Portraits as Art Market Currency Pt. 6 – artmarketblog.com

Portraits as Art Market Currency Pt. 6 – artmarketblog.com

As the final post in this series I want to summarise my findings, but before I do I want to reiterate the reason that I wrote this series of posts on Portraits as Art Market Currency. The catalyst for this series of posts was, and still is, the continuing saga relating to the supposed instability of some of the world’s most significant economies. Economists and journalists have been making predictions for quite some time regarding the supposedly impending crisis that range from “the extent of the crisis is being grossly exaggerated” to “it is only a matter of time before we experience a catastrophic global financial crisis”. Even though opinions relating to the extent of the crisis vary greatly, it seems that a majority of experts believe that there is at least a significant chance that there will be a series of negative events relating to the economic status of some countries in the near future. Although it is unlikely that a complete global financial meltdown will take place, hypothesising on the effects that such an event would have on value of the art market reveals extremely interesting information regarding the way fine art is valued, and the way we assign value to art objects. This information is extremely useful for investors in fine art as it highlights the importance of having a strategy, and provides indications of how that strategy should be structured.

The reason I made the comparison between portraits and currency is because the way we assign value to currency can tell us a lot about the way we assign value to fine art. For several decades there has been heated debate surrounding the way currency is valued – a debate that stems from the global change to a fiat money system from a Gold Standard. To recap , the Gold Standard “was a commitment by participating countries to fix the prices of their domestic currencies in terms of a specified amount of gold” (US Library of Economics and Liberty). The benefit of the gold standard is that currency essentially had intrinsic value because it was basically able to be exchanged for a certain amount of gold. According to gold expert Paul Nathan in an article on Kitco.com “The intrinsic theory of value holds that worth or value is contained within an object. It holds that economic goods possess value inherently, innately, despite the market, despite supply and demand, i.e., in spite of men’s values, choices, and actions”. The Fiat money system, on the other hand, is currency that a government has declared to be legal tender, despite the fact that it has no intrinsic value and is not backed by reserves. Historically, most currencies were based on physical commodities such as gold or silver, but fiat money is based solely on faith. Because fiat money is not linked to physical reserves, it risks becoming worthless due to hyperinflation. If people lose faith in a nation’s paper currency, the money will no longer hold any value.

What I found particularly interesting when researching this topic is that the art market can essentially be divided into two different markets – one market that has similarities to the Gold Standard, and another market that has similarities to the fiat money system. Just like the fiat money system, the contemporary art market relies very much on faith in the artists whose work is being bought and sold. The value of the work of contemporary artists is dictated by the galleries who sell the work with buyers basically expected to have faith in the valuation set by the gallery. Just like with fiat currency, if people lose faith in a contemporary artist then their work is severely devalued, or even rendered worthless. The market for classical figurative works of art, on the other hand, resembles the gold standard because of the intrinsic value many of these works contain due to their physical characteristics and their status as historical documents. Regardless of what happens to the art market or to the reputation of the artist in question, such classical figurative works of art (portraits in particular) will always have significant technical, historical and documentary value; just as currency backed by gold will always have value regardless of what happens to the economy of the country whose currency is backed by the gold. When it comes to art investment and wealth preservation, the security and stability of the value placed on a work of art is extremely important. Although the glamorous world of contemporary art market speculation may seem to be the most popular and most viable method of profiting from the purchase and sale of art – fine art is, by the very nature of the art market, a long term investment. In fact, the benefits of investing in art can only really be taken advantage of when a long term approach is taken.

To finish with there are three important points that I want to emphasise:

1. the long term value of a work of art is linked to a certain degree to the extent to which one can disassociate the work of art from the artist, and the extent to which one can assign value to the actual characteristics of the art object as an independent entity.

2. the value that can be placed on portraits because of their status as historical documents is the sort of future proof intrinsic value that will always remain with the portrait and cannot be disassociated from the portrait. It is this sort of intrinsic value that makes the portrait a good candidate for use as currency.

3. when it comes to art investment and wealth preservation using fine art, it is possible to take a strategic and mathematical approach that virtually guarantees success over the long term. This sort of approach requires, however, require discipline, patience and objectivity.

Part 1:
http://artmarketblog.com/2010/08/10/portraits-as-art-market-currency-pt-1-artmarketblog-com/

Part 2:
http://artmarketblog.com/2010/08/19/portraits-as-art-market-currency-pt-2-%e2%80%93-artmarketblog-com/

Part 3:
http://artmarketblog.com/2010/08/31/portraits-as-art-market-currency-pt-3-2/

Part 4:
http://artmarketblog.com/2010/09/10/portraits-as-art-market-currency-pt-4-artmarketblog-com/

Part 5:
http://artmarketblog.com/2010/09/17/portraits-as-art-market-currency-pt-5-artmarketblog-com-2/

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

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Portraits as Art Market Currency Pt. 4 – artmarketblog.com

Portraits as Art Market Currency Pt. 4 – artmarketblog.com

With this post I want to explore an analogy between music and fine art that I believe will help make further sense of the portraits as art market currency concept that I am attempting to explain. When it comes to classical music – ie. art music produced in, or rooted in, the traditions of Western liturgical and secular music, encompassing a broad period from roughly the 9th century to present times – a situation exists where the skill and ability of the musician/s playing the music is more important than their profile or level of fame. Although it would be preferable to have the original composer play the music if that were an option, at the end of the day it is the quality of the music being played that takes precedence over who is actually playing the music. In other words, the actual music produced is usually more important than the person who produced it.  The reason this is significant is that the concept I am trying to explain focuses on the value of the actual result of the artistic process, the artistic product, as opposed to the value placed on the artist and their persona or profile.  I chose classical music to illustrate this point because of the high level to which instrumental classical music can be disassociated from the people producing the music and valued according to the technical and constructional characteristics of the composition – in a similar way that figurative portraiture can be valued independent of the profile of the artist (a concept I will explore later on).

When it comes to the eligibility of something to be used as currency, one of the most important characteristics that something must have is the ability to be able to be judged/evaluated according to a universal set of criteria and standards.  It is the universality of the classical music language combined with the technical and intellectual nature of the compositions that should theoretically allow any classical expert from any country to judge a composition or performance by the same standards and criteria, and come up with the same or similar results.  Although opinion regarding a particular piece of classical music may differ from critic to critic due to personal preference, a critique of the technical and compositional characteristics of a traditional classical musical score by a classical music expert should theoretically be similar to that of every other classical music expert because such  a critique is more of a scientific analysis than an artistic analysis.  According to Joshua Fineberg, a composer and Harvard University music professor, in an article titled ‘Classical Music: Why Bother?’ written for salon.com, “If one believes in the intrinsic value of art, then — contrary to most contemporary ways of thinking — taste and social construction are of decidedly secondary importance. Composers often speak of pieces being well constructed or clever, sometimes even brilliant, and then go on to say that they don’t particularly care for them. This is because personal preference is seen as being much less important and enduring than these other, harder-to-define criteria. Even real Shakespeare-haters are unlikely to criticize the quality of his verse. We can all feel the genius even if we are not all sensitive to its charms (or at least this is what I tell myself)”.  What is interesting is that Fineberg’s musings about classical music are totally applicable to classical figurative art, and classical figurative portraiture in particular – just replace the term “composers” with art historians or art critics.

To be continued……..

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications