Valuation Considerations For Art and Design Objects: Macro Level

Does the world need another Tiger Shark in Formaldehyde?

Another Mona Lisa? Another Stonehenge?

Will the world’s problems be mitigated somehow by the existence of, and trading of, Art Objects?

Will Art feed the hungry, assist in social justice, offer value and security for large swaths of human populations?

Or, is Art an anachronistic concept, not relevant in the modern world?

How do we measure Art’s tangible importance, efficacy, power?

There are 3 considerations when measuring Art and its relevance:

1. THE ECONOMIST VIEW: Does the Art object sell, because it offers joy, excitement, and utility? How does one know this is the case? It’s a Logical Positive argument: if it’s selling, it’s thus popular, thus it’s a trading good worth analyzing. Its price-point offers hints to its overall relevance vis-a-vis all other substitutable objects in its class of objects, in a free-market environment. Its overall market valuation is interesting, as is its derivative products potential.

This class of objects contains case goods, decoration, cultural artifacts, media products, and aesthetic products. A song, for instance, is considered just a unit: does it sell? An image is thought of as just a commodity: does it call to action certain (consumption) behaviors? A film, then: its worldwide gross? Its utility then, to the investor, is its “buy in a down market, sell in a high market” potential. Is it worthy of hoarding, building an inventory, making a market?

In a more refined, mature market, other value considerations come into play: what is the object’s specialness in message? Its specialness in form? Its overall execution of quality, and unity? Its beauty? Its rarity? Its substitutability? Its provenance and backstory and affiliations? Its audience size (market)? Its persistence in media? Its imitabilty as an exemplar? Its brand and franchise possibilities?

Running this analysis, art, as a luxury good, or a conspicuous purchase, or an entertainment, churns out the most popular franchises, without emotion: Disney, Hollywood, Madison Avenue, Pornography, the Christian Church, the Buddha, Museums, and Artists as Brand Names. This is the logical positive snapshot of What Is, especially if you view all markets as being truly free and not disrupted, corrupted or subsidized in any way.

The results are non-emotional: joy and utility are distributed to the most people at the cheapest cost, globally. This is real, measurable joy: people jealously guard their favorite art objects, music, and television shows, and create whole fan-based industries and derivative products.

Because of this, an apartment can be decorated expertly, today, for less than $300: $20 for a concrete Buddha-head from the hardware store; $20 for a Picasso print from a poster shop, in a $15 frame; $20 for a monumental-sized Czech glass vase from a budget department chain; a $100 replica Oriental carpet from a gift fair; $100 for case goods and utensils from Ikea; and a $10 analog AM/FM radio, to play any musical genre for free, from a drugstore, no less. Lastly, $15 for a cactus or a jade plant. Voila! You have ensconced yourself in a multivariate world of cultural symbology, using most vehicles of Art, for very little money.

2. THE PAROCHIAL VIEW: Consider your child’s drawings from grade school: they are nascent expressions of the genius of the human brain, and are milestones in child development. They are “priceless.” They are Art, but family art, parochial art, outsider art, naive art, art in early stages of development (Research and Development). They could never make or sustain a market outside the family proper, or a circle of friends. They have no efficacy, then, to the ECONOMIST, except possibly for weak attempts at cost-benefit analyses vis-a-vis family therapy, family mental health expenditures, overall family stability, etc.

If you ask a head of household who his favorite artist is, he often overlooks his child’s art directly and points to Best in Class popular exemplars, those bought and sold with the most cultural currency. This speaks volumes about the current market. In a raging fire, with precious little time, do you save all the remaining undiscovered plays of Shakespeare, or a stranger trapped in the fire? How to choose?

Consider other parochial examples: your garden’s design, your photograph displays, your furniture feng shui, your family photographs themselves, old and new; your friend’s rock ‘n roll band’s CD from 10 years ago. All this art is local, naive, yet very important. In economic terms, this art may keep you sane, happy, balanced, relaxed. These do in fact proffer invisible economic benefits, in a cost-benefit analysis, saving extra, wasted future expenditures. A utility of constant, on-going experience. A utility of stability. A valuation of peace, or community goodwill (the commons).

You own this art. Made this art. Know these artists. These objects have created bonds, memories, and positive experiences. They are very close to nurture, cultural transmission, mental health, altruism, ritual, and other variants of a robust and vital tribe, group or family.

3. THE ANIMAL VIEW: Art is necessary for the survival of the species. It is thus identified as being primary to healthy human development, not as an extraneous entertainment or luxury good. It cannot be left to the care and maintenance of the RATIONAL ECONOMIC MAN, else unhappiness, and societal decay, results.

Thus, art is studied and viewed in terms of brain and neurology frameworks, in sociological and psychological frameworks, in educational and abstract-thinking frameworks, and in group dynamics. What makes art, and creativity, work then? Does art and creativity enhance the plasticity of the brain, and create more leaders? Conversely, does taking away art and creativity dumb down the brain, make it suitable for the soldier, worker, follower?

Here, art and its mechanics are crucial for the overall health of the species, can be used in various mind and body therapies, and are ultimately totems, or signposts, of the status of the current systems of behavioral control.

When considering how art is qualified, and then quantified, one should run an analysis in the 3 modes as described above. All three modes are necessary for a true valuation of an Art Object, which may add or detract from the perceived accuracy of its relative price-point.

And, of course, aesthetic considerations, in Object, Industrial, and Interior Design, must consider all 3 modes.

Case study: 

Consider a stone Henry Moore sculpture: high quality, rare, monumental, which hearkens powerful Primitive tropes, gravity of space, and connection to our universal condition.

Cultural Currency: HIGH.
Rarity: HIGH.
Accessibility: LOW.
Price point: HIGH.
Overall Franchise Market Valuation: LOW


A Mickey Mouse plastic toy, of extruded rubber-plastic (designed by Ub Iwerks, 1925), pressed on an assembly line from 1930 onwards, in buoyant colors, and sold ubiquitously for almost a century.

This “sculpture” has offered happiness (aka utility) to billions of people, and is very accessible.

Cultural Currency: LOW.
Rarity: LOW.
Accessibility: HIGH.
Price point: LOW.
Overall Franchise Market Valuation: HIGH

Mickey Mouse has sold more than all of the Picassos, Henry Moores, Warhols and Brancusis combined, by a very long stretch.

The Disney business is highly protective, and protected.


Copyright © Michael James Hawk, all rights reserved.