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Interpretive Methods Module III

March '22

Art and Value

Art and Value

Art valuation has a long history this course will explore through close reading, discussion, and writing. We’ll aim to develop an analytical method to value art in our contemporary, considering:  

1. how pre-modern, ‘auratic’ art was valued through its distance from the world, atop pedestals, in proximity to gods, kings, imperial centers and colonial metropoles.  

2. transformations in the relation between art and value at the threshold of (capitalist) modernity, in the transition from pre-modern, Euclidian geometric perspective in painting to Renaissance, projective geometric perspective in art form.  

3. how pre-modernity valued separation between artists, art-objects, patrons, and audiences, whereas modernity began to give way to their absorption in the same visual field.  

4. how ‘absorption’ met with contradiction as economic, political, and social inequalities sharpened through the 18th and 19th centuries, ushering in a  ‘biopolitical’ conception of modern art.  In this time, while kings were falling and nation-states emerging, artists attempted to figure a suffering, universal human body in abstraction, a pursuit that altered the criteria for estimating art.

5. the rethinking of ‘absorption’ and its biopolitical turn in the ‘conceptual’ art movement of the first half of the 20th century, grasping art and value during the massive world wars, the Soviet experiment, the camps, and anti-colonial movements throughout the world.  

6. ‘postmodern’ art in the 1970s with the collapse of the Bretton-Woods system.  Art’s valuation begins to lean on viewers’ subjective ‘feeling’ about what they see, on ‘democratic’ accessibility to aesthetics and its differential interpretive possibilities.  

7. ‘decolonizing’ art and its relation to value both in former metropoles and in post-colonies, with capital’s global consolidation after 1989,  when the Berlin Wall fell, Soviet Communism was officially defeated, and ‘the world’ presented as a total ‘humanity’ arrived in the ‘end of history’.


We’ll undertake this historical analysis of art and value to develop a method for valuing art (‘what is good art?’) in our contemporary, a present time in which there seems to be no ground for aesthetic valuation outside of (capital) taste, social networks, ‘footfall’/‘accessibility’, and subjective ‘feeling’.


The course consists of eight sessions; we’ll conclude with an international panel comprising an artist, a curator, a gallerist, a museum director, a non-profit arts organizer, an auctioneer, and a collector to discuss contemporary forms of art valuation in relation to what we will have covered.


Students will be pushed to write final reports on artists’ oeuvres, particular artworks, curated exhibitions, and/or biennials, the beginning of a new, BICAR project: an annual, ‘State of the Arts’ bulletin that re-hones the razor edge of critical truth to estimate art’s value today.


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Image: Still, An Old Dog's Diary (2015)

About the Professor

Rohit Goel