After screening the film, offer the audience a few minutes to sit with their responses to the film. It may be helpful to offer paper and pen for people to write down particular quotes, scenes or characters who stood out to them.
1. General Discussion Questions
Are there particular moments, quotes or characters in the film that stood out to you or elicited a strong response? What were they and why did they stand out?
What ideas or information in the film were new or surprising to you?
Think back to our pre-dialogue discussion. Did watching the film influence your ideas about “What is art?” or “What makes art valuable?” If so, how did your thoughts change?
The film offers a perspective into a particular part of the art market. What kinds of art or artists are not represented in this film? How do you think they relate to what you saw?
Discussion Questions for Art World Audiences
Was there a particular character or point of view in the film with whom you identify? What does that person or perspective mean to you?
What artists, or aspects of creating and selling art were not represented in the film?
How do the characters and themes of the film apply to other parts of the art world?
Whatever your role in the art world, how does this film resonate with your own experience?
In what ways might this film influence how you teach/create/represent art?
If this film were the first in a series of films about the art world, what do you think the next chapter might be?
2. Discussion Forum: Points of View on the Market
The Price of Everything weaves together a range of perspectives and experiences from the contemporary art world that may be controversial to some while reaffirming to others. These responses are all welcome; they reveal our passion and need for art and its ability to move, inform, provoke and compel each of us. And yet, the high stakes and the amount of money involved in the contemporary art market attract a different kind of passion—one that creates a tension between the intrinsic value of art and the monetary value that has been assigned to it.
To encourage conversation, the “Points of View” section is a curated collection of quotes from the film that capture a variety of ideas and opinions from the points of view of different “players” in the art world: artists, curators, critics and educators, museums, dealers, and collectors. You may elect to read through the sections one at a time and engage with the suggested discussion questions or select quotes from multiple sections to contrast and compare.
If you are screening the film in an educational setting, consider organizing the viewers into small groups and encourage them to work through the sections and questions together. Time permitting, ask the groups to share out a summary of their discussions as a closing.
POV: Artists on the Art Market
“...people say that all the time to living artists, ‘Oh, man, you know, you're doing too much.’ But you know, if you think about a guy whose work you really like, you don’t think, ‘wouldn't it have been great had Monet done like 3,000 less paintings.., or Picasso had done 500 less.’ … You don't have to sell everything you create. It's not about that. It's just about making sure that you never sort of deprive yourself of an inspiration as an artist.”
– George Condo, Artist
“I think it’s very heartening to know that the work is connecting the way it does. Where the anxiety comes in, it’s saying ‘It’s scary I’m getting all this attention’, it’s ‘How do I keep evolving this work? How do I keep changing it? How do I not stagnate?’ And especially when you feel like, ‘Ooh, I've stumbled onto something pretty cushy. I can just cruise and ride this out…’”
– Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Artist
“I don’t care if they buy them—I just needed to make them. And my gallery would like it if I made much more sellable things...I've really never made any money until recently, but I always got by. If you have something to say, it will be seen. You just might not be alive. That's the sucky part. You might be old or dead, and if you're female, you're bound to be old or dead.”
– Marilyn Minter, Artist
“Art and money have no intrinsic hookup at all. It's not like sports where your batting average is your batting average. You know, that's - that's the bottom line. You know, and they tried to make it much like that. Like, the best artist is the most expensive artist, same thing.”
– Larry Poons, Artist
Suggested Discussion Questions
The artists quoted in the film have varying opinions on whether they should make art they believe will sell, regardless of whether that is the art they want to make. Is there something problematic about art that is created to sell? Why or why not?
Several of the artists in the film have careers with dramatic trajectories. For example, Larry Poons gets a second wind in the marketplace, Jeff Koons is “in the lobby,” and Njideka experiences a meteoric rise. What was your response to these changes? How do you think the anticipation of their reception in the marketplace does or does not influence their work and their careers?
