Monday, January 21, 2008

An Artist's Death Can Cause a Price Resurrection

Deceased artists' work is worth more than that of living artists. Why is this? Probably because there's no threat of more - or possibly better - art being produced by that man or woman. Whatever exists on the date of his or her death is the extent of the collection forever.

If we were an artist trying to sell our artwork, we'd surely pretend to be dead. Our paintings would sell far better than if people knew we were alive to paint more. In fact, that was the plot to the 1965 movie The Art of Love, directed by Norman Jewison and starring Dick Van Dyke and Carl Reiner - all three of whom are listed on DP 2008 rosters - among others.

Although this idea was played out in film, it's reflective of a real phenomenon that exists in American fine culture even today.

In the last years of his life, Béla Bartók was so obscure that he and his family actually had trouble making ends meet. It wasn't until after he died of leukemia in 1945 that he finally came to be widely regarded as a great composer -- too late for the resulting royalties on his music to ease his earthly lot.
We - along with the WSJ - wonder: What is it about the demise of an artist that so often triggers a reconsideration of his significance?

The so-called "Death Effect" can possibly be explained by obituaries publicizing the person's life, sparking interest in readers. Or perhaps it's a way to connect with the deceased, to show respect or even love, despite having taken them for granted during their lives. You may not have a second chance to taste Aunt Gertie's holiday cannolis, but you can always sample a Shostakovich symphony in order to show a post-mortem appreciation for the man's often overlooked work.

[Wall Street Journal]

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