Why Consume Art: Aesthetics, Status, or Cultural Authority?

This blog post comes from a new class I am taking called Money and Ethics in the Contemporary Art World at Tufts University. Here are the notes and thoughts I found interesting that are drawn from Derrick Chong’s “Stakeholder relationships in the market for contemporary art” regarding art consumption and appreciation. 

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Consuming Art for Aesthetics, Status, or Cultural Authority?

Aesthetics – Although this seems to be a given, I feel like there is more to what simply meets the eye.

The more you know, the more you appreciate art and thus satisfaction from arts consumption rises over time in many cases. However, this is debated over two opposing views.

Kantian view – purity of aesthetic contemplation derives from disinterested pleasure.

Bourdeiu’s view challenged the myth of innate taste. According to Boudeiu, a work of art has meaning and interest only for someone who possesses the requisite cultural competence – closely linked to education, social origins, and history of art consumption.

I find Bourdeiu’s view more and more agreeable with contemporary art. As would Danton (1964): “It is the role of artistic theories, these days as always, to make the artworld, and art possible.” Aesthetics can be a requirement in buying art, but there is often more to it.

Status/Wealth – Whether it be an appealing form of investment due to a poor economy (here) or a strong one (China), many have purchased art as form of investment. However, in general “the financial rate of return on art object should, in equilibrium, be lower than that in other markets with similar risk” (Frey, 2000). “Rates of return on painting as an investment were remarkably low – ‘the rate of return on a median painting was about one-third as high as that on a government security” (Baumol, 1986). Reselling art may also incur commission, insurance, conservation, and transportation costs. These are some of the troubles art dealers have to go through if they are making direct acquisitions of art, as opposed to selling through consignment by artists. However, in retrospect, these sources may be a bit outdated.

Cultural Authority – Buying art is “an elite recreation, a game in which the losers are presumably those without culture or artistic flair” (Moulin, 1987), making the winners the ones who receive cultural dividends to compensate for the aforementioned financial risk.

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