Art (E)valuation

Life December 5, 2010 5:29 pm

I’m an art lover, and two articles from my perusing of the NY Times this past week made me really think about the meaning of the true ‘value’ of art (or evaluating the value of art):

From the NY Times article ‘Big Sales and Blue-Chip Sales at Art Basel Miami:’

“‘The art market is back!’ was the chorus this week among most of the major dealers at the fair…”

Read the full article here.

And, from ‘Nazis’ ‘Degenerate Art’ Resurfaces in Berlin:’

‘The past still thrusts itself back into the headlines here… [n]ow it has reappeared as art… the 11 sculptures [found] proved to be survivors of Hitler’s campaign against what the Nazis notoriously called “degenerate art.” Several works, records showed, were seized from German museums in the 1930s, paraded in the fateful “Degenerate Art” show, and in a couple of cases also exploited for a 1941 Nazi film, an anti-Semitic comedy lambasting modern art.’

Read the full article here.

First thoughts: Where exactly did the art market go? Did all the artists stop creating?  Did all the art lovers disappear? And ‘Degenerate’ Art?  How can these pieces’ worth be culturally marked as ‘degenerate?’  And their ‘value’ now?

I think the juxtaposition of these two articles and the idea of an ‘up art market’ and labeling art as ‘degenerate’ shows the complexity of assigning ‘value’ to a work of art.  In the first article, ‘value’ is defined in an economic sense- the price the piece can command equates to the piece’s value, and in the second article, a collective societal opinion determined the ‘value’ of the art.

What makes the art market an unusual beast compared to other markets (and glaringly evident in these two articles) is that the ‘value’ of art can be defined in many ways.  Unlike a commodities market, where the value of a good is dictated purely by economic law, the ‘value’ of a work of art is much more complex; there is no pure economic value and ‘value’ can change with changing societal attitudes (once was once labeled as ‘degenerate’ is now recognized as an important reminder of history).

The one constant in the ‘value’ of art, then, is the personal value individuals place on a work of art.  While the art market may have been ‘down’ in recent years, art lovers didn’t stop loving art.  And while the second article states that the prevailing societal value of modern art in Hitler’s Germany was ‘degenerate,’ the article also goes on to say that the works are rumored to have survived because of Erhard Oewerdieck, a Jewish man who hid the art from the Nazis- clearly Oewerdieck personally valued the works of art.

So my personal opinion when it comes to the valuation of art:  there is no one absolute, true ‘value’ of art.  Value is a moving target, and ‘value’ changes based on personal opinion.  It may sound cliché, but there’s no better way to simply and succinctly describe my thoughts on valuing art: ‘Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder.’

A peak into my budding art collection and my two most ‘valuable’ pieces.  And if we were defining ‘value’ in either economic or the prevailing collective societal opinion, these pieces would be worth pennies.

'Allie's Deer' artist: Susie Cowie

Yes, you read that correctly.  The title of the piece is ‘Allie’s Deer.’  I acquired the piece through a school assignment- my senior year of college I was lucky enough to take a class about the intersection of business and art.  A generous donor to Wake Forest funded the class, giving the class the opportunity to visit the behind the scenes art world of New York- private tours of MoMA and Agnes Gund’s private apartment, visits to artist studios… an art lover’s dream.  While we were in NY, we were all given $100- our final project was to find a piece of art we loved but not to spend more than the $100. The point? Find something you personally love, not something the market or society says you have to love.   I searched for days, but didn’t find anything that really struck me as ‘special,’ until on one of the last days of the trip I took a visit to the Rockefeller Anthropologie.  This Anthropologie has a small ‘art gallery,’ and the artist they were featuring was Susie Cowie.  Here’s what I saw in the Anthropologie art gallery:

Susie Cowie, Anthropologie

I just knew I had to have a piece of the collection.  But sadly, the lowest price tag was $500 and way over budget.  Determined, I took matters into my own idealistic little hands.  I immediately googled Susie Cowie, found her website, and sent her a heart wrenching email about loving her work but not being able to afford it, and would she consider doing a small piece for a mere $100?  To my surprise and delight, the London based artist responded within days agreeing to make a small piece for me.  She even went so far as to learn a little about me so she could personalize the piece!  A few weeks and my first money transfer later, I had my $100 piece for my final class project and the 1st piece in my very own art collection.  While the economic market dictates that this piece is only worth $100, it’s value to me is summed up as determination, love, cooperation, and idealism.  And my first artwork.

My second most valuable piece in my small collection:

'Above the Dirt Road- Costa Rica' by shehitpause studios

I found this piece in the Union Square Christmas market last year (December 2009).  It’s a beautiful, unique piece- a polaroid picture transferred to watercolor paper.  But priced at a few hundred dollars and my budget already stretched thin from the holiday season, I could only admire the piece from a distance.  The artist was in the booth, so of course I had to comment on how much I loved it, and that although I couldn’t afford to buy it now, where else would he be showing his work in the coming year? (along with being an idealistic individual, I’m also one of the most stubbornly determined individuals you’ll ever meet- when I set my mind to something, watch out world)  Armed with the artist’s web address, twitter handler, and my plan to put a little money aside each month until I could buy it, I knew I would find a way to bring the piece into my collection.   To my surprise, the following February I received an award at work (ahem, an award for excellent research work :)), and with it came a small bonus.  I knew immediately what I would spend the bulk of my award on- ‘Above the Dirt Road- Costa Rica.’ The piece is now proudly hanging in my bedroom, and my award notice is even more proudly taped to the back of the frame.  Why is this piece valuable to me?  It represents hard work, perserverance, and the unexpected joys life has to offer.  Economic value? Little to zero.  Personal value? Huge.

One day I may own a piece of work that is economically/culturally ‘valuable.’  In fact, one of my long term goals for my collection is to own a copy of Ormand Gigli’s Girls in the Window, a piece you may recognize from this blog’s header or if you follow me on twitter (@NYC_Allie) . The work starts at $10,000, so it will be quite some time before it makes it’s way into my collection- but when it does, it won’t be because it’s economically or culturally valuable, it will be because I am in love with it!

What’s the value of your favorite piece of art? And bigger question– what’s the value of anything creative?  For example, advertising- should ads be judged on their economic value (ie did we see a larger jump in sales after this ad vs. this ad) or on their creative value?