Tuesday, December 3, 2013

They Paid WHAT?

I stumbled upon this article from theguardian.com in one of the artist chat rooms I’ve been known to haunt. It asks a simple question: What sells art?  The question is important, I suppose, because it is on so many minds these days, after the record payments made for paintings at recent auctions.

The answer, according to Philip Hook, Director and Senior Paintings Specialist at Sotheby's, is a mishmash of influences including the artist (of course), their relative ranking in the historic hierarchy, and the level of  “romantic baggage” that accompanies their life story. It also helps if the work fits the artist’s usual, recognizable style, and that it was made in the right period of the artist’s productive life.

Juke Box
Subject matter is important to price, but that waxes and wanes over time with political attitudes and public taste. Condition is important, too. No one wants to pay full price for a moth-eaten drawing – unless of course the damage occurred while the artist was living in a grimy tenement, under an assumed name, hiding out from the authorities or the jealous husband of a prominent mistress while suffering the last throes of the consumption that ended his sad but eventful life. (More of that valuable, colorful baggage stuff.)

It is remarkable, but not surprising, that "wallpower" is the last of the considerations listed by Mr. Hook – i.e., how the piece actually looks hanging on the wall. The uninitiated might think that this would be the primary consideration for the value of an artwork, regardless of pedigree. Or baggage.

Not so. Not so at all. Beauty helps, but it pales in comparison to reputation.

All of this of course begs the question, should we as artists behave in ways that enhances the potential extraneous 'value' of our work? I'm all for ratcheting up my ordinary level of misbehavior, but somehow it seems counterproductive to launch into a life of crime, just to improve the status of my legitimate – until now, anyway – art business. And my wife has already nixed the idea of steamy affairs – no matter how much the resulting press coverage, to say nothing of my untimely death, might positively affect the value of my work after she murders me.

The value of any artist's creative product will be purely sentimental until it is 1) discovered, 2) recognized as valuable by someone whose opinion matters to the art world, and 3) the story of the artist causes people to pay at least as much attention as they do to the thousands of other artists whose work meets the same basic standards of legitimacy.

As artists, we have very little control over any of these things, other than to make our art, and to do as good a job as we possibly can.

I plan to make a lot of art (because I want to), to make it to the best of my ability (also because I want to), and to make as much noise as I can in the process (because I want to do that, too). This I believe improves the chances of its being discovered, and, if I make enough of it for long enough, one or two pieces at some point are bound to synch with the fickle sensitivities of some future incarnation of our protean art cognoscenti, gaining my creations a favorable nod at least, and perhaps one day even an enviable price at auction.

Not that it will matter to me. Like every other artist whose work commands the highest bids, I'll be long dead before that happens.

Hopefully by then the Missus will have been pardoned, and can enjoy the results of her efforts.

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