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Art85 Paper3

November 29, 2011

Natanael Banegas jr

Prof. Patrick Aievoli Art85

 Determining the  Value of Art in an Age of Mass Reproduction

When thinking about art there is always questions of to measure the qualities of an art work to help determine the value of art. There are many variables that make an particular pieces of artwork that make some artworks more valuable then others. However, there are difficulties in trying to compare pieces of artwork, this is especially true when comparing radically different pieces of artwork. Whether it is medium that a piece, the techniques used, the visual style and design, the reputation of artist or other factors that give artwork value in terms of cultural, emotional, spiritual value and as a commodity .A major factor that effects the value in the modern world is the ability to reproduce works of art has changed the way we value art and has accelerated with the introduction of digital reproduction. The main question that confronts people who study art is how does one determine value of an artwork when it is one longer a rare one of a kind item to a mass produced object. The propose of this paper is to determine how the value of art is determined when it can be reproduced, by examining German artist Albrecht Durer’s lithograph prints. To do this two different theories of value will be used, the first is the is Walter Benjamin Marxist thinker and critical theorist. On the other side are the scholars and supporters of the free market of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Albrecht Durer was born in Normandy in 1472 was man of many talents working has a painter, draftsman and a print maker. His influence on the developments in the arts and in particular advancements in the print making technique of engraving to the extent he ‘revolutionized printmaking, elevating it to the level of an independent art form.” (Wisse)While lithographs where a major advance in the means of reproduction they were not the first as William Benjamin states in his paper “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” mechanical reproduction was known in the times of ancient Greece.“The Greeks knew only two procedures of technically reproducing works of art: founding and stamping. Bronzes, terra cottas, and coins were the only art works which they could produce in quantity. “ However, with the introduction woodcuts and then with engraving such as Druer lithographs a change it occurred in the way the reproduction of art was seen. The question that needs to be asked is whether a piece of art is still valuable when it is no longer unique such as Durer lithographs. According to Benjamin what gives an art work part of its value is something he calls an artwork’s of ‘aura’ that which he characterizes as : “its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence.” (Benjamin Sec2)

With art forms and artworks that necessitate mass reproduction is this quality still important and does the fact that they are not unique hurt their value?

To find the answer one just as to look at price people for other reproducible works even something mundane like comic books. Despite being, easily and cheap comic books are considered highly valuable by people in certain circles. One such example is the sale of comic books made in 2010 by one of the comic being sold was an original press run of Batman issue number one. When it was originally printed it sold for the cover price of fifty cents this has changed has those first copies dwindled in number over the years. With now less then three hundred know the price of the comic has seen a massive increase. At the time of the sale it was expected to sell for around $40,000. If the price of vintage

Batman issue 1 comic selling for $40,000

comic increase so too could the lithographs that Durer print when was alive. This means that a reproducible work can have an aura around it much like a unique piece. Since the ability of mass production of art is not the deciding factor in the value of art other factors need to be taken into account.

    Before the big question of what makes something valuable can be thoroughly answered is important to explore the ideas f how value is assigned in both monetary and non-monetary terms. Although Walter Benjamin does not does elaborate his theory for determining value in his paper it is important to understand it . Known as the Labor Theory or Cost Theory of value this argues that that value of something is related to the amount of work that when in to creating it. This is understandable as any business needs to make a profit to stay afloat. The variant known as the Labor Theory of value places the cost and by extension the value of something on the amount of labor used it’s production. It is according this theory that Benjamin asserts that mass reproduction of art work hurts it’s value. To a certain extent this is true the ability to art reproduce visual art there mechanical has reduced the value of artwork in terms of price. However, the cost theory has many flaws one of the being that it doesn’t explain all the factors the influences price. If one were to try apply cost theory to parts involved in creating a finish product it would not necessary reflect the final price, after all costs are prices too as Robert P. Murphy explains in the price of goods according to cost theory. “To ‘explain’ the price of a $10,000 car by reference to the prices of the engine, tires, glass, and so on, doesn’t really explain market prices per se. At best, it pushes back the explanation one step: Why does the engine have a price of $5,000 “ (Murphy) Additionally this theory by itself cannot explain changes in prices from moment to moment which influenced by other factors then cost.

Another theory for understanding how the value is established is from the Austrian school of economics centered in the in Ludwig von Mises Institute is the subjective theory of value. As the name suggests value is subjective it changes from person to person and is dependent on the conditions of time and place in which that decision of somethings value is being made. This means that hypothetical something that is cheap can jump in price depending the right circumstances.”Lost and adrift on a raft for days, a man might offer his fortune in exchange for a hamburger. Yet, the same person, following a lusty meal, might not offer a penny in exchange, though the hamburger had changed not at all.” (Read) Just has the value of food and by extension the price that person is willing to pay depend on the conditions in present the same is true of art.

Of course the value of art is not limited to the commercial value that is established in the art market, it also includes the other types value that are more intangible. Benjamin’s of art delves somewhat on market values he also speaks of other types of value. One major value that mentions is what Benjamin refers to as ‘cult value’ or the value that a religious group has for an used in ritual. By taking this to a broader level to include the broader society cult value becomes cultural value. Again subjective theory plays a part in the way art plays into a culture but, instead of an Austrian economists it is actually from Walter Benjamin in discussing changes in cultural traditions and its effect on the value of art. “An ancient statue of Venus, for example, stood in a different traditional context with the Greeks, who made it an object of veneration, than with the clerics of the Middle Ages, who viewed it as an ominous idol. ”(Benjamin Sec 4) The same can be side Durer lithographs there has been a change of in the world for the time that they were first printed to the today. Modern western society has changed over the centuries and with it the understanding of art. As a result what is considered art has increased with new forms art are being created along with new styles and movements of art have developed over the centuries .

