DO WE KNOW OR ARE WE TOLD WHAT WE LIKE?

By William Markiewicz

I always thought that we let ourselves be influenced mostly about things we don't care about because we don't know about them (like political matters concerning far away countries). In matters that directly concern us, like fashion for instance, we eventually follow the crowd. But for the things we really care about, PR agents, marketers, follow us rather than guide us. Sex creates the sex business, not vice versa. No advertising will make you consume coffee or tobacco if you're not already interested; they can suggest which brand to choose once you're in the habit. Indeed, advertising preys on immature minds to make them join the crowd of smokers, drug users, racists... But it is still a case of joining fashion.

My artist friend surprised me when he advanced a different theory. He considers that people usually buy art chosen for them by marketers. "Why, in ancient times, did artists dine with kings and princes while entertainers ate with the dogs and today entertainers are the kings and the artists eat with the dogs?" he asked. For him the general cultural level has plummeted and it's our duty to awake the masses by initiating an education campaign. I had to reply:

People, according to their taste, fill stadiums, cinemas, theaters, concerts and restaurants. They spend more money for collective pleasures, not only because it's cheaper than a piece of art, but also they need to be part of the crowd ("a group effect"), to go out of their homes, and they have an authentic hunger for culture, sport, food and drinks... They naturally spend more money on leisure because it offers them change (a friend who participated in the discussion added, "to break their loneliness") while at home space is usually limited and you can't buy art indefinitely. This doesn't apply to an artist like Picasso because people buy his work as investment. I think this explains why the artist or craftsman cannot compete with the "amusers."

Next, the discussion came to the matter of price. Usually this is resolved between the artist and gallery owner. Things become more complex when the middleman enters the picture. My friend finds it unethical if the agent earns more then the artist. Usually this isn't the case, but, as I said to my friend, he cannot control the agent's steps and track all the details of his contacts and transactions. The agent may earn much more if, for instance, he buys the art in one country for the local price, and sells in another country for their higher local price. It's his right. He invests time, travel expenses, and the artist should feel satisfied if he got what he wanted.

Normally, prices, whether for art or anything else, don't come out of the blue but are subject to rules. If the artist is famous, his work has an investment value. If the artist is popular, not necessarily famous, his work of course sells better. Otherwise the artist's work like any other work remains a matter of working hours and size. My friend objected that you cannot treat an object of art as merchandise, but everything on the market is merchandise. You don't convert the magical meaning of art into money. In his humorous poem "Letter to Theophilus the Taylor" the poet Garczynski spoke of the public "for whom we write and sow " and the results: "Ah when poetry fills up the wallet, then what a joy it is to be a poet!"

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