The majority of working artists do not sell their work in the part of the art market represented in the film. In what ways do you think those artists are or are not influenced by this part of the marketplace?
Do you believe commercially successful artists have a responsibility to give back to the art world, especially to support emerging artists? If so, what would you like to see them do?
In what ways do the high prices we see at auction in the film harm artists? What might be done to protect the interests of artists?
POV: Curators, Critics, and Educators on the Art Market
Curators, critics and educators all relate to the art market in different ways than artists, and different ways than those who are directly involved in buying and selling art. They have a unique role in that their work interprets art for the larger society. In The Price of Everything, several characters in these roles describe their views of the art market.
“Someone said to me once, the work of art is not the artist, but the artist is the work of art. And that's a very mystical saying. But what I think that means is, only Rembrandt could've made this picture (referring to Rembrandt’s Self Portrait, 1958 hanging in the Frick Collection, New York). This is an aged artist who's showing us his flesh and his worldly scars and beatings he's taken — not just as a person, but as an artist. It makes you think about life in the raw. And I think that paintings, when they're at their greatest, are making demands on us, and it's easier for us to just walk away. Can you imagine what it would be like to have this in one’s house, and how...irradiated one would feel as one sat down for breakfast with the sports page and Special K? You know, that would just be such an overpowering sacred presence.”
– Alexander Nemerov, Art Historian
“There is no golden age without gold. So, if you didn't have a hundred times more collectors than existed in the '70s, you wouldn't have a thousand times more artists making art. And, of course it's a bubble. Bubbles make beautiful things. And, let's just try to keep it floating. Don't burst it.”
– Paul Schimmel, Curator
“Larry [Poons] has been living on the edge for I don't know how long. Nothing's happening. Nothing's happening. And all of a sudden, people are looking for his paintings. And it's kind of weird because you know they do a calculation. It's sick. And the calculation is, ‘Who's the most undervalued painter?’ Because it's - it's a stock market calculation. It's a completely perverse and upside-down art world. … And that is what contemporary art has become. It is a luxury brand.”
– Barbara Rose, Art Historian
Suggested Discussion Questions:
How would you describe the views each of these quotes represents about the complexity of the relationship between art and the art market?
What statement(s) do you strongly agree with and which do you have a strong reaction against?
If you were (or are) an art educator, how does understanding the market figure in to how you teach art to students? If you were to show this film to a class, how would you place the subjects within the larger art world?
POV: Museums and the Art Market
For many people who cannot afford to participate in the part of the art market that is represented in The Price of Everything, museums are one way they can see and enjoy contemporary visual art. And yet in the film, there are varying perspectives on the role of museums.
“I would prefer to see it in a museum, then I'm immediately happy. Not in a private collection. Yeah, museums, they are in a special sense so democratic.”
– Gerhard Richter, Artist
“I mean, museums are great. We love them. . . but I mean, if they have too many (works of art), they'll never come upstairs and see the light of day. So, then it's like a cemetery. Why do you want your things in a cemetery?! They're buried underground somewhere.”
– Amy Cappellazzo, Chairman, Global Fine Arts, Sotheby’s
“. . .[Museums] are, for lack of a better word, the gatekeepers of culture to some extent. I mean, you walk into - you - once you cross that threshold of the door, you're walking in, and in your mind you're thinking, these are works that matter, not just for our generation, but for future generations. So, maybe things happen, and I fall out of favor in a number of years. It'll go into storage, but someday, maybe in 50 years, maybe in 70, maybe in 150, it could come out. It doesn't just vanish.”
– Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Artist
Suggested Discussion Questions
What role do art museums ideally have for a community and a culture?
What if any ways can you imagine today’s art market may impact that ideal role?
When Amy Cappellazzo describes a museum as a “cemetery,” what do you think she means? How would you respond to this statement if you were speaking to her?
What were your thoughts about the gift given to the Art Institute of Chicago at the end of the film, and the relationship between that gift and the film’s narrative threads regarding art and the market?
