The Theory of Subjective Value in The Art World

From an interesting piece in The American:

Damien Hirst has made a fortune as a celebrity artist in a country he believes disapproves of successful artists: “I think in England especially, people are anti any kind of success really. You’re struggling and you cut your ear off; they like that kind of artist. Whereas if you’re making money . . . They’d rather you were working on a building site and painting in a garret somewhere. I’d say that’s a problem.” He has seen through the pretense, and recognizes that the art world has materialistic values: “I have proved it to myself that art is about life and the art world’s about money. And I’m the only one who . . . knows that. Everyone lies to themselves to make it seem like it’s the other way. But it isn’t.” He is not troubled by the fact that the market determines the value of art: “I’m one of the few people in the world who can say, ‘I know what everything is worth.’... Everything in the whole world is worth what anyone else is prepared to pay for it. And that’s it. Simple.”

David W. Galenson's article includes trenchant observations about Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, and others. Read the whole thing here.

Back in 2008, I reviewed The $12 Million Stuffed Shark, a book that looked at the price of art, and concluded, "[The author] recognizes that value is dependent on context. Objects themselves have no intrinsic worth; what we're willing to pay at any given time is a result of the stories we tell ourselves." Read that here.

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  • Ska||

    I was in LIC for a multi-studio art exhibition. Some lady had a 6"x6" canvas square painted in assorted shades of sea green with a $400 price tag on it. I guess someone might be willing to pay the price for that shit.

    I'll just never forget seeing something so unimpressive with such a high price tag. You can get an eager young artist to at least paint something interesting for that price.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Obviously, this is another excuse to shill for subsidized art.

    Right, Max?

    ARFARFARFARFARF!!!1!

  • Mo||

    "I think in England especially, people are anti any kind of success really. You’re struggling and you cut your ear off; they like that kind of artist. Whereas if you’re making money . . . They’d rather you were working on a building site and painting in a garret somewhere. I’d say that’s a problem."

    I liked this quote better when Yogi Berra said it more succinctly, "No one goes there anymore, it's too crowded."

    It seems to me he's complaining about a phenomenon that has existed in the arts, food and bar business for ages. Everyone likes art/music/books/bars/restaurants/sports teams better when they're in on the secret and it's a select club. People always hate it when their band sells out, people find their favorite Indian place or if bandwagon fans start rooting for their team without going through the tough years or inheriting a team through birth or attendance of the school. Despite the fact that "everyone" hates it when their band sells out, Green Day makes boatloads of money despite the existence of their musical, people ignore the fact that Mario Batali having 15 restaurants is essentially him having a high end chain and no one knows or cares that you only root for Florida because you secretly wanted Tebow to stick it in your bum.

  • Attorney||

    A hundred years from now, you won't be able to give most modern art away.

  • Chris||

    +1

  • ¢||

    It continues to be fashionable among many critics and scholars to claim that art markets are irrational, and that prices have no value as indicators of artistic importance. These claims are both ignorant and foolish.

    [fart noise]

    The art "market" under consideration here is a tiny, closed, complexly state-distorted signaling exchange between institutions and institution-aspirants, so plain ol' "market will bear" shit can't tell us anything about it.

    Who's buying? Would Koons's retardo-level vulgar-capitalist rhetoric work as advertising to them if it were true? No.
    You ignorant fool.

  • SIV||

    “I’m one of the few people in the world who can say, ‘I know what everything is worth.’... Everything in the whole world is worth what anyone else is prepared to pay for it. And that’s it. Simple.”

    Homeowners aside, I think more than a few people in the world know this

  • BakedPenguin||

    He is from England. It's not surprising that he thinks very few people know that.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    more than a few people in the world know this

    Not in his crowd.

  • ||

    Art, wine, and fancy beer prices are set by the herd. Time and again objective research shows wine critics in blind taste tests can't tell a white wine from a red wine.
    I doubt that most art critics could actually distinguish a piece made by an artist versus a crack whore.

  • ||

    "Time and again objective research shows wine critics in blind taste tests can't tell a white wine from a red wine."

    Ummm, yes they can?

  • Chris||

    Word. Stossel proved as much a few years back. People only buy it today because it's just what contemporary art is, and people like buying contemporary art in order to impress each other. Outside of the present context it's worthless (I'd argue it's worthless in context, too). So you're right, in a hundred years no one will buy it, but in a hundred years people will still buy a VanGogh or a Cezanne.

  • ||

    In ten thousand years, original Hit & Run comments will be worth millions in real dollars.

  • Almanian||

    ...do I hear millions plus 10, millions plus 10? The gentleman in the back, thank you...

    Millions plus 20?? Millions plus 20?

  • ||

    Unfortunately the real will have suffered massive hyperinflation due to Brazil having given it out to its wives and they tried to corner the shoe market...crashing its economy in the process.

  • ||

    I just want to point out that value is determined by the buyer AND the seller. Everyone might be willing to pay a penny for a candy bar, but that doesn't mean that's what it will be sold for.

  • ||

    especially if he's married to a health nut.

  • MattXIV||

    *Warning: mostly apolitical art criticism/ranting ahead*

    People don't hate Hirst because he's successful, they hate him because he represents how aesthetics have been driven from the visual arts.

    Hirst's art is what happens when you completely miss the point of DuChamp's Fountain. Sticking anything in an gallery/art competition/etc invites people to view it as art and thus reflects the audience's own attitudes towards art back at them. A clever trick, but that's all there is too it. Anything can be art, but not everything is art - what makes it art is the recognition as art. DuChamp sought to isolate and expose the non-aesthetic aspects of art. Unfortuantely, it was easier for the art world's aesthetics to absorb random junk than accept that a huge part of what makes something art has no relationship to the piece itself. The art isn't the shark - it's the Saatchi commission, but the art establishment can't admit to that, so it's desperate to pretend there's some aesthetic genius in that tank. It's a lie, but more over it's a bore, having to scrounge for aesthetic value in objects that aren't required to have any.

    It's as dreary as if the most successful contemporary composers were a movement inspired by 4'33" (which makes a similar point by priming the audience to hear experimental music so that they apply a musical interpretation to the incidental ambient noise that they'd normally filter out) to make the placement of creeking floorboards, the distribution of cough drops to the audience, and the state of repair of the facilty's HVAC systems their core compositional concerns.

  • Art Speek||

    Objects themselves have no intrinsic worth; what we're willing to pay at any given time is a result of the stories we tell ourselves

    Which came first, though: the object or the story?

  • Max||

    Some things money can't buy, like brains. But Damien Hirst seems to be doing fine without them.

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    I love the fact that several years ago in a London art museum, the janitor "cleaned up" and threw away a newly-installed "art" exhibit, because he couldn't tell it wasn't trash.

    Why couldn't he tell?

    Because the "art" exhibit was - literally - a bag of trash.

    As I recall, the artist had created the "installation" under a government grant for tens of thousands of dollars. After the janitor threw the whole thing in the dumpster, he had to "recreate" the "art installation". I don't recall if he got paid again.

    Then there was the museum - again, I believe it was in England - that paid some absurd amount of money - something like $30,000, if I recall right - for a can of the artist's shit. Literally. The artist knew he was dying of AIDS, as I recall, and he literally shit into a can and sealed the can, and the museum bought it as one of his last works of "art."

    These fucking modern hipster self-declared determiners of what constitutes modern "art" must be laughing their asses off at such stupidity.

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