Jeanette Jones sells her paintings for $1 per square inch.
That strikes me as a very good way to measure the value of paintings, so good in fact that I will introduce a unit of measurement called, in honor of Jeanette, the J. From hereon 1 J equals one dollar per square inch.
When I have looked at various pieces of local art, I have noticed that bigger paintings tend to demand more money. There is a painting on sale at the local bar here that is selling for $800. But as far as I can see, all it has going for it that recommends such a price is its size. It really doesn’t strike me as very good. Nonetheless, it seems as if it must have some reasonable amount of quality, since the artist is asking $800 for it.
However, if one were to calculate the J value of that painting, it would not be all that high. I don’t know the painting’s exact dimensions, but it is much bigger than Jeanette’s painting. So if one were to divide its price by its area in square inches, the result would be a value much lower than 1 J, which strikes me as appropriate. Jeanette’s Dora Maar is a far more aesthetically appealing painting than it.
The importance of the J to valuing art, however, does not stop with local pieces hanging in bars. I looked on Wikipedia and found the following list of the highest priced paintings along with the inflation-adjusted price that was paid for them.
Pollock -- No. 5, 1948 -- $150 Million
De Kooning – Woman III -- $149.1 Million
Klimt – Portrait of Adelaide Bloch-Bauer I – $145.2 Million
Van Gogh – Portrait of Dr. Gachet -- $139.5 Million
Renoir -- Bal du moulin de la Galette – $132 Million
Picasso -- Garçon à la pipe – $120.3 Million
Picasso – Nude Green Leaves and Bust – $106.6 Million
Van Gogh – Potrait of Joseph Roulin – $101.7 Million
Picasso – Dora Maar au Chat – $102.7 Million
Van Gogh – Irises – $102 Million
When I saw this list, I was at first amazed by the amount of money people pay for art. But then I became a bit depressed. True, Van Gogh is on the list three times. But so too is Picasso. And three artists have paintings worth more than Van Gogh’s. Call me petty, but I want Van Gogh to be at the top, especially if I am going to spend a considerable amount of time and effort trying to get one of his paintings.
But then I calculated the J amount for each painting, which of course depends not just on the dollar amount paid for it but also on the painting’s size. And this is the result.
Van Gogh – Portrait of Dr. Gachet 23.4” x 22” -- 270,979 J
Van Gogh – Potrait of Joseph Roulin – 25.35" x 21.73" -- 184,621 J
Van Gogh – Irises – 28” x 36.635” -- 99,436 J
Picasso -- Garçon à la pipe – 39.4” x 32” -- 95,415 J
Klimt – Portrait of Adelaide Bloch-Bauer I – 54” x 54” -- 66,165 J
Picasso – Dora Maar au Chat – 50.5” x 37.5” -- 54,231 J
De Kooning – Woman III -- 68” x 48.5” -- 45,209 J
Renoir -- Bal du moulin de la Galette – 52” x 69” -- 36, 789 J
Picasso – Nude Green Leaves and Bust – 64” x 51” -- 32,659 J
Pollock -- No. 5 -- 8’ x 4’ -- 32,552 J
Calculated in terms of the J, Van Gogh ends up having the top three paintings ever sold. And his top three are each approximately three times the J value of Picasso’s top three respectively. If the Money Thesis is true, (if monetary value tends to track aesthetic value), and if monetary value is calculated in terms of the J, then Van Gogh not only produced the three best paintings ever, but his paintings are three times as good as his closest competitor, Picasso. (I should point out that this calculation ignores the value of the great masters -- Da Vinci, Michelangelo, etc. -- since their paintings are owned by museums and are never put on the market.)
Yes, I very much like the J as a unit of measurement, since it yields the right results for ranking great artists (at least for my purposes).
I also like the J because it represents an interesting conceptual moment in this project.
Jeanette Jones sells her paintings for 1 J. Dominic, on the other hand, doesn’t sell his art for any J at all. Hence, I have traded up to a painting that has allowed me to introduce the unit of measurement by which I can now judge my future progress. And that, at least to my mind, is conceptually rather pleasing.