Why would a smart New York investment banker pay $12 million for the decaying, stuffed carcass of a shark? By what alchemy does Jackson Pollock’s drip painting No. 5, 1948 sell for $140 million?
Economist Don Thompson explores it in his book, tracing the money, lust, and self-aggrandizement of the art world in an attempt to determine what makes a particular work valuable while others are ignored.
I would recommend this book to everyone who’s as ignorant as I was about conceptual art. I must admit that after having taken notice of it, I just shrugged most of it off as a big scale marketing scam that wants to present a bunch of rubbish as art. It’s mostly a nihilistic ego-show.
Following Don Thompson, success is mostly depending upon the marketing skills of the artist. “Branding” is the critical term the author uses to explain everything.
How does this tale make me feel as an artist? It leaves me indifferent for what shakes and moves the art market. As a matter of fact, I came long time ago to the realization that to create some esthetically pleasing and meaningful art, requires a certain detachment from the average person’s drive to want to become rich and famous.
It’s comparable with what happens in the gastronomy: your average restaurant calculates its prices by multiplying the price of the ingredients of a meal by 3.5 to determine the price of a menu, while the Michelin star establishments logarithmically rise their prices following the amount of stars they got attributed with. Most restaurants are just happy to cook for their customers and even don’t want to get into the rat-race for the star ratings. They make a decent living and they do what they like to do: cooking and serving meals.
Next spring I will organize my own exposition and I intend to do the same: a canvas print will be sold at 3.5 times the material cost and editions are limited to 25 examples of each canvas. I don’t intend to make art for the happy few, while still taking notice that prices for my art are still fluctuating between the 120 and 750 Euro. For most people that are still sums that count. On the other hand, when such person buys a piece, it means they really, really like it. At the same time they get also something that is relatively exclusive, since only 24 other canvasses similar to theirs are in circulation.
The books and the music will go out at regular market prices and are always into the financial reach of every interested party.
In the end, you should only buy art because you like it. By all means, it’s a bad investment. Don Thompson calculated that 80 % of the art directly bought from the artist and 60 % of the art bought at an auction, mostly got resold at prices 20 % below the purchase price.