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When artists are depressed their art has less value, finds U.S study

We’ve all heard the story of Vincent van Gogh cutting his ear off and of Jackson Pollock’s alcoholism and depression. The struggles facing the creative “genius” are so ingrained in our culture that it has its own moniker: “tortured artists.” Some of the greatest creators of all time are synonymous with depression.

But a new study finds that work created by artists when they are unhappy is valued less than their other works.

The study, published last October, was conducted by a team of researchers led by Kathryn Graddy of Brandeis University and Carl Lieberman of Princeton University and appeared in the journal Management Science, published by The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS).

According to the study, personal unhappiness, particularly experienced during times of mourning or bereavement, can lead to a significant decrease in the value of an artist’s work.

By looking at sale and auction prices between 1972 to 2014, the study’s authors found paintings created in the year following the death of a friend or relative saw a decrease in value of about 35% compared to the rest of the artist’s catalogue.

Death, Bereavement, and Creativity” reviewed the prices of more than 10,000 paintings produced by 33 French impressionists and more than 2,000 paintings by 15 American artists born between 1900 and 1920. Also studied was relationship of the value of works to the dates of death of friends and family members of the the artists.

By looking at sale and auction price between 1972 to 2014, the authors of the study found that paintings created in the year following the death of a friend or relative saw a decrease in value of about 35% compared to the rest of the artist’s catalogue. The researchers found no statistically significant difference as to whether the death involved a parent or a sibling or a friend, and the decrease in the value of the work typically did not extend beyond what was created after that single-year timeframe.

In addition to studying the impact of bereavement on the value of artworks, the authors also reviewed the likelihood of such works being acquired for a museum’s collection.

“Our analysis reflects that artists, in the year following the death of a friend or relative, are on average less creative than at other times in their lives,” Graddy and Lieberman said. “Paintings that were created in the year following a death fetch significantly less at auction than those created at other times in an artist’s life, and are significantly less likely to be included in a major museum’s collection.”

Indeed, by gathering information on all paintings that were created by the artists included in the study that are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Musée d’Orsay, the authors found that artwork painted in the first year following the death of a spouse, child, sibling, or friend are much less likely to find their way into a museum’s collection.

The French artists researched in the study included van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Henri Rousseau, Georges Rouault, among others.

The American artists examined include Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Alice Neel, Robert Motherwell and 10 others.

To view the full study, visit pubsonline.informs.org.

This article was first published on The Clyde Fitch Report, Daily Review’s American partner.  

3 responses to “When artists are depressed their art has less value, finds U.S study

  1. I would have asked if the work produced is of a depressed nature. Dark moody miserable looking work no matter how good is not going to have as broad appeal as happy, up Joyful. Then again they are talking about art investors not necessarily art lovers.

  2. FFS when are we going to get over seeing everything in terms of its commercial profit, loss, investment value or any other measurable denominator?

    Why does their art’s $$$ value be of such great concern? Why do the research and publish articles like the INFORM article in which their work has been reduced to their findings as something easily measurable like $$$ value and not perhaps the other possible inherent intrinsic value of the work created during such times in their lives?

    Perhaps the pieces might reveal something of the inner turmoil or peace, or confusion, or simply lack of cognisance. or the like. of the artist that we can gather some insight into the human condition.

    1. I understand your point, but surely by seeing what people value, and are willing to pay more for, we also get insight into the human condition. Probably of more people, not just the incredibly talented.

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