Wednesday, July 28, 2010

COMIC-CON 2010 (part 1)

The ancient marketplace of Byzantium swarmed with traders, cutthroats, fishermen and merchants selling spices, livestock, textiles and goods from all across the known world. Its crowded stalls and narrow streets reeked with exotic smells and clamored with a dozen languages. When normal language failed, the vocabulary of commerce always prevailed.

[I just returned from the world famous San Diego Comic-Con-- always a mind-altering experience. This week I am posting a series of observations about my experiences there.]

The exhibition hall at Comic-Con is an airplane hangar sized petrie dish, where the conversion rate between artistic talent and cash is renegotiated thousands of times each minute. Art is bought and sold in every form, both as originals and in all manner of tangible and intangible reproductions. Oil paintings from the past are marketed alongside vapor ware from the future. The tools for making the next generation of art-- magic brush pens from Faber-Castell, Tombow and Prismacolor, or software from Z brush-- are marketed like the magic wands in Harry Potter.

For me, one noteworthy story about the value of art comes from these beautifully painted animation backgrounds which could be purchased by the fistful on the last day for $10 apiece.

Original paintings produced by skillful artists cost less than a printed poster.

Walking the exhibition hall, you developed an appreciation for the fact that the price of art is tied less to its quality than to its function. No matter how talented the artist, or how these images look, they were produced on an assembly line for high volume use, and the artists had already been paid once by their corporate employer.

The price of these paintings was discounted far below their inherent quality because the pictures had already served their primary function.

The same observation can sometimes be made about the price of illustration art generally. It often sells for less than its artistic quality would justify when compared to gallery art, because the primary cost of creating the art has already been covered by its initial commercial sponsor. Once an illustration has fulfilled its primary function, the secondary collector can sometimes purchase the work of a talented artist who in a rational world might be unaffordable.

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