Damn I have awesome students!
Here is another message I received from a former student of mine, Sarah Adams.
Anyway, I’ve been reading your blog about Van Gogh (nice taste in art by the way!), and I wanted to add some support to Kent’s thesis.
I think that part of the value of the paperclip is how I obtain it. I contend that the method of obtaining an object adds to its value (even if the method you use to obtain it is irrational). If you had given Dominic’s Face with Line Through It to a reputable art dealer, he probably would have thrown it in the trash and laughed at you. But maybe one day, he’ll receive it and think: “this is the drawing that started the Van Gogh project, and that makes it really valuable to me.”
So here’s my thesis: participating in a trade like the kind outlined in your blog and in the story of the red paperclip increases the intrinsic value of an object.
And I’ll support it with a little history of Van Gogh. Did you know Paul Gauguin lived with him in Arles at one point (before he moved to Tahiti)? Apparently in December of 1888, Van Gogh confronted Gauguin with a razor blade because he was afraid Gauguin would leave him. Van Gogh fled in panic after this confrontation, and that was when he cut off a piece of his ear and gave it to a prostitute to keep carefully. Gauguin moved to Tahiti and never saw him again, and Van Gogh died in January of 1889. Some doctors have even speculated that the strange perspective and angles in his painting of the “Bedroom in Arles” are the result of lead poisoning, and that Van Gogh actually saw the world in those strange angles. Lead poisoning could have also caused the rings around the stars in “Starry Night.”
Van Gogh’s “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” sold for $139 million in 1990. Who wouldn’t want to own a painting by a man who tried to kill his friend, ended up cutting off his own ear, and was very probably suffering from lead poisoning? Even if the painting was only halfway decent (and Van Gogh was clearly quite a talented artist), think of all the stories you could tell about its history!
Just to emphasize Sarah’s thesis, here it is again:
Sarah’s Thesis: Participating in a trade like the kind outlined in this blog and in the story of the red paperclip guy increases the intrinsic value of an object.
For self-interested reasons I really like this thesis.
But of course it is one thing for me to like Sarah’s Thesis and another for it to be true. But is it? In my next blog post, I will argue that its truth depends on a particularly difficult topic: the nature of value.
Until next time, however, if anyone wants to (perhaps) increase the value of a piece of art you own, let me know – I’ll trade you for Ode to Life.