Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Relative Values

I've been meaning to write about the remarkable similarity between the art market and the stock market for some time now. I'm glad I didn't get to it earlier because recent developments in the financial sphere have made my observations even richer. The original observation was how the emerging structure of the art market was mimicking that of the investment banking oligarchy. The MFA as the new MBA. Newly minted artists being snatched up by galleries in the same way young graduates of the business schools were pulled into investment banking. Galleries in cahoots with curators to place pieces in high profile shows and museums. Sounds awfully like investment banks placing their favorite newly issued stocks with asset managers, propping up values and allowing them to then be sold to high net worth collectors/individuals. Remember the days when there were blue chip stocks that kept their heads above sinking markets? Seen the auction prices for blue chip art these days? I'm just saying.

The recent implosion in financial markets highlights the similarity from the other side of the mirror. Many of us are now faced with the realization that the stock market does not follow solid principles that ensure correct valuations at all or most times. Stocks are in fact worth what people are willing to pay for them. And the banking oligarchy has been able to talk up, and talk down, values at an alarming rate. Research analysts talk up a stock, place it with a large asset management company and then get their private bankers to sell it to the wealthy. For a while, we were even convinced that we were entering a new reality in which value could be created out of thin air. We've now seen this not to be true. And getting a handle on just what any one stock is worth is suddenly a difficult challenge. We do not have the information, or the ability to see into the future, that would help us come to this understanding. We either believe someone else's subjective take or we take a risk and hope for the best. The stock market is yet another manifestation of our collective imagination's and just as relative as the very reality we create moment by moment.

Neither the art market nor the stock market can provide us with the safety we seek. We are on our existential ownsome and need to take responsibility for our individual ways forward. This can be a crushing realization or an empowering moment. Let's choose the latter and get on with it. It's time for radical independence - taking responsibility for ourselves and our communities. Making what we want to make and getting the value for it that we believe we deserve. Yes we can.