Sunday, December 25, 2005

Blame it on...the market

Aco once text me about this guy's writing on I La Galigo which indeed shows a syndrome of inferiority complex. And today I read another writing on the art of painting and market force in Kompas daily.

On the ups- and-downs of current price of Indonesian painting works, he believes that Indonesian painters are victimized by market force. Some of his points are:
1. The big capitals owner --through capital network and image engineering-- can manipulate the consumer. And as Indonesian consumers are more stupid than their counterpart in the other side of the world due to it's paternalistic cultural setting, it allows the operation of that network.
2. In this setting, the victims are the painter. Why? They don't act like Bill Gates since they merely producer --not trader nor capital owner. And the benchmark (for pricing) is not based on artistic qualifications
3. To fight againts that victimization, set a cooperation between the painters and society to change the nation's mentality.

Frankly I am real puzzled by this article. My comments are:
1. Who does he mean the big capital owners and their network in this Indonesian art market? Surely most of any kind of market is characterized by the image engineering -or we may call that product differentiation. Yet, we can't say we are victimized by different type of tooth paste in the supermarket shelf, can we?
And surely the degrading remark on Indonesian customer demonstrates the syndrome that Aco has mentioned in his text earlier.
2. If painter is only producer, so what? It is called division of labor. And Bill Gates' affair shows a, competitive, market that does not work. It is called monopoly.
And what the hell is artistic qualification if Duchamp's urinal can also be considered an art? You can't measure the level of utility of a person seeing that artwork --as well as making interpersonal comparison out of that.
3. A cliche --therefore empty words-- flavored by some hints on misleading marxian revolution idea.

Mind you, it is actually OK to criticize market mechanism as the best instrument for resource alliocation. But please don't mix-up things in this funny way.


  1. Thanks for Rizal for bringing this dish (no pun intended) to our cafe. I think some of Radhar's concerns are justifiable, but he tends to misplace the blame. I am sympathetic with Radhar's views, although my comments are somewhat critical and probably will even strengthen his suspicion of the market economy.

    On the economic vs artistic value
    Art works always have values outside the "art domain". Never mind about the political or social value: an art work always have an economic value. The economic value does not depend only on the artistic value (however one defines it), but also on these other values. The crux of the problem is: nothing guarantees that the all of these values converge. Just like other commodities, art works are subject to price fluctuations. During this fluctuations that could be driven by the latest fads, political event, or even death of the artist, the artistic value and economic value may diverge further.

    This divergence my frustrate some painters and cheers others, depending on how their works fare in the market. I sympathize with Radhar's view that in this type of market, a lot of artists become the victims. But to put the blame solely on the market is silly. After all, artists do benefit from a booming market economy, as Radhar himself admitted in the article. Arts is a high-risk sector, just as restaurant business, those who work in arts are necessarily risk-takers.

    On the capital-owners driven market
    As the economist/artist Hans Abbing argued, an art piece is typically a luxury good, in the sense that people who buy art works are rarely those who have to worry about putting the food on the table: art-buyers are usually wealthy people. Most often, these people (i) put high economic values on their time, (ii) may not have the expertise to judge aesthetic value of art work, that's why they need art critics, dealers, galleries, professional at appraisers, to tell them what to buy. Moreover, people tend follow the latest fad and pay attention to critics and this is obviously not unique to Indonesian. I'm not sure the 'paternalistic culture' - whatever it implies - plays a large role in it. And I'm not sure that there is inherently wrong about it.

    There's also a principal-agent dimension of the problem, where the gallery owner takes advantage of the artist he sponsors, or a dealer cheats his rich clients, but that's another story.

    On changing how society value arts
    I don't have much to say about this, but this relate to a probably a more interesting policy questions: do government need to subsidize art? How? I tend to say 'yes' for the first question, and 'don't know' for the second, but I invite people to discuss this.

  2. Should the government subsidize art? No. Will elaborate later.