POV: Dealers on the Art Market
“In the end of the last century, we sat around at Christie’s trying to think about what the hell we were going to do next, because frankly, supply of master pictures wasn't just limited, it was diminishing. Almost all our markets and all our businesses were getting smaller. With new collectors coming into the market trying to build collections - younger people, enriched beyond imagination, were the first for new in the now, where were they going to go?
– Ed Dolman, Phillips Auction House
“The real estate people started thinking of Jeff Koons as lobby art.”
– Stefan Edlis, Collector
“That was a kiss of death. . . It’s gonna hurt him. Lobby art. Context is really key. Like if you see it in the lobby, it just kind of disappears. And then you never get out of the lobby once you’re in there.”
– Amy Cappellazzo, Chairman, Global Fine Arts, Sotheby’s
“Artists shouldn't come to art fairs. Or, they should, but they don't. . . Up in the higher reaches of the treetops is a different ecosystem, where art absolutely is an asset class. That's essentially what the auctions have become. A trading house for assets.”
– Gavin Brown, Art Dealer
Suggested Discussion Questions
What reflections about the “value” of art did you hear from the art dealers in the film? Did sentiments lean more towards art as an investment or art as a cultural touchstone to preserve?
While there are many well-known figures in The Price of Everything, there are also many people in the background who support the collectors, auctions, art fairs, and art exhibitions featured in the film. Some of the people in those support roles are themselves artists. Discuss your observations about the relationship in the film between those who make art and those who sell it. What do you imagine it’s like to be an artist whose ‘day job’ is working with the auction houses, galleries and collectors?
Are there important historical distinctions to discuss when comparing how art is bought and sold today with, for example, how it was supported by art patrons in the past?
POV: Collectors on the Art Market
Art collectors are people who purchase art. The collectors in The Price of Everything have enormous assets, as well as a very privileged degree of access to the art world and market. And yet, theoretically, anyone can participate in the art market.
“To be an effective collector, deep down, you have to be shallow. You have to be a decorator. You want this thing to work with the rugs, you want it to work with the furniture, and I notice different styles of collecting. There is the collector that is the wolf in sheep's clothing, and then there's the sheep in wolf's clothing, and everybody has their own style.”
– Stefan Edlis, Art Collector
“Recently, I sold some things, and now I have a little excess, and I’d like to take that excess and buy this, (a painting by Njideka Akunyili Crosby) very, very much. ... I think the gallery is nervous. They're concerned. Because there's 12 people who want it. And once you're playing with sharks, it's just--it's a whole different ball game. You know what they say about sharks, that they (sharks) have to keep moving or they die, right? And I'm not gonna play that game because I don't wanna really be a part of the, kind of, jerk who goes so high and kind of out-prices the artist, and contributes potentially to a crash-and-burn situation for that artist.”
– Holly Peterson, Art Collector
“Art is different and, uh, we all have different tastes, and now it's, of course, it's all about conceptual artists, so this is conceptual art. And… sometimes it's provocative, sometimes it's beautiful, sometimes it's super dark. A few of my friends have this piece, and of course in Russian tradition, if a few people have it, everyone else must have it! So, it's (a) very, very, popular piece.”
– Inga Rubenstein, Art Collector
“Ownership is involvement. Ownership is…. acquisition is involvement. And with art, it's probably the most exciting kind of involvement. Of course, owning a nice share of IBM is an involvement, too.”
– Robert Scull, Art Collector
Suggested Discussion Topics
Have you ever been moved to buy a work of contemporary art? Why did you buy it? What does it mean to you to “own” a piece of visual art?
What reflections about the “value” of art did you hear from collectors in the film? Was there something you heard that resonated with you? Offended you? That made you think about art in a new way?
In what way do you think everyone can participate in the art market?
The film did not take on the impact of online opportunities to exhibit and purchase contemporary art. What role do you think the internet plays in terms of opportunity and access for collectors and for artists?
