Thursday, November 16, 2006

Art: The Art of Pricing Great Art

A good Economix column from the NY Times by David Leonhardt: The Art of Pricing Great Art.
For the last five years, though, a man named David W. Galenson, an art lover, modest collector and tenured professor of economics at the University of Chicago, has been trying to change this. He has developed something approaching a unified theory of art, which hasn’t won him many fans in the art world but does a surprisingly good job of explaining the relative value of the world’s great paintings.
So he began collecting data on the sale price of works by Warhol, Jackson Pollock and other American artists, and he discovered a pattern. Most of them produced their most valuable work either very early in their career, like Warhol, or very late, like Pollock. When he expanded his research to European painters, he found the same pattern.
Not only that, but the two groups tended to approach art, and to talk about it, in strikingly different ways. The young geniuses, like Gauguin, Picasso and Van Gogh, were conceptual innovators whose paintings broke sharply from previous work. They typically had a precise goal in mind when they started a piece and didn’t need long to finish it. “Above all, don’t sweat over a painting,” Gauguin once told a friend. “A great sentiment can be rendered immediately.”
The late bloomers, on the other hand, arrived at their innovations gradually, through trial and error, making their major contributions late in life. They painted the same subject again and again, experimenting on the canvas, often reluctant to say that a painting was finished. Consider that C├ęzanne, who did his most valuable and celebrated work in his 60s, signed few of his paintings.
Mr. Galenson has extended the theory to novelists, poets and beyond, arguing that most creative people fall on one end or the other of the spectrum, and he has earned a fair bit of attention. Malcolm Gladwell, in a speech at Columbia University, described “Old Masters and Young Geniuses,” which Mr. Galenson published this year, as “a really wonderful book.” Wired magazine recently profiled him under the headline, “What Kind of Genius Are You?”