The Value of a Work of Art
by Doug LaRue
I once had a collector approach me at a gallery opening to ask me several questions about the value of my art. It just so happened that the same day I was removing an installation at one gallery I was scheduled to install a few paintings at a another gallery for an opening. After I hung the 3 paintings chosen for the show the owner asked if I had any others I would like to include in the show. Since I had a SUV full of canvases they decided right then that I could have an entire room in the gallery. This particular show had the stipulation that no artwork was to be priced over $200.00. The show opened to a surprisingly large eclectic Austin crowd. The gallery owner and his assistant were fawning over a short man in black boots and a cowboy hat with a fancy jewel studded band who was pointing at the paintings with a huge smoky cigar with one hand and clutching a drink with his other hand. I noticed them making their way through the room while I was having a wonderful conversation with a beautiful artist from New Zealand. The gallery owner politely interrupted our conversation to introduce the high class cowboy. Before I could finish saying hello he grunted at me, rolled his giant cigar around in his mouth then plucked it from his lips. He nodded at me as he tapped ashes to the gallery floor and took a big drink of peach Vodka supplied by the gallery sponsor. The smell of cologne and cigar smoke wafted through the room as he asked me to identify what I intended to do with my career in order to increase the value of my art if he were to add it to his collection. As I began to answer his mercurial question he cut me off and began an unfeathered scathing critique of each painting I had hung in the gallery, stopping occasionally to ask another question he had no intention of waiting for an answer to. He had no interest in any answer to his questions— he was putting on a show and no one had the brass to show him the "No Smoking" sign.
In the process of experiencing Art one has to re-assess the value of subjective conceptualization coupled with proper aesthetic skill. On the surface, quite often, value is placed merely the inherent attractiveness and popularity of the artist rather than the art itself. But in the long run the true nature of a work of art comes forth to take the center stage. If concept is adequately expressed then subjective understanding is more easily realized through the work.
On the light sheepish surface artist's work is intermittently valued in proportion to fad and economy. True value is ever present over the entire life of a work of art from those who see through the haze of media culture and understand that value is not always synonymous with money. True value or worth is subjective and intangible, It has more in common with with spooky action seen at a distance than the value placed on a slip of legal tender. The really spooky part is that the value of money is also subjective—and also affected by fad and economy.
In some ways, as a conceptual artist, I feel lucky that my income is not dependent on the number of paintings I sell. Some people see art as a form of money rather than valuing a work for its ability to evoke emotion or stir your cognitive juices. One has to decide for themselves what value they place on a piece of art because it moved them in some "subjective" way. The small offer one particular person makes may very well be a more profound expression of perceived value and appreciation than the larger offer made by another particular person. Yes, my interpretation is entirely subjective—of course it is.
The fancy cowboy talked about adding to his collection all night to anyone willing to listen but never made a single offer. The gallery owner's assistant finally had enough Peach Vodka in her to ask the cowboy to put out his cigar or leave the the gallery. He dismissed her with a rude comment and turned his back on her. After witnessing this exchange another woman who had recently arrived at the gallery took it upon herself to insist that the man put out the cigar or get out! He tried to laugh her ultimatum off but she wasn't having it, she got in his face and forced him to back peddle with a "who do you think you are" and a " your momma must not have raised you right" among other things until he was all the way out the front door. She concluded her task with, "and stay out!" Everyone cheered and clapped in celebration of his departure.