Rules of Thumb--those pithy sound-bites of distilled experience--are useful decision-making tools:
Buy the rumor, sell the fact.
Bulls make money, bears make money, pigs get slaughtered.
Can't decide whether to stay with a woman? Look at her mother.
In the complex world of contemporary art, such succinct words of wisdom are scarce. Objectively judging the art of ones own time is difficult, but deciding where hype ends and art begins is key to making a satisfying, intelligent art acquisition.
Happily, the extended Biddington's family includes people who not only make art, but who also think about the role and value of art in culture. An artist whose perspective I especially appreciate once suggested to me three simple rules for discerning whether or not an artwork has what it takes to stand the test of time. When you are considering a work of art and can't quite make a judgment about it, try using this PPP Test as a decision screen.
PAST PRESENT PERSONAL Contemporary Art Test
A work of art must balance three elements :
PAST--Does it understand the past?
PRESENT--Does it elucidate the present?
PERSONAL--Does it reflect a personal vision?
An artwork too involved in the past tends to be derivative and insipidly decorative. Whatever the genre, it is not art but just a pretty picture.
An artwork ignorant of visual history tends to be naive in concept and/or realization. Amusing and childlike, this kind of art fails to make use of thousands of years of artistic creation. Idiot savantes are as rare in art as they are elsewhere; not learning from the past is simply stupid.
An artwork too much of its time is immediately attractive but doesn't age well. Lacking a universal aspect that fine art embodies, its destiny is time-capsule nostalgia. Several over-hyped contemporary artists leap to mind for embodying this flaw.
An artwork that does not vibrate with its time fails one of the primary missions of art: to be a predictive and interpretive tool of the culture. From Michelangelo, to Vermeer, to Picasso, to Warhol--all of these great artists resonated like tuning forks with the world around them.
An artwork too autobiographical becomes "dear diary". While paintings by the very self-involved or the insane may be vivid and telling, the chronicle of a personal pathology is not art.
An artwork with too little personal imprint lacks originality and vision. This failing deprives the viewer of one of the primary joys of art: to leave personal limitations behind and experience the world through anothers inciteful, imaginative eyes.
Next time you walk into a gallery and can't quite connect with the art, try testing for its PAST PRESENT PERSONAL balance. Odds are that using these filters, you'll get a feel for the substance, intent and quality of the artwork a lot more quickly than usual.
Jake Biddington works on The Street and is responsible for the
opinions & information in INVESTING. Young Jake, as he is known
within the virtual BIDDINGTON clan, views tangibles such as fine art, antiques and jewelry as stores of value as viable as stocks or foreign currencies. He sees these
items as another asset class in which to place one's money. To that
end he keeps price histories and charting information on various
categories of objects. He views some items as long term investments,
others as items for a quick trade--and he even sees some as short
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