Thursday, February 25, 2010

Value and Meaning (...oops, I mean) Meaning and Value

#class capsule wrap-up: Yesterday saw the first of the table discussions. Many thanks to those who came in person (about a dozen or more folks in total) or watched online (about another three dozen or more). We received feedback that it was frustrating watching online and not having the room respond to Twitter comments. Bill was monitoring his Twitter account twitter.com/Powhida, but no one thought to check the main thread. Our apologies for that...it will be corrected. Someone asked if the Twitter chatter could be projected during a webcast event...we're looking into that as well (might be tricky for events that need the space/walls for their own, but...). Finally, someone called me a "truant" because they spotted Bambino and I at the Whitney last night...we were actually in the gallery until 8pm. We used one of those amazing machines that reduce time and space travel to then head up to the biennial...they're called taxis. :-ppp

I'm guessing I might quote Sarah Thornton's book a lot over the next few weeks. I'm thoroughly enjoying Seven Days in the Art World (yes, I'm late to it), and it just happens to coincide nicely theme-wise with a lot of the issues being brought up in #class. In one chapter, Sarah quotes New York Times art critic Roberta Smith as explaining that "Art accumulates meaning through an extended collaborative act." Indeed, in thinking through what a work like, say, Mona Lisa means to people, it's no longer simply what Da Vinci put into the painting. Its "meaning" now includes what it has inspired (songs, theft, book after book, a cult following, etc.), what people will do to see it (long lines and obnoxious fellow viewers stepping in front of you...outta my way, you Scandinavian colossus!), and what it has become synonymous with (a priceless symbol of our humanity that people are willing to risk their lives to protect). None of which it meant the day Leonardo decided to varnish it.

I like that notion, "
Art accumulates meaning through an extended collaborative act," because I strongly feel it also works when considering value. Art accumulates value through an extended collaborative act. Indeed, the focus of Christopher K. Ho's solo exhibition in our gallery--no, it wasn't to mortify me...that was just a fortunate side effect, eh Chris? :-) --was to examine how value is ascribed to art. Chris's installation highlighted the roles played by critics, art historians, other artists, collectors, and dealers in ascribing value by critiquing, contextualizing, responding to, purchasing, and supporting the art that they select to focus on. It's not any one role or opinion, but the accumulative sum of each that tallies into a value.

At yesterday's discussion on "The System Works" the issue was raised that one thing that needs fixed in the art market system is how an early work by an artist is priced very low. What's wrong with this, it was argued
(and most of the artists in the room seemed to agree), is that not only does that early work still represent years of study and expense of trial and error, studio costs, material costs, emotional costs, etc, but also that some collector who picks this work up for a song will be able to profit off it years down the road while the creator of it won't. (We used a price of $500 in the discussion to serve as an example of a low value for an early artwork.)

What seemed to upset the artists the most is that all the work and time that went into creating that artwork is not being reflected in its "value" on the art market. Set up as the defender of the market in this context (I object to Bill's characterization of me as an "apologist," for the record), I pointed out that the overall method used to price art is simply the law of supply and demand. No one knows about this early-career artist. At this point, very few people, if any, have
critiqued, contextualized, made other artwork in response to, purchased, or otherwise supported this artist's work. There quite simply is NO demand for it.

Of course it's hard for younger artists, who've read about cases in which some collector flips a work at auction for a zillion times more than they originally paid for it, not to want some safety measure in the system to look out for them at this stage. The narrative in their mind seems to be that this early piece might be worth millions one day and (see above) it cost them so much to make it, why can't that first price reflect all this.

I responded somewhat snarkily that it could if said artist invented a time machine and could travel back from the point in their career
when they're commanding a million dollars a work in the primary market (with evidence of this stature) and insist that that early work sell for more. I noted that it's also just as feasible that the day after the early work sells for $500 that artist gets hit by a bus and the collector has a work that will remain valued at $500 (or less) forever (because more, accumulative value was never ascribed to that work through the collaboration of the art system's other players).

Supply and demand, baby. Supply and demand.

I'm personally happy to consider alternatives to this system, but I have yet to hear any that were not guaranteed, in my opinion, to ensure more mediocre art.

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25 Comments:

Blogger Tom Hering said...

I couldn't clearly hear what was being said during the webcast. But the squeechy sound of writing with chalk came across just fine, thank you. (And I cringed every time you leaned against that chalkboard with your black jacket, Ed.)

Selling your early work at ridiculously low prices is a sacrifice you make to become known - to establish relationships with others in the art world. There's nothing unusual about this. Entrepreneurs make lots of sacrifices in order to gain a toehold in a market.

2/25/2010 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2/25/2010 09:46:00 AM  
Anonymous A.K. said...

