dictionary > Aesthetic Dividend

Contemporary art’s alliance with the market has been regarded as one of its most distinguished features. After a long interaction between the two they even began to resemble each other, as do sometimes some old people who have spent a long period of their lives together. In favor of this resemblance speaks even the visual language used today by companies invested in the art market, as for instance does this art index bellow which looks like a crumbled Mondrian composition.

Of course, the very existence of the institution of art – of its autonomy so to say – is strongly interconnected with the rise of capitalism and the market. What appears to be different today is the complete collapse of that romantic belief in the impossibility to measure, or to set a monetary price for the products of the human soul – a belief which was well guarded in the early days of capitalism. In the past, when writers spoke about aesthetic experience they referred to a certain disinterested kind of aesthetic pleasure, to a certain non-utilitarian purposfulness without purposes, as did Kant for instance. Such phrases as aesthetic hedonism and aesthetic pleasures were used in metaphorical way, to suggest, a certain je-ne-sais-quoi, a certain promise of happiness (une promesse de bonheur) as Stendhal put it. All of this metaphoricity seems long ago to be gone, and today not only hedge fund managers but even art critics and art managers speak about aesthetic dividends, which are derived not from interacting with the object of art but from owning it, for to own something is to gain success – the only thing that matters, the only true promise.

The phrase “aesthetic dividend” was used to describe the pleasure derived from owning art, but all too often it sounded like an uncomfortable apology for the fact that art, unlike “real” investments, produced no income. Robertson, Iain, and Derrick Chong. The Art Business. (London; New York: Routledge, 2008.) 69.


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