The Arts

Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian, who doesn’t exactly struggle to afford a plane ticket, can now likely fly free, in first class, with his whole family, anywhere in the world, for the rest of his life.

All because he bought a painting.

Liu was the winning bidder for Amedeo Modigliani’s Reclining Nude at a Christie’s auction earlier this month, offering $170.4 million — and when the sale closes, he’ll be putting it on his American Express card.

Liu, a high-profile collector of Chinese antiquities and art, has used his AmEx in the past when he’s won art auctions. He put a $36-million tea cup from the Ming Dynasty on his AmEx last year, according to reports, and put other artifacts on his card earlier this year. He and his wife said they plan on using their American Express card to pay for the Modigliani, according to news reports after the sale.

And this:

China allows its citizens to transfer no more than $50,000 out of the country in any year, and using his [Liu’s] card could help him get around this limit because he’s just paying back American Express or the bank in China who issues his card.

Hmm…the full story is here, via Ted Gioia.

Virginia Woolf on Shakespeare

by on November 16, 2015 at 12:12 am in Books, History, The Arts | Permalink

From the Diaries, April 13th, 1930:

I read Shakespeare directly I have finished writing.  When my mind is agape and red-hot.  Then it is astonishing.  I never yet knew how amazing his stretch and speed and word coining power is, until I felt it utterly outpace and outrace my own, seeming to start equal and then I see him draw ahead and do things I could not in my wildest tumult and utmost press of mind imagine.  Even the less known plays are written at a speed that is quicker than anybody else’s quickest; and the words drop so fast one can’t pick them up.  Look at this.  “Upon a gather’d lily almost wither’d.”  (That is a pure accident.  I happen to light on it.)  Evidently the pliancy of his mind was so complete that he could furbish out any train of thought; and, relaxing, let fall a shower of such unregarded flowers.  Why then should anyone else attempt to write?  This is not “writing” at all.  Indeed, I could say that Shakespeare surpasses literature altogether, if I knew what I meant.

By the way, she notes that Keynes’s favorite novel of hers was The Years, which he preferred over the harder to understand The Waves.

The perfect Lot 1 will double or triple its presale estimate, igniting high spirits in the salesroom that encourage enthusiastic bidding.

That is from a new and excellent NYT Judith H. Dobryzynski feature story on how art markets work, interesting throughout.  Here is some nudge, through the whetting of the appetite:

As at a bad play, people may well leave in midauction. So it’s good to set conservative estimates, Mr. Pylkkanen explained: “Then they come in feeling that they may win the object, and when they have that idea in their head, it’s psychological; they go longer. They’re thinking about the celebration they are going to have” if they win.

It’s not the focus of this article, but I believe the art world to be one of the more corrupt sectors of the American economy, once you consider the prevalence of fakes, the amount of looking the other way, and also the use of high appraisals to get favorable tax breaks on donations.  Along other lines, here is one bit:

When asked if they would help get a collector’s child into college to get a great consignment, Mr. Rotter and Mr. Shaw both laughed and nodded yes.

The NYC auction season starts quite soon.

For the pointer I thank Claire Morgan.

Bryan Caplan is homeschooling his twin sons, and some of that involves bringing them into Carow Hall and GMU to hang around the rest of us.  They are perhaps the only twelve year olds taking an advanced undergraduate class in labor economics; I think they can handle it.

Bryan asked if I would give them a lecture of sorts, of course I sad yes, and, oddly or not, he chose the topic of Art History for me (others around know some economics too, so perhaps that is indeed my comparative advantage).  I found it an interesting exercise to ponder what I would start telling them about, given they have virtually no background in the area, and perhaps I’ll get back to that in a future post.

In the meantime, I have two general points.  First, introducing your children to additional role models and sources of inspiration — your friends and co-workers, or so one should hope — is one of the best things you can do for them.  Most wealthy, famous, and well-educated parents under-invest in this activity.  The bottom line is that after some margin you stop influencing them, but they don’t stop looking around for sources of influence.

Second, if you are well-known, or have lots of well-known and/or talented friends, or maybe even if not, you should consider homeschooling your children for a while in this manner, if only for a month or two over the summer.  Your friends will be willing to give some form of instruction to your children, and they will be way, way better than normal teachers.

My next lecture for Bryan’s children will be History of American Popular Song, complemented with musical tracks of course, though no singing.

Addendum: Here are comments from Stationary Waves.

