Let’s say you’ve got a tee shirt with a design on it that you love. Just for the sake of argument, let’s also say that the design is in some way culturally relevant - such as the I heart NY t-shirt. Not uncommon. While we’re at it, let’s say you’re wearing this tee while enjoying a Saturday afternoon at the art museum and you’re looking at a famous screen print by Roy Lichtenstein that you happen love equally as much as the picture on your tee. Now, I ask you, which one is better or more important/relevant and why?
One justification for the high level of esteem (and prices) for fine art is the artist’s hand. There’s a romantic notion of the artist in his/her studio with a canvas and some paint, toiling in solitude, night after night and leaving a piece of soul in embedded in the paint. From a layman's perspective, this is one of the main things that differentiates fine from commercial art. However, since Andy Warhol's Factory, this notion has been challenged.
Consider Damien Hirst. Mr. Hirst is the richest living artist and shows his work in the bluest of blue chip galleries like Gagosian Gallery and White Cube as well as museums like The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Hirst is currently showing a series of dot paintings in 11 galleries worldwide, simultaneously. The shows will exhibit 300 of the estimated 1,400 dot paintings he has created over the years. The interesting aspect of these 1,400 paintings is the fact that Hirst himself estimates that his hand has painted only about 5 of these. These paintings are all conceived of and directed by Hirst, but executed by an army of assistants, working with machine-like precision.
Here’s were the justification for art’s (make that Art’s) high-brow, looking-down-the-nose stance crumbles. Hirst also has a line of screen printed tee shirts available at othercriteria.com. These shirts run at about $70. That’s expensive for a tee, but nothing for a Damien Hirst picture. A Damien Hirst dot screen print 38.5”w x 44”h costs $7700.
Both of these are screen prints, both of these are conceived by famed artist Damien Hirst, both have a relative (although somewhat immeasurable) amount of conceptual weight and both are produced in multiple (and could actually be reproduced indefinitely with no loss in quality) so why is one roughly 110x the price of the other? The reason is simple: Larry Gagosian can get $7700 and a tee shirt vendor can get $70. My contention is that we now live in a time and culture in which the value (all value, not just monetary) of high art, cheap tees, in fact all pictures no matter their origin or media must be judged on the same playing field because there’s potentially no difference aside from where the picture resides.