Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"The counter-argument is that a good chef is rewarded not with tips but with a better job in a richer kitchen ..." (UPDATED)

". . . but our moral intuition tells us that he deserves one, especially if his dish is still mysteriously delicious years after he first served it."

The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik has a riff on art and money pegged to last week's $179 million Picasso sale, in the course of which he mentions Jerrold Nadler's campaign for resale royalties for artists.  He summarizes the issue nicely:

"It’s a complex issue. Copyright law is called copyright law because it is meant to be concerned with the problem of copies. Since books and records can be copied freely (as, indeed, they are, online), we impose a royalty on the copyist in order to insure that the originator isn’t cheated for his labor. The deal that visual artists typically make with their buyers is different: the artist sells the original and reaps the benefit. The logic here is that if the owner of a Jeff Koons sells it at auction for a profit, that will be reflected in the next Koons that Jeff Koons makes; the 'royalty' that he reaps is the increase in the value of his next work of art, sold to the next individual buyer."

But he comes out in favor of the idea:

"Yet the idea of paying royalties to artists probably still resonates emotionally with most of us. That’s because what distinguishes a work of visual art is ... that it is made by a singular hand (or, at any rate, comes from a singular vision), whose claim on it lingers, even after it changes owners. A work by Chuck Close can be a wall decoration, an investment, a legacy, and a tax deduction, but, before it is any of these, it is, and remains, a Chuck Close. ... Essentially, what artists are asking for, through Nadler’s bill, is little more than the courtesy of a tip."

I think he refers to it as a tip because, under Nadler's version, it's capped at $35,000.  But that, I think, is the problem with Nadler's approach:  our moral intuition is strongest when the increase in value is greatest -- where the price is 100 times what the artist was paid for it, or more -- and, in those cases, where the collector has made ten-, twenty-, thirty-million dollars, a $35,000 "tip" does little to balance out the equities of the situation.

UPDATE:  Michael Rushton is not convinced by Gopnik's argument:  "'Moral intuition' is evasive."