Challenging the view that ‘affordable’ art is of inferior quality to 'expensive' art
Written by Emma Lang, Founder of SOTA Marketplace.
"In my last article, I alluded to the importance of viewing all spheres of art as linear rather than hierarchical. I raised this because I wanted to explore four interconnected opinions that sustain the view that 'affordable' art is of inferior quality to ‘expensive’ art. These subconscious or conscious views are as follows:
Galleries must sell art of the highest quality because their price points are high. Everything else, depending on its price, sits on a scale below.
Quality art can only be determined by established art professionals. Therefore, those looking at the affordable end of the scale cannot be the judgers of ‘great art’, nor can they be judging ‘great art.’
If everyone can participate in the art world, then the quality of art produced will decrease.
Established artists must sell ‘better’ art than emerging artists who sell their art at lower prices.
These opinions all participate in the illusion that affordable art is of poorer quality than expensive art. Consequently, this hinders universal participation in the art world. This has got to change.
Before diving in, I realise that the connotations of ‘affordable’ relating to ‘less quality’ are not taboo. For example, if you are going to buy a bar of soap for a pound, it is likely to be of worse quality than a bar worth ten pounds. The art world, however, is an interesting case study as its valuation of art has evolved in a complex relationship with capitalism and varying social factors. Therefore, price does not and has not always correlated to quality.
The monetisation of art flourished during The Renaissance period, with rich families such as the Medici family, frequently commissioning artists. By the 20th century, artists had moved away from academies and patronage and towards private galleries. These galleries were funded by societies’ wealthiest. The rise of capitalism, combined with art institutions funded by the wealthy, bred a new view of art in the 21st century, with it no longer being seen just as a beautiful aesthetic asset but as a useful financial asset. As well as providing large financial return, it became a sign of social grandeur. This, along with the emergence of art collectors, dealers, advisors, and investment funds encouraged a self-perpetuating elitist art space which we can see today. Art pricing in galleries has become astronomical to satisfy the demand of the top levels of society and heighten desirability. Additionally, artists must sell their work at high price points because galleries charge criminally high commission rates. A point which I will explore another time.
This basic and brief timeline shows that the relationship between art and pricing has evolved not with a focus on quality, but in tandem with economic and social factors. This constructed scale of ‘quality’ solidifies the high barrier to entry for both artists and consumers. It is only until we have equal and fair opportunities for everyone to participate in the art world, that will we have a true understanding and scale of quality.
Disparities in art education and the lack of equal opportunities in the creative industries along with other social factors means that vast amounts of talent gets overlooked. The Arts Council explains that “there are rich and untapped seams of art and cultural activity right across the country — in bedrooms, front rooms, village halls, mosques, rooms above pubs, public parks, back gardens, everywhere.” So, what can we do? We can create equitable platforms for creatives and debunk the view that affordable art is of inferior quality to expensive art. This will open the doors to new pools of talent, but this still doesn’t solve the issue of how we measure the quality of art?
To have a true understanding of ‘quality’, we shouldn’t be judging creative output as ultimately art is subjective. We should instead measure and place value in creative input. Creative input relates to the processes involved in the making of art. Time, effort, authenticity, originality, and condition. We need to educate artists on how to price their work, with creative input as a governing factor rather than adhering to current market valuation systems. Compare the art world with the music industry. Music is subjective and in simple terms, its value is determined by its listeners and the sound qualities of the record. The art world should be the same. Creative outputs in the art world (much like the music world) require fair spaces to exist in that do not subject them to defective value metrics or take advantage of their makers.
Let’s see how this new way of thinking affects the four initial opinions:
Galleries sell art with high price points. This is due to a complex relationship between art, capitalism, and socio-economic factors where the wealthiest benefit from art with quality not as a focus. Therefore, expensive art does not necessarily equate to quality art.
If art is subjective and based on creative input, then ‘great art’ can be determined by anyone. Those looking at art at the affordable end of the scale can be the judgers of exceptional art AND affordable art can be ‘great art.’
If everyone can participate in the art world, then the quality of art will only increase as we become exposed to the creative results of larger pools of talent.
If we measure art based on creative input and approach the art world without value bias, then all artists have the potential to sell high quality art. Using terms such as ‘established’ and ‘emerging’ artists is unhelpful and adheres to a warped view of art quality.
This change isn’t going to happen overnight. The art industry is stubborn and as explained, built on a long history of tradition. However, there are those who are ready for the challenge to shake up the art world and create fair spaces for affordable, high quality art."
Sources: ‘The art world’s response to the challenge of inequality’ LSE, ‘Cultural Democracy in Practice’ by The Arts Council.’