Sunday, 19 June 2016

Thoughts on the value of Artists and Art dealers.

Thoughts from the shower:

The value of art for collectors with large budgets, is not based on the quality of the work, the skill of the artist, their ability to create, nor their connection to the muse. Unfortunately.

The dealer will tell you that it's a combination of all these and then some. The 'some' in question is often rarity and track record.
Track record consists of several things:
How long the artist has been painting (replace painting with sculpture, drawing, photography, sculpture, etc). What kind of progress they have made in that period. Whom they have earned the respect of. Galleries don't matter. They come late in the artists career, after they have made a name for themselves. The galleries which sell art for big money are taking advantage of artists who have done the ground work. When an artist comes to the attention of a big gallery through rumor, that's when they want the artist. Rumor equals ground swell. They want to be the one who has discovered the artists work. They want that title and they will push that artists reputation because doing so pushes their reputation.

Rarity is a commodity and it is based upon a whole lot of rubbish (relative to the later work) being created in the process of becoming a real artist. You create and create. This builds a mountain upon which the artist stands to get the overview of their work. Experience both in terms of their art, disappointment, success, disillusion, realization, experience with dealers, collectors, other artists, etc. Then at the tip of the mountain of experience, like pure water distilled from mud, comes the art. The artist brings together everything they have learned and creates, sometimes with and often without conscious plan, through the filter of their experience. They produce their best works. Something divine passes through them. Not divine in the beautiful sense. Divine in the sense that it isn't locked to this earth but is of the earth. This is the rare element. The early works are also very important but the later works are often the ones containing this rarity.

-That's a rule that should be broken. Sometimes, with almost no experience an artist taps into something divine and creates splendors which can't be matched in later years. Often an artist allows outside influences to interfere with their creative growth and the art suffers. Even this, to a collector, has a value. To a collector, this can be a bookmark in history. A way of connecting to the past. It's complicated and subjective.

The other kind of rarity and track record are based on commerce.
When an artists work is sold at auction or through a dealer, the value is recorded. The next time the artists work is sold the difference in value is noted. If that value is greater than the rate of interest on commodities or oil or interest in the bank, this begins to be seen as another commodity.
Once enough collectors become interested in an artists works and the history and profile of the artist are agreed and universally appreciated, their work becomes firmly established as a commodity. This commodity value can only grow if the artist is already dead because their work is fixed, cannot change, can only become rarer and has a firmly established value based on past exchanges of currency for the works. In effect, the art becomes a currency in itself. One with an agreed value and which is easily transported, stored and protected. Is not effected in a negative sense by the passage of time and is easily transferred from one person to another.

If the artist is still living the works can also depreciate in value depending on how the artist behaves. Who he upsets, what his political actions are at the time. In effect, the actions of a living artist can make the collecting community jittery. Uncertain or over enthusiastic. After a period of artificial enthusiasm often comes a period of uncertainty and this can be exasperated by the actions or lack of actions of an artist. Far better for an artist who has established a reputation to disappear from the public limelight to become a figure who creates without making much in the way of public statements. Imagine how scared Picasso must have made some of his more serious collectors while he was living :)

Or for instance the works of Damian Hirst. There are a number of elements undermining the value of his current works. He has become a living commodity. That is noted and agreed. However he communicates with the public through the media, who initially defended and promoted him.
Recently a lot of debate has arisen around the fact that he and a number of other international living commodity artists don't actually make or even design the works which they sign and promote as their own. This is justified by misrepresenting the historical position of the artists apprentice. Old masters who used apprentices and who did not actually create the works themselves did acknowledge that they were merely giving their approval to the works when they signed them. It was a statement that they approved of the works and that the artists involved in each piece were trained by them. A mark of quality.

Historically, the master artist would also be very involved in the creation of the works. At the initial design / conceptual stage and at the finishing of the art. This kind of art has a lesser value than one that is acknowledged to have been completely created by the master themselves. The point being, that the master, was a master. He was the best. Was either extraordinarily skilled or was tapping into divine creativity. He stood out and above the others, directed the works at the very least and made a firm contribution to the creative process.

The same cannot be said for many of the so called artists today who don't often even know how to use the media which the art is constructed from.

Another point about rarity is that it is rare. There are not hundreds of pieces being produced and sold per month and the work which is created falls within a certain category and definition. The art is generally created by the artists own hand.
These revelations come in a flash. Then I labor to explain it to myself and write it down in a way that another person can get it.
by Tom J. Byrne.
Originally published 19 June 2012