There is a wonderful discussion of the subtle differences between modern/contemporary figurative artists over at Illustration Art. Figurative art in this case being nudes (so if you are offended by high art nudes, move on).
The crux of the issue is the difference between Adrian Gottlieb and Job Currin. The former artist is, arguably, technically superior to the latter, and yet Currin’s paintings routinely sell for a couple orders of magnitude more than Gottlieb’s. IMHO, the difference rests in Currin’s engagement with a perspective (sure, call this postmodern self-referential irony if you like), while Gottlieb’s interest is in making art that feels powerful in its representation of women’s form and leaves it at that. Why the first is fancy high art and the second is merely technical illustration is an excellent question.
Once you start to try to gauge the art world by making arguments over the content of the art itself, you may find yourself with very few solid foundations – this is the insight from Howard Becker’s Art World’s (among others). But there is something about the willingness to argue over art content and not just art conventions that feels meatier and healthier than the more distanced sociological approach (an approach I often take myself and find completely useful, to be honest).
In addition to the wonderful comparison in the post, read the comments, moderated by IA’s David Apatoff. They are for the most part thoughtful and extend the thinking of the original post – something comments don’t often do.