art market than in the stock market. The value of Picasso and Giacometti kept increasing while the value of General Motors and General Electric decreased. Stock prices go up and down, but the stock of certain artists keeps going up.

Why? Is it because their works are unique, making them prized possessions, or because they were avant-garde innovators, not to say geniuses? The answer has less to do with the artists’ achievement and more to do with the fact that people are buying the brand name and getting the work along with it.

The name is the high-priced, desirable, one-of-a-kind commodity, not the work, which has a certain incidental relationship to it. This has to do with the celebrity culture: artists have been absorbed into its spectacle. Their creativity has been appropriated by it, making every celebrity seem like a great artist in the making, and every artist a celebrity in the making, aspiring to make spectacular art.

The cult of celebrities among artists has replaced that of heroes. As long ago as 1961, the historian Daniel Boorstin observed, “The hero was distinguished by his achievement; the celebrity by his image or trademark.” Picasso and Giacometti are avant-garde heroes to art historians; to the market they are big names, amplified by money as well as the media. It is this that gives their art surplus value well beyond its aesthetic value.

message 4: by Heather (new)

Heather Kathryn Graddy is an associate professor of economics at Brandeis University.

The art market is alive and well. Should we be surprised? Frankly, there are not a lot of other attractive assets out there. Yields on Treasury bonds are at all time lows, the current risk-reward profile of the stock market appears to be less than ideal, and gold prices are at dizzying heights.

Frankly, there are not a lot of other attractive assets out there.

The recent record-breaking prices fetched at auction for blue-chip artworks reflect this sentiment. Giacometti’s “Walking Man” and Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” are both well-recognized and lasting creations. Even if many art critics complain that Picasso’s Nude is not one of his best, the painting is still a well-known piece by a famous and innovative artist.

The buyer of this work has invested in an asset that could act as a store of value both in the presence of inflation and general economic uncertainty. This buyer will also receive dividends in the form of enjoyment and recognition — among friends if not the public.

Where is the money coming from? At the time of these art sales, stock prices had risen sharply from a year ago. Many savvy investors have had an exceedingly good year, and the correlation between equity returns and the art market is well documented.

While many people may be in economic distress, the very top echelon of wealthy individuals are doing just fine, and it is this very top fraction of the distribution that drives this end of the art market.

Many people did not enjoy the financial turbulence of 2008 and early 2009. If liquidity and income are not important considerations, investing in cultural assets may well be the way to go. Fine musical instruments, another alternative asset, have been a solid investment through both booms and busts, and have largely avoided many of the ups and downs of the art market.

Nonetheless, these fortunate buyers of cultural assets should recognize their moral obligation to make their purchases available at least at times for the public to enjoy.

message 5: by Jim (new)

Jim | 147 comments My view of the money paid for the artistic creations discussed stems from the view that if everybody liked the same thing that one thing would be very expensive.

Here the paintings are that one thing which a lot of people like and therefore very expensive.

message 6: by Heather (new)

The End of Art
by Donald Kuspit

Thank you, Austin! This book does look really interesting, I added it to my list.

back to top