Another Person’s Treasure.

What is a 012work of art worth? How is its value determined? That’s a question that intrigued me as a kid when my friends and I played a board game called “Masterpiece“. You acquired works by bidding against other players. A separate set of cards would give the “actual” value of each work. Since the decks were shuffled the prices for each work would change from one game to the next. The idea was to buy as much art as you could. The player whose collection was worth the most at the end of the game won. Go figure. That bugged me because it was really the art that I liked: reproductions of famous works on little cards. There was a Picasso, a Thomas Hart Benton, a van Gogh. The first time I saw Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks was on one of those cards.

Hidden in the amounts deck were a few cards that said “FORGERY”. This made whatever work you’d purchased worthless. That bugged me too. If it looked exactly like the original why did it make such a huge difference? It was my first exposure to the economics of art, that a Monet is big money while a copy, no matter how accurate, might as well be Monopoly Monet.

Is there value just in the name? There are stories of Dali and Picasso paying for meals with doodles, and Basquiat–who started as a graffiti artist–did occasionally buy cigarettes or make other small purchases with scribbles, only to see them pop up in galleries selling for hundreds of dollars a few days later. If a work of art speaks to us, though, does it matter who painted it?

008Is there even any real value in art? That’s a big question and one I’m not prepared to even begin to answer, mainly because I only understand economics just well enough to know that value is arbitrary, but I believe that a work of art, no matter who the artist is or where it’s located, any work that makes us feel something, makes us think, has value.

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8 Comments

  1. Ann Koplow

    Using the definition you described in your last sentence, Chris, this post is a very valuable work of art. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Thank you. I never think of my posts as art, but maybe I should reconsider that position.

      Reply
  2. educationalmentorship

    I think the value of art means different things to different people; whether it’s monetary, aesthetic, or emotional, it’s all worth something. Have you read “The Goldfinch”? Amazing book about the value of art.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I hadn’t even heard of “The Goldfinch”, but luckily a library near me has it and the record includes this description. I’m going to have to check this out!

      A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by a friend’s family and struggles to make sense of his new life. In the years that follow, he becomes entranced by one of the few things that reminds him of his mother: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the art underworld.

      Reply
  3. Gina W.

    I don’t remember the game “Masterpiece” but dang it sounds like something that would be fun to play. Amazon has copies for sale for $73 (for a 1996 edition of the game). I think I’ll wait and see if a new version comes out in 2016. One game that I played often as a kid was “Jaws” -https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/7563/jaws
    Even now I can remember the agony of waiting to see if the fake shark would close his mouth on your turn. It was horrible. Why did we continue to play? Because it was the 70’s and there were only four channels on TV and no computers and your merry making choices were limited. “Masterpiece” sounds infinitely preferable.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s a fun trip down memory lane. I had one of those “Jaws” games too. The worst part about it was everything that went into the shark’s mouth, no matter what it was, was all made from the same white plastic. And here’s a funny story: I got one for Christmas and that year Christmas was on a Sunday so we went to church. In Sunday school we played a game where we acted out whatever toy we’d gotten and the other kids would try to guess what it was.
      Not surprisingly the “Jaws” game had ’em baffled.

      Reply
  4. M. Firpi

    Really interesting post Chris. I have some concerns about the visual arts in general. Although I studied visual arts and like photography myself, I can’t help but think that only people who can see get into dilemmas about design. If I were blind, I would have to approach everything so differently. So why think of the world in terms of ‘vision’ (eyesight)? Why not listen or feel more with our hands. After all, vision is only ONE sensory input. As one ages, sensory inputs begin to fade, in any which order our bodies decide.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s a very thought-provoking point–it reminds me of the story of the four blind philosophers examining an elephant, each one describing it differently. In painting I often think the sense of touch is neglected. While I understand that it would be a terrible thing if everybody could run their hands over a van Gogh or a Pollock I’ve noticed in seeing these paintings in person that there are rich textures where the paint has been thickly applied. And sculpture too seems like an art that’s as tactile as it is visual. Using a different sense, or even multiple senses, opens up whole new possibilities for understanding art.

      Reply

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