Highlights/Lowlights Chapters 1-5 Discover your Inner Economist
For me, the highlight of these chapters was the part about art museums in chapter 4. What I thought was really interesting was that Cowen decided to use economic incentives to go to museums that he doesn’t like. This whole chapter just seemed a little silly to me.
I understand Cowen’s thing about trying to find an economic gain in everything you do, but trying to force yourself to do something you don’t enjoy or understand doesn’t make any sense. Yes, with practice and a game plan you can tough out any museum and appreciate the overpriced artwork you don’t feel the need to buy but don’t like. The problem is, there is no intrinsic motivation. Cowen says himself in the first two chapters that an incentive without intrinsic motivation is useless.
It is not that I don’t see the value in going to art museums or buying art, it is that I don’t see the value if there is no inner motivation. I grew up going to museums and have always considered myself a museum person. When I was in high school I went to Washington D.C. and spent some time totally bored in the Smithsonian of art. My solution to this problem was to take an art history course in college. This was also totally boring and did not motivate me to spend any time at all in any more art museums. However, like I said before, I grew up going to museums. I know that I like modern art, and given the choice, I can find a museum with work I’m interested in.
An art museum, or owning art, is not a matter of exposure to classic artists and artwork or even one of becoming educated on the subject. The incentive to go to an art museum is not going to be found in focusing your attention in your limited available free time. The incentive to art museums is in finding a style that you like.
Art is something that is cross cultural and greatly varied within cultures. It has persisted throughout history and across the planet for a reason. The wonderful thing about art is that there is a style or medium that you enjoy. There is one for everyone. If not it would have ceased to exist in such a wide ranging way. The chances of everybody enjoying art in antiquity are slim to non-existent. That does not mean that you should spend any amount of your free time wondering around the Smithsonian or the Met trying to focus on paintings that don’t move you. It doesn’t matter how many impressionist paintings are in a museums collection, I’m not going to waste my time.
Buying art for external economic incentives is just as much a waste of time. While it may be possible to amass a collection that is worth a lot of money and can add to your net worth in great ways, if you did not buy something you like, it will show. I read an article in the Economist a few years ago that illustrated this point. In Italy, two wealthy men donated their collections of modern art to new museums being built. One man paid somebody to go out and find the best pieces of artwork available from the most famous artists. The other bought only art that he really liked. The result was that one museums donated collection would be very representative of the entire art movement for the time the owner had been buying. This is nice for a museum, but it seemed as thought the collection had been put together by the museums curator with pieces from several donators rather than all pieces from one donator. The other museum had a collection that was much more personal. Anybody visiting would be able to tell the difference.
When buying art it is less about your portfolio and more about the intrinsic value of the piece. Nobody lives in a museum, and I believe any artist would prefer that their art be purchased by somebody who feels an emotional connection to it. What is really important to remember about both art museums and art purchases is that the economic value is not what you are in it for. Nobody is going to pay you to go to a museum and the artwork you buy costs you money. It is economically efficient to spend both your time and money on something you enjoy.