It’s a lesson we all learned in high school, but one that is playing itself out in the art market and almost everywhere else in our daily lives.
What makes a great work of art? Almost entirely, it’s how much it sells for. An expensive avant-garde painting that breaks through a price barrier will define an entirely new school for years to come.
We do the same thing with music… if a song takes off, sells lots of copies and makes the musician rich and famous, we assume that there is some sort of inherent ‘quality’ in what they did, as opposed to deciding that our definition of quality in that field is: what sells.
The critic in me cringes to write this. After all, what makes a great work of art should have nothing at all to do with how much it sells for and everything to do with how it makes you feel.
I think the game here is in the definition of ‘great.’ And what society has chosen for a coffee shop, a song, a poem, a new kind of workman’s comp insurance, is that ‘great’ means successful. Not the other way around.
So the challenges, I guess, are to get good at predicting ‘great’ before the market takes action, and to be clear with yourself and your colleagues about what exactly you are trying to build.
Quality doesn’t always end up being popular. Popularity doesn’t always mean quality.