Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Summary As is the case with other field theories, Urban Economics, Environmental Economics, etc. the microeconomics of the arts attempts to derive a set of particular propositions from the general propositions of Economic Theory. In the process a substantial amount of cross-fertilization takes place. The specific characteristics of art markets require modification or amplification of some general propositions of economic theory, which in turn may offer novel and possibly useful insights as well as testable hypotheses. The following propositions appear to emanate from the present paper. In general markets R & D efforts are directed towards product or process innovation. For the most part, a known consumer technology exists. Innovation in art markets involves product creation as well as the creation of a consumer technology capable of deriving satisfaction from consumption of the new product. In open markets, a non-patentable product would entail excessive free ridership. Such a state of affairs may discourage innovation. Primary sellers would tend to adapt to narrowly changing consumer technologies. Such was the case during most of art history up to the late 19th century. At present, museums and art critics act as quasi patent offices, which fosters innovation by assuring a positive sum game. A new consumer technology is expected to be demand-augmenting. Not necessarily in the sence of McCain  where discontinuous jumps in demand are postulated. Even if such shifts were to occur in individual demand curves, market demand will nevertheless be continuous. The present model presumes that the augmentation is mostly due to increasing numbers of art buyers entering as the new consumer technology casues substitution of one style for another (or one fad for another). Syndicate behavior is induced by the winners of the race who have successfully established a new consumer technology and subsequently extend an umbrella over the membership. In this manner the spoils are shared more equitably. This is a peculiarly modern phenomenon. In the past one could not put a Teniers above a Rembrandt or a Polidoro above a Raphael. The generally accepted rules of decorativeness, that is, craftmanship and composition were obvious and immediately perceptible by all. In certain instances syndicate behavior favors single leadership by an established dealer, or a small group of dealers with a proven track record in spawning new technologies. Collectors, too, are involved, by overpaying for art. The discovering collector creates entry barriers for other collectors and thus has a monopoly of discovery of purely “intellectual appeal” art. Followers may opt to reduce their rivalry in exchange for assurances that once the new technology is in place, they will be given the opportunity to recycle the art brought into being by the leader or leaders. Under certain conditions, as analyzed in the foregoing, this constitutes an optimal strategy. As in the classical case, entry reduces investment and drives rents to zero, if each firm invests a roughly equivalent amount in support of the prevailing consumer technology. There arises the limiting case, equivalent to pure competition (see EQ. 10). On the other hand, several counterveiling strategies are possible. For example, overpayment, as in the case of Rothko. This limits the artists' output in the market. Leftover art is donated or acquired by museums. Such art is no longer competitive, as opposed to art held by other collectors, which, diminishes art'sscarcity value. The most probable outcome of a Cournot-Stackelberg type behavior is a succession of leader-follower or leader-recyler type syndicates, each successively dissolving as new consumer technologies replace old ones. It is, of course, possible for several specialized syndicates to operate contemporaneously. The rate of turnover clearly depends on the speed of dissemination of information. The curator, critic, trustee, consultant has a vested interest in episodic art and an spawning new consumer technologies: if this were not so, there would be no need for the pre-eminance of the critic. He is the magician, the priest, the medicine man who “knows” the secret language and penetrates the mysteries.
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