3. A Closer Look
In The Price of Everything director Nathaniel Kahn asks many compelling and provocative questions, and receives equally compelling and provocative responses. Using the sampling of conversations included in this section, pose the same questions he asked during his interviews to your viewing audience, and ask them to respond.
Consider saving the responses from the film until the end of the discussion to elicit more open answers from your group.
Question: “What makes a Gerhard Richter so valuable and, say, a Larry Poons not so valuable? Who decides?”
Response: “The simple answer would be supply and demand. The real answer is, I think - I don't know how to put this elegantly - financial interests of certain parties.”
– Serge Trioche, Chairman, Art Runners
Question: “How has it [the art market] changed?
Response: “They are like Siamese twins, money and art right now, you cannot separate them. And so the purpose of art has morphed, become perverted or mutated, and I think art itself is having a hard time finding its way out of this situation. Listen, I'm in the middle of it, and I'm busy making money myself, so I'm not criticizing. I'm just observing my own environment. I think we are…. without doubt, everybody knows it….we’re careening toward some edge or some end.”
– Gavin Brown, Art Dealer
Question: “So, does it matter that you don't physically touch the canvas with a brush?” (asking Jeff Koons about his process of creation using assistants).
Response: “Well, I am, in a way, physically doing it but it's physically through all these systems… In the end of the day, that mark is as if I would sit here and do it myself. Now, if I would do this, the only thing that I'd be able to accomplish next year would be just creating this (one) painting. I wouldn't be able to do anything else.”
– Jeff Koons, Artist
On “The Price of Everything”
Nathaniel Khan chose to open the film with an opening statement from auctioneer Simon de Pury:
“Art and money have always gone hand-in-hand. It's very important for good art to be expensive. You only protect things that are valuable. If something has no financial value, people don't care. They will not give it the necessary protection. The only way to make sure that cultural artifacts survive is for them to have a commercial value.”
Later in the film we listen to a conversation between director Nathaniel Kahn and art collector Stefan Edlis.
Stefan Edlis: “There it is, $125,000. The surface is to die for because it has everything. It has spritzing. It has all the collage stuff, very rich. I bought it for $10 million.
Nathaniel Kahn: For $10 million in '97?
Kahn: What would this piece be worth now?
Edlis: $100 million.
Kahn: Seems crazy amount of money.
Edlis: Seems like a crazy amount of money.
Kahn: Do you think it's worth it?
Edlis: Well, let's see. The stretcher is probably worth $80, and we have some high-quality canvas. I don't know about the cost of the paints. There's a lot of people that know the price of everything and the value of nothing. So, apply that.
After seeing the film and re-reading de Pury’s opening statement, what would you say this statement foreshadows?
Do you agree with de Pury’s assessment that the only way to ensure that cultural artifacts have value is for them to be assigned a commercial value?
Respond to the difference Stefan Edlis refers to between “value” and “price.”
Why do you think Nathaniel Kahn chose to coin a portion of Edlis’ statement, “…some people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing…” as the title of his documentary?
4. Resources for Artists to Survive and Thrive
The Price of Everything follows the stories of a small number of well-known artists. Even allowing for their different experiences with the market, these characters are not intended to be representative of most working artists. Their views about the impact of market forces on creative process intersect, however, with increasingly widespread concerns that as a culture, we may be making it too difficult for most working artists to sustain themselves through their creative work. These concerns have inspired a range of interconnected initiatives and materials— including online professional development resources, workshops, literature, and programs sponsored by arts and business councils in many cities. The overriding goal of this burgeoning area of activity is to help artists navigate today’s complex and challenging market and work towards self-defined artistic and personal goals. The larger goal of these initiatives is to raise the value and potential impact of artists in every community.
Artists Thrive is a national nonprofit working to nurture communities in which artists can thrive, offering resources online and in person at their annual summer.
Creative Capital is a New York-based nonprofit offering funding opportunities, counsel and career development services, including financial literacy.
Americans for the Arts provides tools, research and resources to support advocacy for arts organizations and artists throughout the United States.