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What's the Ethical Cost of High-Priced Art?

June 8, 2014, 6:02 PM

What's the Latest?

A new day sets a new record for auction houses selling off famous works of art. Last month, Christie's in New York sold $745 million worth of classical and contemporary pieces. Certainly among the postwar works, says Princeton University professor Peter Singer, is the notion that art challenges society's prevailing norms. Oh, the irony. "[T]he art market’s greatest strength is its ability to co-opt any radical demands that a work of art makes, and turn it into another consumer good for the super-rich," said Singer. So what would you do for the world if you had millions?

What's the Big Idea?

The elevated morals associated with art, says Singer, are better suited toward affecting material change in the poorer regions of the world. Instead, they consistently embellish the bizarre works of contemporary artists. Singer reasons that the motive behind such conspicuous purchases is the search for higher social status. "If so, that may provide a means to bring about change: a redefinition of status along more ethically grounded lines. In a more ethical world, to spend tens of millions of dollars on works of art would be status-lowering, not status-enhancing."

Read more at Project Syndicate


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