Artists may often be eccentric, but does eccentricity increase the worth of an artist’s work? That’s the question asked by psychologists Wijnand van Tilburg and Eric Igou in a new paper on eccentricity and art. Here’s a summary from BPS Research Digest:
Wijnand van Tilberg and Eric Igou tested these ideas across five studies. In the first, 38 students rated a painting by Van Gogh more positively if they were first told about the ear-cutting incident. In two other studies, dozens more students rated paintings by a fictional Icelandic artist more positively and estimated it to be more valuable if they were told he had an eccentric personality, or if they saw a photograph showing him looking eccentric, unshaven with half-long hair (as opposed to seeing a photo showing him looking conventional, with short hair and neat clothing).
Our most recent podcast was called “Would a Big Bucket of Cash Really Change Your Life?” It showed that the winners of a 19th-century land lottery did not appear to convert their windfall into intergenerational wealth. This challenges the modern argument that cash transfers are one of the most effective ways of helping a poor family escape poverty — and, therefore, as we said in the podcast, might be seen as a depressing conclusion.
Judd Campbell from Odessa, Texas, wrote in to dispute the depressing part, and offer some worthwhile commentary:
I just finished listening to the latest podcast about the Georgia land lottery in the 19th century. I actually found it not to be depressing at all.
1. It would be depressing to me to know that poverty has existed into modernity, and the solution would be a simple one-time transfer of wealth. Surely, we could have figured that out by now and eliminated poverty. Clearly, the issue is more complex than that, and thus we have an excuse for not developing a solution. Yet.
2. While I don’t consider myself wealthy, I do make a healthy salary and live in a comfortable home with 4 kids. There are a couple of things that I believe about my life, that may or may not be logical or factual, but provides me comfort:
a. My financial success is not due to my parents. I did it on my own. I did grow up in a comfortable home with loving and supportive parents, my father has a master’s degree, and I appreciate what they have provided me. But in my gut I feel like I achieved my own success. This podcast was uplifting, because it seems to confirm that I am responsible for my own success.
b. On the other hand, I feel like my financial success will help my children be financially successful. Even though I don’t give my parents credit for my success, I believe that I can influence my children to be successful.
Our latest podcast, “Weird Recycling,” is about the unlikely reuse of cast-off items. A reader named Gavin Castleton just happened to write in with an appealing riddle in the same vein:
Has there ever been a good/product whose value was reduced to zero, but somehow rose again? If so, could you shed any light on the market dynamics or social catalysts that revived it?
To put my question in context: I’m researching the music industry’s rocky transition from goods to services (download/physical goods to streaming music subscription services). Journalists, industry folk, and consumers are all quite fond of declaring “Music will be free. It’s obvious and inevitable.” But I started to wonder if it really was all that inevitable. So I started looking for other examples of a product that lost its monetary value completely, but somehow returned from the dead.
Graphic designer Nicholas Felton keeps track of how many miles he walks each day. He also records how many book pages he reads, how many work e-mails he sends, and what songs he listens to. Felton’s become somewhat famous for his obsessive self-tracking, and the slick info-graphics he produces on himself each year. Both the Wall Street Journal and Slate have made videos about him, here and here.
Felton began tracking his daily habits and compiling a Personal Annual Report in 2005, available at his website.
One of the fundamental principles of economics is that scarcity creates value. The rarer something is, the more valuable it becomes. History is loaded with examples of investors (speculators?) cornering the market in all kinds of things in order to set the price and make a killing. From Cornelius Vanderbilt buying up shares of the Harlem railroad in the 1860s, to the Hunt brothers acquiring roughly half the world’s silver in 1979, to the Sumitomo copper affair of the mid-1990s, to Porsche’s 2008 attempt to corner the market in Volkswagen shares.
Now, from the UK comes a strange and highly obscure attempt to corner the market for a good whose value is much less obvious. A performance artist named Jamie Moakes has decided to see if the principle of scarcity applies to 1980s action figures; specifically, a character from the old He-Man cartoon, Ram Man. Moakes has now collected 136 Ram Man figures, an exercise he’s dubbed “You Will be Rare” and is documenting on Youtube.
I recently finished the Knight-Bagehot Fellowship at Columbia. It’s a one-year program that lets business journalists take classes across the university to “enhance their understanding and knowledge of business, economics and finance.” One of the program’s perks, and there are many (including dinners with the likes of Paul Volcker, Jamie Dimon, and Joseph Stiglitz), is that you can get an M.S. degree from Columbia’s journalism school by taking just six additional credits. Considering it usually takes 30 credits, and about $53,000, to get one of those, it’s a pretty good deal.
Back in 2006 I got my M.S. from the J-school, the old-fashioned way. So during my Bagehot tenure, I didn’t take a single additional class there. And yet, come graduation day, they gave me a second diploma. Expecting just the certificate in economics and business journalism that comes with the fellowship, I was too stunned to say anything as they handed it to me up on stage, and I certainly wasn’t going to give it back. But what the heck am I going to do with two degrees from the same school?
I was chatting with a 70-year-old man who is an independent “software engineer”—a programmer. I asked him how he keeps up with all the young hot-shots who know the latest fancy programming languages. Simple, he said: There are many companies that are just converting very old systems, and the young programmers don’t know the older languages.
Being technically obsolete gives him an advantage. Economists believe that human capital and technology are complements (something I show by negative example when I can’t get my Powerpoint presentations to work on a projector!). But so long as companies don’t introduce new technologies, those workers with “obsolete” human capital will do OK. Indeed, this man charges higher than average fees, because there are so few other programmers left who can deal with the old technology!
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have conclusively identified a part of the brain that’s necessary for making everyday decisions about value. Previous magnetic imaging studies suggested that the ventromedial frontal cortex, or VMF, plays an evaluative role during decision-making. New research led by Joseph Kable, an assistant professor of psychology in Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences, shows that people with damaged VMF’s (victims of strokes, aneurysms, or brain tumors) are less able to choose things that are most valuable, and are also less consistent in their choices. The results were published in The Journal of Neuroscience.