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Bourdieu put a lot of time and attention into deconstructing the politics of art. His idea is that art - and especially art appreciation - are caste markers.

The middle classes study art avidly in order to improve themselves. The dominating classes collect art as a monument to their own significance, without necessarily being interested in it or appreciating it with a 'trained gaze'. Their native tastes are crude, simplistic and even vulgar, and when it comes to appreciating value, they're surprisingly easily led.

One of the London art fairs offers the services of personal shoppers who can guide the nervous but well-heeled acolyte towards one or more purchases will be suitable as a demonstration of their elevated status.

At another art fair I was told that certain famous collectors demanded huge discounts from up and coming artists, because their decision to buy a work sanctified and anointed the artist with a value they wouldn't otherwise have had.

There are also completely unfounded rumours and suspicions that certain auction houses may knowingly misrepresent the history and origin of certain pieces, to persuade buyers to part with their money. If that happened to be true - and I'm sure it isn't - a hypothetical old master might be worth tens of millions, where a hypothetical fake or poor imitation would be worth next to nothing.

There's no doubting that there's an aesthetic instinct, as there is a transcendent one. Humans put a lot of effort into decorating objects, enhancing their personal living spaces, and sharing their more rarefied experiences.

But there's also an art market which trades in these things as if they were common commodities, which can be marketed and boosted like other commodities, irrespective of any other value.

Depending on the market, it's not always easy to tell the difference between cultural value, market value, and inherent impact.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Jun 15th, 2009 at 12:27:19 PM EST
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