Dave Hicky’s essay entitled “Air Guitar” traces his experiences working as an art dealer after graduate school, dissecting the complicities of the art world and the currency of cultural capital. His gallery “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” sheds light on his academic background, as it is a reference to Ernest Hemingway’s book. The article aspires to clarify certain aspects of the art world that are under the eye of scrutiny.
To begin, he contradicts the pretext that selling art to those who know nothing about the field is a degenerate act. As an art dealer, which he differentiates immediately from the work of a curator and a picture merchant, Hickey feels as if art can be appreciated regardless of one’s intellect or class. The deeply embedded myth that the art world caters solely to those of the upper class has been cannibalized by the onslaught of popular culture and artists like Andy Warhol.
In short, neither money nor power nor social status is necessary in order to understand art. Although, one can argue that the art world is often times shaped by the taste of the elite as it they are of the few who can afford to participate in the high-end art market. Yet, nevertheless, the transnational flow of media blurs cultural borders and social stratification rendering a democratization of art in the age of post modernity.
The second point Hicky touches upon complicates the notion of the alleged worth given to great works of art. Negating the assumption that the commification of art feeds into a hedonistic practice of consumption, he argues point blank that art is not a commodity. The value of art is hinged on an abstract cultural worth. However, he brings up an interesting point claiming, “when you trade a piece of green paper with a picture on it, signed by a bureaucrat, for a piece of white paper with a picture on it, signed by an artist, you haven’t bought anything since neither piece of paper is worth anything” (109).
Thus, investing in works of art can be simplified as a mere translation of capital from the economic sphere to that of the cultural. Moreover the arguable absence of concrete value extrapolated to art mimics the implicit worth currency’s carry. Although Marx’s use and exchange value is not applicable, Hicky argues that “art is cheap and priceless” and even more intriguing it is a risk rooted in taste.