Curious to know if "droit de suite" was discussed, and whether folks feel it would be a feasible remedy in the context of the U.S. art market and culture.

2/25/2010 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Curious to know if "droit de suite" was discussed,

no actually...it occurred to me to mention it at one point, knowing it exists in California and London in various versions, but it rarely offers an artist more than 5% does it? That's something when we're talking about a million dollar mark-up, but still not the same profit the seller makes.

2/25/2010 09:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most artists live in a strange paradox of their own making. They hate the idea of a market and condemn it with the stubborn vigor of a 4th grader crying on the playground that something isn't fair...but they want to profit from it.

Honestly this is not rocket science. The first step is to realize that your work has NO value in the beginning. Just because you paid a lot for school and art supplies, doesn't mean your work has monetary value. There are plenty of companies that have invested millions into a start-up, but go bust and liquidate for far less than the money that was put in.

If you can accept that point, then the rest is simple in theory and hard work in practice.

The first question you have to ask yourself is "how do i make a market for my work?" The second question is "Once i've established a market, how can i extract the most monetary value out of it?"

If you're lucky enough to make a market, you need to hold pieces for yourself as assets that you can sell (yourself, or through a broker, or your dealer) when your market is up. When your market is down buy your work back for less than you sold it (assuming you firmly believe it will go back up in value later).

this is not rocket science. the hard part is making the market - and like it or not, you need people to profit from your work because that raises it's value. There are so many mechanisms at your disposal to make a market - it's up to you to make it happen.

Think like a start-up company instead of an employee. Ask yourself what you need to do to make a market for yourself and your work.

That said, i'd hate to see this experiment be largely about money issues. The opportunity to foster a non-professional art scene is so ripe with potential - one where monetary value is not the qualifier for actual value. I think art needs more "hobbyists" who could give a f*ck about making a monetary market and instead are free to make, or criticize anything they choose without the albatross of trying to make money. There are so many ways to make money that are infinitely easier than selling art. Why burden yourself with making art your main source of income?

2/25/2010 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

"Why burden yourself with making art your main source of income?"

Because a huge challenge makes you feel more alive than a hand-out.

2/25/2010 10:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems that the low initial value of art situation is often taken care of in other creative fields by copyright and royalties. The problem is that an artist is basically selling off the copyrights to their work along with their work. I think Lewis Hyde even discusses this in an afterwords to the newest version of "The Gift" I mention that book mostly because it was discussed earlier in connection with #class. I recall he mentioned that there is even a group that helping to fund artists, with a percentage payback to the fund for any projects that end up bringing in money, that in turn helps fund new, emerging artists. Of course the potential flaw with this system lies in who has the power to determine which new, emerging artists are 'worthy' of receiving funds and being initiated into the circle?

But just think if a tiny percentage of auction house sales (or gallery sales) were put into a fund to support emerging artists? Even if artists had to compete for that money based on what non-artists saw as the value of their potential, it would certainly help to pump more money to those at the bottom and help keep things circulating.

And as far as the comment, "Why burden yourself with making art your main source of income?" Well, of course, the answer is so that you can devote more of your time to making art instead of doing other things to make money.

2/25/2010 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The problem is that an artist is basically selling off the copyrights to their work along with their work.

Practically speaking, perhaps, but not legally. Artists retain the copyright of all their work upon sale. The only way to profit from that is to sell rights to reproduce the work, though, so it's not a real money maker for most artists. Still, it should be made clear that an artist does NOT lose the copyright of their work when it sells.

2/25/2010 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger Brent said...

For those thinking about the iniquity of selling for "silly low" prices ...

If you sell a work for a large amount of money under the presumption that "you are bound to be successful and will make tons real soon per artwork"

1) If you don't, would you refund the purchase price, or a large percentage of it to the person? (hit by a bus, quit in frustration, life change, or simply failure)

2) What would keep the prospective collector from just "waiting until you make it" before buying it since the price isn't going to change?

2/25/2010 01:42:00 PM  
Blogger Mark G. Taber said...

I read "7 Days..." and I enjoyed it very much, but it didn't make a deep impression on me, nor is there much discussion of pricing in it. Two books about pricing not in the bibliography of "7 Days... " is "The $12 million stuffed shark" by Don Thompson and "Talking Prices: Symbolic Meanings of Prices on the Market for Contemporary Art" by Otto Velthuis. The Stuffed Shark is a handbook for speculators and is hair raising but if you don't want to read it consider that the bibliography is much more valuable. "Talking Prices" is great. There is a graph in there showing 3 price models for artist careers called Prudent, Superstar, and something else I can't remember. One starts prices low and raises them on a slow gradual slope over time. The other starts low and raises them slowly over time with strategic bumps along the way. Superstar starts off straight up like a rocket, levels off at the stratosphere then crashes back to earth even faster. A Superstar crash can be fatal to a career. The book explains the 3 models. What I like about Talking Prices is that the argument is made in terms of creating value, and subsequently demand in social and symbolic terms, not in abstract commodity terms typically deployed by academic economic theory. The economic world described in "Talking Prices" is very different than the world of abstract exchange value and I think it's more realistic.

