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Art Evaluation Chart

Evaluating Quality in Contemporary Art

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.
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 3 simple rules for discerning whether or not an artwork has what it takes to stand the test of time. If you are considering a work of art and can't quite make a judgment about it, try using the PPP Test as a decision screen:

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.

  • present

  • 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 come to mind.
  • 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.

  • past

  • 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 another's inciteful, inventive persona.

  • Next time you walk into a gallery and can't quite connect with the art, try testing it for its PAST  PRESENT  PERSONAL balance. Odds are, you'll get a feel for the substance, intent and quality of the work a lot more quickly than usual.

    MORE Jake:
    PPP Test: Judging Quality in Contemporary Art
    Art, Time and Technology
    American vs. European Paintings
    Jake Biddington's Art as Entertainment
    Jake Biddington's Vetted Antiques & Art Shows
    Jake Biddington's Patent Numbers as a Dating Tool
    Jake Biddington's Hard Assets as Portfolio Diversification
    Jake Biddington's Buying Fine Jewelry at Auction
    Jake Biddington's Long Term Investing
    Jake Biddington's Short-Term Investing
    Jake Biddington's BENTLEY Art & Travel Series:
    Rome 2002 Update
    New York 2002 Update
    Art Touring in the American Southwest
    Baltimore, Maryland:  Art Museums & Restaurants

    Contact Jake


    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 art, antiques and collectibles as stores of value similar to stocks or foreign currencies. He sees these items as another type of asset 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 sales.

    Frankly, Jake's views incite considerable controversy within the family: His mother, Claire Biddington Rosetti, the curator of CREATIVE PROCESS, sees Jake's approach as part of the damaging "commodification" of art wherein the buyers of art comprehend only its financial value and are blind to its aesthetic and social significance. Cousin Randolph, (writer of EXPERT CONSULTANCY), sees the silver lining: For him, the informed expert wins because he can use his knowledge and judgment to buy superbly interesting-- what Jake would call "off-the-run"-- pieces at relatively cheap prices, because such items don't fit the narrow criteria for quick resale.

    Once the Bentley is safely garaged and he lounges sipping his second martini, Uncle Frederick Fieldhouse Biddington waxes inclusive: "Whatever gives collectors pleasure," he says. "Whatever amuses."

    PEDIGREE & PROVENANCE--art words & terms defined.   JAKE BIDDINGTON'S INVESTING--financial advice on art collecting
    BIDDINGTON'S BENTLEY--travel for the art connoisseur.  MY ART--Art for kids.