“Unlike art, Newsom said, ‘design is not inherently valuable.'”- Designing Men by Paul Goldberger, Vanity Fair
This quote brought me back to a Philosophy of Art class I took in college. So if design is not inherently valuable, then art is? And what is it that makes art inherently valuable if that is the case? It’s a difficult question with no clear answer, but it is very interesting. How does art gain its value? Does it depend on the artist? And how does that artist gain enough notoriety or credibility to create ‘valuable’ artwork? Or does it depend on its reception and how many people see it? But how does an emerging artist break into the art world and gain exposure? All these questions lead to a very complicated structure that exists in the art world, whether the art is mainstream or unrecognized, and it can be difficult to know where and how to start answering these questions.
What really strikes me is how artists gain notoriety. How do they get discovered? Does it require money to pay someone to show your art in a fancy gallery regardless of talent? Or can regular people submit their art to galleries and be accepted based on merit and talent? That would certainly be the hope, but it seems increasingly harder to do that in this day and age.
Here are two works by a famous artist, Egon Schiele. I like them, but someone else who may not like his style may not like them at all. Either way, he is an established, well-known artist. I not only like them aesthetically, but I also like them knowing the historical and cultural context they come from – early 20th century Vienna. It helps that he had a famous artist as a mentor, Gustav Klimt, which undoubtedly propelled his career forward. So perhaps this is the way to do it…seek out a mentor who has relative notoriety and learn what you can from him/her in the hopes of it leading somewhere.
So what makes these two works valuable? The fact that they were done by a famous artist? Or would they be valuable in their own right because of their aesthetic quality even if you didn’t know who they were done by? Which brings up another question – when you look at a piece of art, can you tell whether or not it was made by a famous artist? I think we instinctively want to know who the artist behind the work is when we look at art, or at least I do, and if you are the least bit educated in art history you will know whether or not they are well-known. Therefore, I don’t know if it is possible to look at a serious work of art and separate it from the artist. And if we can’t separate the work from the artist, how do we know we like the work for the sake of the work itself or because of the artist who made it? For me the two go hand in hand. It is very hard to separate the two. But often there are works by artists that I don’t like even though I may like the artist as a whole. For example, Egon Shciele – I like him as an artist and I like many of his works, but not all of them. So in these cases, when I like the artist on the whole but not a particular work by that artist, I judge the work for the work itself and not for the artist. If one liked every work by a particular artist, one would be judging the work by the artist and not by the individual works. I don’t think there is one approach to evaluating art that is better than the other, they are just different.
But still, regardless of how one evaluates art, how does art become valuable? It seems strange to place a price tag on a work of art because it is hard to assign a value to it in terms of weighing how much the materials cost, how much the labor is worth, and what the desired profit is. It’s not like an object made in a factory that can be priced in this way. There is something about art that is transcendental by which it acquires value. And it is precisely for this reason that the price of art is typically very high – because its value is so hard to define so it is just easier if we give it a high price tag. It is a shame though because this means that it is really only available (to own at least) for the rich. Those who can’t afford to own a nice work of art can still appreciate it in a museum or gallery, but the ownership of art is a luxury for the wealthy. I tend to think that even if you own a work of art, you don’t really own it, but are rather just taking care of it and keeping it safe for the artist who created it, who I believe still ‘owns’ it. It is one thing to buy a work of art and own it in that sense, but I don’t think that means you really own because you didn’t create it. I believe the ownership lies in the creator, even if it is no longer in the creator’s physical possession.
In an attempt to help my artist boyfriend gain exposure, I am going to present some of his art here. How do you think it compares to Egon Schiele? If you didn’t know that it wasn’t made by Egon Schiele, would you think that it possibly could be? Or Van Gogh maybe?
The way that artists draw inspiration from other artists and tend to imitate their style is quite common, you can still tell that they are done by different artists. Artists can draw upon inspiration from other artists while still creating their own style.
It’s a shame that some artists, or perhaps even most artists, only gain notoriety after their death because they don’t get the chance to revel in it or reap the financial rewards of being a well-known artist. Why is it that many artists only become famous after their death? Is there something about the fact that they’re no longer living that their work becomes almost sacred because you know they can’t make any more of it? It’s a strange thing and there is something that just doesn’t seem quite right about it. Artists should be able to experience their own notoriety and know that their art is appreciated by people.
More about Egon Schiele and his work on Artsy.