2/25/2010 02:03:00 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Maybe I should be glad that I haven't hardly any work? Once I finally make it, I'll have a bunch of unsold early works that I can cash in on myself!

2/25/2010 02:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

"Art accumulates meaning through an extended collaborative act."

Really?? Since when?? Ok, it must be some subtlety I'm loosing in the way she's saying it, but I just feel we've discussed this many times here (artist's vision
VS how the work lives on). Oh but I get it, it's about the value of Roberta, not the meaning.

Speaking of which, in the art market, and this to me is superfluous, but you gain value if you sustain a career much more than if you do one early great work and say "enough!" (because
it's the best you could do, kind of like Kevin Shield in music
with "Loveless").

The easiest way to not loose in a market context is to simply
keep a couple good works from each series you do. That was also discussed already. Maybe it's hard to fight this with your dealer, I don't really know. But don't sell everything if it goes like cupcakes. Cupcake selling
is NOT a good sign. It means your clients think they are getting away with a deal. Usually you don't have much choice but comply because the guy across the street also cupcake-sells and if you won't, you will be loosing.

But if you keep a couple cupcakes to yourself, they might turn into royal wedding cakes a bit later on.



Cedric C

2/25/2010 02:54:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Really?? Since when?? ... Oh but I get it, it's about the value of Roberta, not the meaning.

Perhaps address my example rather than implying some motive on Ms. Smith's part for the statement? It's a quote from a longer conversation and it's possible I've misrepresented it, but I can't see how you have enough information here to suggest she means "it's the value of Roberta."

2/25/2010 03:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike, There's no reason why you can't buy your undiscovered artist friend's art cheap, either, and cash in on it later. Ya know, spread your risk around.
So many of my artist friends think that being an artist excludes them from being a collector, and I just don't get that. When I can, I have been known to forgo my checks for work sold at the gallery I work with in exchange for store credit. It helps my art too, to be surrounded by art I love in my home.
If we are really talking about artists as businesspeople, though, all businesses need some sort of money to draw from for start up costs. It is probably pretty difficult for an artist to get a bank loan in order to finance their studio time and expenses in the beginning, which is why artist's funds, competitions, residencies, etc. become important.
I just gave a very nominal amount of money to my Alma-mater (well-known art school) for a new fund my teachers set up in honor of a classmate who died recently. The money will be given to a student to fund specific type of art projects. I received a hand-written note from a student that said, "It makes such difference to know that there are people like you who are helping to... support the next generation of young artists." etc. I'm also a fairly young artist who would love to make a living from my work, but sometimes giving just a little boost to others can mean a lot.
The moral of the story: artists, we can help each other too, and in turn, help create value and meaning for what we do. We don't have to rely solely on the outside world to fund our endeavors.

2/25/2010 03:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I know Roberta can be revealing, but that quote was the wrong
quote. It's too obvious. How could that quote be revealing to you, Edward? You have said the same thing in other words yourself, recently. Surely you already knew that a work of art's meaning or value develop through interpretation and consensus. So what is Roberta revealing to you, just now?

I was twisting the thread topic when saying that Roberta has
value for being quoted saying the same thing that many people on this blog or anywhere said in countless other words (including you, Edward.) Therefore: value of the critic versus the meaning.

But maybe the quote here is just used to confirm the strength
of a position, to fortify a pre-existing argument, which amounts
to the same when I claim it's about Roberta's value.


Cedric C

2/25/2010 04:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Witless Buy Any Ol' exhibition is here. How does this factor in our conversation about Wow-u and Weaning.

HuskyQuaker

2/26/2010 08:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

"Art accumulates meaning through an extended collaborative act.

Nature has no intent so we don't consider it art, regardless of its beauty, significance or allegorical meaning. Yet intent as Ed and Roberta indicate,is only part of the art equation. Every time I start a new painting I intend it to be among the best ever ... unfortunately so far intent hasn't been enough on its own.

Art has always been a social exchange, even if it begins in the private act of an artists intent and fulfills itself in a beholders personal resonance.

Glad to hear your views on art are constantly under review Ed!

Gam under the baobab tree.

2/26/2010 09:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric said...

Fine art DOESN'T accumulate meanings!! Come on! Meaning shifts constantly depending on the eye of the beholder. Meaning doesn't ACCUMULATE. It Meanders.

