the main component of the work is the concept, not the art object. Because abstract art is so nonrepresentational, it is extremely difficult to assess unless the purpose or motivation of the artist is known, which rules out the cubist paintings as the easiest to rank. Religious icons could be compared to portraits – however, the symbolic nature of religious icons means that their value is closely tied to the cultural, religious, social and art historical context in which they were created, which makes valuing such works difficult for experts, and virtually impossible for anyone who does not have a thorough knowledge of the genre. Figurative landscape paintings would seem like a good candidate for the most easy to rank because of the representational nature of such works, the general familiarity people have with the way nature should be depicted, and also because the skill and talent of the artist are so easy to determine from the way the picture is presented. What lets the figurative landscape paintings down is the lack of consistency in terms of setting, location, season, angle etc. which means making a comparison between two landscape paintings is likely to be very difficult. Finally, we come to portraiture. There are several factors that make the physical characteristics of portraits so easy to compare and rank, including:
- the consistency of the subject (human face)
- the universal nature of the face
- the common goal of figurative portrait painters (to accurately depict the human face)
- the ease with which virtually anyone can determine how skilled or talented the artist is at accurately depicting the human face
In my opinion the physical characteristics of figurative portraiture are the most comparable and easily ranked of all the genres and types of fine art. I cannot think of another genre or type of fine art that has such consistent characteristics and is so universally decipherable. The fact that the physical characteristics of figurative portraits are so comparable across the whole genre, and so easy to rank, means that they are also easier to value when compared to other genres. It is the characteristics of figurative portraiture that I have discussed above which give figurative portraiture an edge over other genres when it comes to the concept of fine art as currency.
Stay tuned for part 3……….
**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications