Friday, December 16, 2011

“Why does art cost so effing much?”

Day 11 (12/13/11)
Christopher Wool "Blue Fool"
“Why does art cost so effing much?” I just read this article by Blake Gopnik in News Week Magazine. Perhaps it should have been titled why does some art cost so effing much while some can’t be effing given away?” The obvious answer is quality but that is not always the case. In this particular article Gopnik featured two works, one by Ellsworth Kelly that sold for 1.5 million and one by Ai Wiewie which sold for over half a million. I was not able to access the exact Wiewie but there was an illustration of the Kelly. I don’t mean to get into a critique of this work here since both artists have established their reputations. I do question though why this work can command millions of dollars while a lot of good art remains unsellable. My theory is that few people if any know good art from bad and rely on a few dealer/critics to tell them what is good. At a certain level critiquing art is easy. I could set out three pieces of high school art and have 25 students rank it and most would put them in somewhat the same order. This even seems to be true with most abstract pieces. When you get into the world of professional artists though all this changes, what appears to be bad is sometimes good and what appears good is sometimes bad. When I teach my students about critiquing I encourage them to seek value. This value can be found in the arts ability to tell a story or teach a lesson, or in its ability to make us think. I remember back a few years ago, after a trip to the Milwaukee Art Museum, a student was outraged by Christopher Wool’s “Fool”. After listening to her rant I encouraged her to research his work for her senior art report and see if she could find justification for his work. After hours of research and writing she was still not convinced and I teased her that perhaps the value lie in its ability to get her to spend so much time contemplating it. Value can also be found in an artworks esthetic quality or even its reflection of the artist. Even here though according to Gopnik the tables are turned, because of the nature of conspicuous consumption among the wealthy patrons, the less actual practical value of the piece the more monetary value it may have. Perhaps this is the real truth of Wool’s “Fool”, not only does it not have a great deal of practical value but is somewhat offensive which makes it a perfect choice for the conspicuous consumer. Incidentally, I noticed Wool’s “Blue Fool” went up for auction at Christies with a estimated value of one and a half to two million dollars. It sold for over five million.  As I said before it is not my intention to critique individual works as much as to critique the system that promotes the sale of these works for outlandish prices while many outstanding young artist can’t pay off their loans from art school. I realize that this is also true for musicians and actors, after all where would we get our bartenders and wait staff  if not for struggling artists. I am not even trying to say that we should not continue to buy art for millions, only that for every million dollar purchase they take a chance on a couple of thousand dollar pieces.  Again, I suppose this would defeat the purpose, since people may get confused when somebody actually has something esthetically pleasing that they didn’t pay a fortune for. Oh, the chaos that would ensue in the art world.

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