The fact that the Durer’s lithographs have a continued impact in contemporary social is a testament to the value that they contain in the eyes of the people that appreciate them. What exactly are the things that people value in the lithographs can be gleamed from studying them. His work like much of the European art in middle ages and early Renaissance dealt with Christian imagery. One such famous is Durer’s engraving of the Four Housemen of the Apocalypse which is a part of his Apocalypse woodcut book. With all four horsemen galloping forward crushing a group of men under foot as an angel travels down from heaven. Such an image spoke to the people how lived in time as it does today. “Durer Apocalypse has an unprecedented emotional power and graphic expressiveness. Volume and depth, light and shadow, texture and surface are created black ink on white paper, which becomes a metaphor for a light in a turbulent world of awesome power” (Meggs pg89) The value of this religious artwork has a greater impact on those who are who faithful, but this only on aspect of his art. Besides religious art Durer used subject matter from everyday life has evidence by his lithographs depicting moments of everyday life. His prints of a German peasant couple dancing and of Three Peasants are examples of how the content of art expanded the during the . Another thing that can be discerned is the

The Four Horsemen wood block print

lithgraphic print of three peasants

techniques used in woodcut printmaking became more advanced and refined with the introduction of lithographic printing. There is greater range of gradation in these later lithographic prints allow for more realistic and detailed representations people. These prints along with the whole of lithographic work serves as artifacts of history in both a in general sense and in art history in particular. They capture a not only the development of printmaking but also the how depth and proportion were being better utilized in art. Broadening of subject matter from the religious to humanistic by using to capture the common is another aspect that can be found in the lithographs which historic and cultural significance for willing to study it. Though these factors might validate the value the people find looking at Lithograph or some other type of print work by Alberth Durer they did not explain how. vale is determined for art work as a whole To really understand how the subjective theory of value and how it means for the value of artwork it is not an enough to look at the older artwork it is necessary to look at the dynamics of the current art market.

A print of German peasant couple dancing

The subjective theory of value is becomes more apparent when addressing the more contemporary avaunt-grade artworks. In recent news Martin Kippenberger’s sculpture ‘When it Starts Dripping From The Ceiling’ valued at 1.1 million was damaged while on display an Ostwall museum in Dortmund Germany. The damage occurred when “one overzealous cleaning women scrubbed away a patina intended to look like a dried rain puddle” (Eddy) When one gets a look at sculpture it is understandable way someone might damage it by accident being

When it drips from the ceiling sculpture

comprised of a tower of wooden slats, a rubber through and a patina. It is not something that an average person considers as a great work of art at first glance or in general. This does not mean the piece does not have value attached to it there is a reason some 1.1 million dollars for it. A factor in favor of the sculpture price is the fact theMartin Kippenberger has reputation for being something of trouble maker in the art world making bold conceptual art “once buying a gas station in Brazil and naming it after himself “ for example (Judkis ) . The other reason would be the fact the artist has died is another is other contributing factor to the to commercial value of the sculpture although it is always open to debate . Like the value of the sculpture it’s self the cost of the damages is some what open ended with the owner of the piece being left for the owner to decide. While the sculpture is is unique one of a kind item with plenty of history attached to it still provides an example of subjective value theory at work in the art world.

Instead of being constant and immutable the worth of a resources and goods are subject to change . This economic theory applies to the marketplace of the art world has it does to any other market “In regard to works of art, we often hear people say they are ‘undervalued,’ ‘underappreciated,’ “hyped,” or “overvalued.” These are subjective evaluations and no one can measure by how much a work is ‘undervalued’ or ‘hyped.’ ” (Kim) This summarizes how subjective theory is applied when dealing with how value is decided for art. Though Durer lithographs works can reproduced rapidly through mass print or digitally at near zero cost only affects the value of the reproductions for people’s willing to buy them, but not affect the not the value of the original prints. In terms of the non-commercial value of artwork which covers wide range of cultural, historic, technical, and aesthetic aspects of a piece of is unique to an individual viewing it. The varying value judgment of many people do however, effect the way an artwork is perceived by society and affects it’s price in the market. The fact the people still study and purchased the works Albrecht Durer after hundreds is a testament the his skill, impact his work, the mass reproduction only makes his work more accessible to people who value it.


1. Megg, Philp B. “A History of Graphic Design” . New York: John Wiley & Son, Inc. 1998 print

2. Benjamin, Walter The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” ULCA School of Theater,Flim and Television. Feb 2005 Web 29 Oct 2011

3.Murphy, Robert P. “ Problems with the Cost Theory of Value” .Lugwig von Mises Institute 23 May,2011 Web 1 Nov,2011

4. Read, Leonard .The Rap against Unearned Riches . .Lugwig von Mises 10 Nov, 2011 Web 10 Nov, 2011

5. Kim, Yumi . Artwork and the Subjective Theory of Value .Lugwig von Mises Institute 19 Sept, 2006 Web 1 Nov, 2011

6. Eddy, Melissa “Germany: Cleaning woman damages sculpture” The Associated Press 5 Nov, 2011 Web 6 Nov, 2011

7. Judakis, Maura “$1.1 million sculpture damaged by cleaning woman in German museum” The Washington Post. 7 Nov,2011 Web 8, 2011

8. Wessie, Jacob Heilburnn Timeline of History 1471-1528 The Metropolitan Museum of Art october 2005 Web 5 Nov 2011

9. Kehe, Majorie Major .Batman No. 1: a rare comic book goes up for sale. The Christian Science Monitor, 21 Aug, 2011 Web 7 Nov, 2011


From → Art85, paper/essay

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