Re: Robin's Arts Post (Was Re: Extropic Flare In NY Art Scene

Robin Hanson (
Fri, 24 Sep 1999 11:35:03 -0400

Natasha wrote:
>... Art and the arts bring with them a social status. Whether it be the
>knowledge of good wines, literature, Tiffany, or Versace; or the ability to
>recognize a Renoir, a Warhol, or a Bill Voila; to identify Chopin, Bach or
>Annie Lennix; or Dostoyesky, Hemmingway, or Ginsberg -- there is a quality
>of discernment that differentiates one type of art or one artist from
>another. The ability to recognize and identify art produces social status.
>To work off your analogy: The art world, as academia, also serves other
>functions: it helps people to signal that they are smarter and more
>educated; able to win awards; to convince grant donors, Hollywood, museums,
>the music industry; cyberculture to associate with them; and as a
>positioning to make contacts with future bigshots. Artists may want to go
>to Pratt or Julliard, even if they don't really learn anything. ...

I agree there is an analogy, but there are also some differences worth pursuing. For education, one can get a long way with a one-dimensional model: we all vary in our one-dimensional "ability", and education helps us signal that ability, and sometimes helps us to raise it. The fact that you went to a good school and took hard subjects counts more that what school and what subject.

In art, multiple dimensions seem more salient. There seem to be many things people are trying to signal, and these signals interact in more complex ways. In some ways people seem to signal raw artistic ability, the sort of ability that doesn't change much with time or context. And in other ways people seem to be signaling their wealth and free time. Rapid changes in art also suggest to me that people are signaling the quality of their social information, showing that they find out before others what's going to be "hot." And different communities have different ideas of "hot," suggesting that people are also trying to signal allegiance to various groups. But what exactly determines the group that one feels allied to, I have little idea. It all seems very complex, and so very interesting.

Robin Hanson Asst. Prof. Economics, George Mason University MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030
703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323