A Van Gogh!

A Van Gogh!
From the artists at ArtWorks945

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sarah's Thesis Revisited

In a previous post I mentioned that my former student Sarah Adams proposed the following thesis.

Sarah’s Thesis: Participating in a project like the Van Gogh Project can increase the value of a painting.

It is a fascinating thesis. But is it true?

The answer to that question depends in part on what ‘value’ means.

If by ‘value’ Sarah means economic value, then I am inclined to think that her thesis is true. At the very least the optimist in me thinks it is true.

Suppose for the moment that I end up eventually trading for a Van Gogh. What would Dominic’s Face With Line Through It be worth? It is of course hard to say for sure. But I am willing to speculate that it would be worth some money. Prior to the Van Gogh Project, however, Dominic’s drawing, as awesome as it is, probably would not have made any money on the open market. So if ‘value’ in Sarah’s Thesis means economic value, and if my speculations are correct, then Sarah’s Thesis is true.

But what if ‘value’ means aesthetic value. Could participating in the VGP increase a painting’s aesthetic value?

Initially, one is tempted to say ‘no’. After all, being traded for in a public forum like this does not alter intrinsic features of a painting. So how could it alter a painting’s aesthetic value?

That line of reasoning, however, depends on a certain view of aesthetic value. I will call that view the Platonic view. According to the Platonic view, works of art instantiate to varying degrees aesthetic properties like symmetry, order, unity, and most importantly beauty. And whether they do so depends entirely on their intrinsic features.

The Platonic view does have some plausibility. Look at the Sistine Chapel and you will be hard pressed not to think that it is a work of astounding beauty. It is as if the form of beauty itself guided Michelangelo’s hand.

If the Platonic View is correct, then Sarah’s Thesis is false. Because the intrinsic features of a painting do not change upon being traded, participating in the Van Gogh Project would not increase a painting’s aesthetic value.

But there are at least two other views about aesthetic value that one might adopt. I will call them the Humean view and the Kantian view.

In a future post, I will discuss both the Humean and the Kantian views.

Before I end, however, I have to report the latest exciting news: I am about to make another trade. The artist is based in Vancouver. And her art, in my humble opinion, is awesome.

I can’t wait.

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