And Artist Intent clashes with Viewer's Desire.


;-P

Cedric C

2/26/2010 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

explain in regards to the example I provided Cedric...

2/26/2010 11:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

In the example you provided, the work accumulates value, not meaning. If more people agree that a work of art is great, they either agree because of a consensus on a specific interpretation, or because they believe a work offers an opportunity for a wide
range of interesting meanings. But how can meanings accumulate, when one can only have one thought at a time? Meanings flicker, vary, and they appear or vanish at any moment. You can list opinions in a book, I still think it's a list of interpretations, not meanings. To push this further, a work of art has 0 meaning, 100% of the time (and you were right to put the word in brackets).

Ok, I'm pulling a leg here, I know. All I originally meant was: You had already brought this issue up a few times, for example when you wrote about that prehistoric mark they found and the problematic of meaning. We had long discussions about it. Now today you are promoting a writer, almost saying "today, I had an eureka moment reading this book", but your past writing prove that you didn't need that book to think this up (that an accumulation of opinions or more exactly, "careness", about a work of art can affect its value).

And well, I'm just here saying you have 6 days Left In The Art World to come up with something from that book that really taught you something, Ed.

;-)


Cedric C

2/26/2010 07:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

Meanings do accumulate onto the artwork Ced. They get appended like attributes tagged onto digital media- a hyperlink here, and geotag there, and users name over here.

Even if you take the position that meaning resides in the thinker, as a person's paradigms change (hopefully evolving into stuff more and more significant) they don't lose memory or the use of their prior paradigms and meanings. I know now pretty much that the world is not flat thanks to some great scientific insights and proofs - including images form space, but I tell you honestly that when I walk, I walk as if the world were flat even though "logically" I know differently. I move between the paradigms of the earth that I have accumulated.

So too with artworks, meanings get appended to them and we move between these meanings as fit. Paradigms of our world (meanings) are simply ways of understanding our world, there are times when using one paradigm or another is more appropriate. Meaning isn't truth, it's a way of knowing.

Meanings accumulate and don't disappear (just like technologies) , art reminds us of the accessibility of these other meanings as well as the ones that we don't always realize that we are operating under right now.

2/27/2010 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

meaning is like snow, I guess, like if you did a job,a nd then you did another one, well then you have two jobs, and more flakes equals more snow, so eventually you get a drift. Drifts are heavier than flakes,a dn in the end, you end up with a sno man. Snow men are good for selling work, but thy can melt down, so I guess meaning is mutable, and flows like water to the ocean - which Jung has something to say about, and then finally, meaning can evaporate and you have to get someone to seed the clouds to make rain, which is like snow, but more clear.

2/27/2010 12:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Allright, in a dictionary, meanings accumulate. I was trying to find a weakness in Roberta's sentance but that's diverging as my "first meaning" was "why are we
talking about this again as though it is something new". The topic was Value, and how art acquires value through time, but I saw an opportunity to demonstrate how meaning is less important than the value of the person who "meant" it. Because obviously we can talk for hours, but eventually Roberta is the bright bulb that is gonna say "it". Bare with me, I'm probably a frustrated critic, but I cringe when a supposedly great thinker of art tells me something I
already know or heard a thousand times before. We really ought to go back to the source of that thinking (some Antique visionaire). And Edward... Actually what Edward does is use a book sample to confirm what he was already thinking, but I'm confused as wrether it's a sneaky way to promote a book, or if he truly must hear something come from Roberta's mouth before he believes it (I examplified how he talked about this issue before). Whole
religions have been started this way: people lending value over the thinker before the thinking. In the art world, we like to think we are safe from falling in these traps, but... It's a little like in the film Julie And Julia, when Julie Powell received a hundred calls right after Amanda Hesser writes an article about her in the New York Time. It's the thinker's value. Hesser didn't discover Powell. People needed Hesser to confirm a buzz that was already
around.


Cedric

2/27/2010 03:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We Value things for the Meanings they hold for us. Period. If you like to collect ceramic frogs, great. That doesn't do it for me. However, if you where to exhibit Andy Warhol's collection of ceramic cookie jars that he spent years collecting at flea markets, I would want to see it.

HuskyQuaker

2/28/2010 01:56:00 AM  
Blogger Aitch said...

For newly minted artists who are fortunate enough to have a reputable dealer, if work is not selling, price is not too low. If work is selling, prices will rise and of course the artist can always buy back his own art if he anticipates further ginormous increases. C'mon artists, dealers and collectors aren't the only ones who have to invest in our careers. Can you imagine anyone in any other field complaining about what they sold their early efforts for?

3/09/2010 01:29:00 AM  

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