What is a work 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?
Is 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.