The Intertwined nature of art, aesthetics and luxury
The relationships between art, aesthetics, and luxury are multifaceted. Whereas the field of aesthetics largely evolved as theories of art appreciation, it has long been considered applicable to virtually any category of objects, playing a central role in the luxury segment.
By Isabella Hübscher28 avril 2022
The notion of aesthetics highly applies to both art and luxury, which are centred around experiential and symbolic qualities and are used as purposes of status signalling. However, in order to better understand the relationships between these three domains, it is essential to take a closer look at what each of them represents. Henrik Hagtvedt, Associate Professor of Marketing at Boston College, analyses these interdependencies in his research published in the Research handbook on luxury branding, edited by Professors Felicitas Morhart, Keith Wilcox and Sandor Scellar.
Conceptualising aesthetics, art and luxury
Henry Hagtvedt defines aesthetics as a sensory perception, linked to an experience that is interesting, pleasant, or emotionally stirring, often with beauty as a central component. An object may be considered as aesthetic, for example, because of the interplay between shapes, colours, and other formal qualities. However, even though vision tends to be the dominant human sense, an aesthetic experience can arise from sensory input of any kind, be it the sound of music or the taste of wine. The definition of art is a heated debate. One way of describing art is as representation of the purest form of aesthetics-based creation. In his study, Hagtvedt uses the definition of art as works resulting from the application of creativity and skill to the structuring of formal qualities, in order to achieve an aesthetic impact. Most scholars prefer to include a broad array of products, including purely conceptual works, in the art concept. The conceptualisation of luxury is also of crucial importance to understand the relationships between these domains. Scholars highlight different aspects of luxury when defining it, including its provision of pleasure, prestige of the owner or an expected high functionality. However, like art, luxury transcends functionality. Luxury thus comprises characteristics related to hedonic consumption, emotional gratification, prestige, functionality and high price.
Segmenting the art market
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Experiential and symbolic properties tend to be central in artworks, whereas the ratio of functionality to price is typically low. Therefore, to a certain extent, art may be considered a category of luxury products. The art market is diverse and can be segmented in many different ways. A popular distinction is the high versus low art, which is typically differentiated by products that appeal exclusively to the refined tastes of an elite, for example opera or art galleries, and products that appeal more broadly such as pop music or blockbuster movies. Another distinction focuses on the degree to which artworks and art market are marketing centric. Arguably, there are at least two types of markets in the art world: In one, the art professionals are predominantly dedicated to art, while in the other, marketing plays the central role.
Even though it is often argued that the creativity of artists is dedicated to expressing their subjective visions, regardless of consumer demands, it comes as no surprise that the art professionals dedicated to marketing are the ones who tend to achieve most success in terms of measures such as high prices, brand awareness, and strategic product placement in galleries and museums. This may be objected by observers who claim that the quality of artworks drives success in the art market. However, quality is often notoriously difficult to determine in this market. This situation leads to a central role for branding that is common in luxury markets and especially important in the realm of art. Not only do the highest-end markets tend to be characterised by conspicuous consumption, but individual collectors may purchase works for enormous sums of money, without seeing them, based only on the brand of the artist or the dealer. Given the diverse market segments as well as the difficulty of defining art as a product category, quantifying the art market is challenging. As one data point, the 2015 TEFAF Art Market Report estimated the global market for 2014 at slightly above 51 billion euros.
Art as a luxury cue
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