No seriously, how do you know what you like?

This article from the NYT today highlights “art anxiety,” the inability for wealthy folks to purchase real art for fear that they will either pay too much, or be outed as having poor taste. There’s interesting stuff here, though I’ve mostly given up on the Times’ feature articles nowadays (good gracious they’ve moved from interesting to trite to maddening as I’ve gotten older and more thoughtf….wait a second, maybe it’s not them, maybe it’s me!):

Art paralysis takes many forms. In addition to the would-be buyers who are intimidated by galleries, there are those worried about making an unfashionable choice; those obsessed with investment value; and those who return to a gallery for months, even years, never buying a thing. (Some of these suffer from a form of art paralysis that Stephen Nordlinger, the president of the Foundry Gallery in Washington, calls red dot syndrome — a desperate longing only for those pieces bearing the red dots that show they’ve been sold.) And then there are the people whose reasons make no sense at all, at least to those doing the selling.

Theoretically, the structure of the art market is, I think, to blame. In order for art to be commodified as a culturally-laden fetish object, it has to be taken out of the realm of normal consumption, and placed into a more rarified space. One of the effects of this move is to make that space inaccessible. I particularly liked the Chelsea gallery owner who quoted a painting’s price in UK pounds. Ask for a price, get a snooty ‘no’ – persist and get the price in pounds. Any questions?

From a marketing perspective, the problem is that if you make the space less rarified, you at the same time make it less likely that the art market would be able to sustain high prices.

Per the anxiety itself, I’ve argued before, I think it takes training to know what you like, as opposed to what you are expected to like given the conventions of a field. Chasing ‘good taste’ is immensely challenging precisely because it is so far out of your hands. Without cuing up the Free to Be You and Me music, I would suggest that cultivating your own sense of self-via-taste is harder, and much more likely to make you overtly iconoclastic, but also possibly more rewarding.

Comments are disabled for this post