The next Conversations with Tyler comes next Thursday, six days from now, and it is with Dani Rodrik.  Of course you should show up, or watch the LiveStream (see the link).  But in the meantime, what should I ask him?

Again, here is the previous session with Luigi Zingales.

Drum Solo

by on September 13, 2015 at 7:25 am in Music, The Arts | Permalink

Rush’s Neil Peart was recently voted the greatest drummer of all time. Here’s Neil demonstrating why:

To appreciate the artistry, I like this best on headphones without visuals but the video captures the amazing physicality of the performance. Some backstory here.

The average scientist is not statistically more likely than a member of the general public to have an artistic or crafty hobby. But members of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society — elite societies of scientists, membership in which is based on professional accomplishments and discoveries — are 1.7 and 1.9 times more likely to have an artistic or crafty hobby than the average scientist is. And Nobel prize winning scientists are 2.85 times more likely than the average scientist to have an artistic or crafty hobby.

There is more here, by Rosie Cima.  The original research is here, by Root-Bernstein, Allen, and Beach.

For pointers I thank Samir Varma and Robert Wiblin.

Auction markets in everything

by on September 11, 2015 at 12:50 am in Economics, The Arts | Permalink

Elephants, giraffes, lemurs, and even a cockroach at the Oakland Zoo have been exploring their creative sides to produce colorful paintings that will be auctioned for charity.

The painting sessions were conducted by zoo keepers who used only positive-reinforcement, including plenty of treats, as they worked with the animals, zoo spokeswoman Nicky Mora said.

Elephants were helped to hold paintbrushes in their trunks and giraffes in their mouths and produced their artwork one stroke at a time. Goats, lemurs, and meerkats had their hooves, paws or claws dabbed with nontoxic, water-based paint and ran over a blank sheet of poster board while chasing a treat.

Thirty-two of the works will be auctioned on eBay starting Thursday.

Andy, a Madagascar hissing cockroach, scurried around a canvas and the result was a piece in purple, green and yellow tones.

Maggie, a Nigerian dwarf goat, had her hooves dipped in blue, green and yellow paint and the keeper coaxed her with snacks to walk on a canvas.

I recall once reading that de Kooning was quite impressed by the paintings of an elephant.  There is more here.

Sosa is a gynecological teaching associate, and she holds one of modern medicine’s most awkward jobs, using her body to guide med students through some of its most delicate, dreaded exams. Every week, she lies back for dozens of the next medical generation’s first pelvic and breast screenings, steering gloved fingers through the mysteries of her own anatomy and relaying the in-depth feedback they’ll need out in the wild.

She is not, in the traditional sense, a medical professional herself: A 31-year-old theater actor, she has also worked recent jobs at a bakery and Barnes & Noble. Yet what she lacks in faculty prestige, she and her compatriots — including a squad of male urological teaching associates, who teach genital and prostate exams — make up for in humor, candor and endurance. For nervous students, she is like an enthusiastic surgical dummy, awake through the operation and cheering them on…

In New York and Los Angeles, the simulated patients are often actors; here, in eastern Virginia, they are part-time or former professors, baristas, retail workers and house spouses, all contract workers paid by the session, and not extraordinarily so. Gliva-McConvey, the program director, said wages were confidential but added, “All I can say is, we don’t pay them enough.”

Vocabulary becomes hugely important to avoiding clumsy wording. Teachers are taught to neutralize sexual language — it’s a “table,” not a “bed”; a “drape,” not a “sheet” — and cut back on awkward phrases: Say “footrests” instead of the too-equestrian “stirrups”; “lots of pressure” instead of “this is going to hurt.” Students aren’t supposed to “grab,” “stick in” or “pull out” anything, though in the moment, instructor Kelene Williams said with a laugh, “sometimes neutral doesn’t come out.”

The article is…unsettling…throughout, kudos to Drew Harwell, and I thank M. for the pointer.

I very much enjoyed this Live Chat, and I thank the participants for all of their stimulating questions and remarks.  Here is one excerpt:

Ben Casnocha:

How do you think your career and life would have been different if blogging, twitter, and digital media had be ubiquitous in your teens and 20’s? Would you have still pursued an academic path or would you have become a full-time columnist/commentator/speaker earlier on? I seem to recall you saying at one point that you’re glad the internet didn’t exist early on in your life as it gave you the time to read the classics and develop a substantive base of knowledge.

Tyler Cowen:

I am glad I was forced to live in “book culture” and “meat space’ for my first forty years. Or maybe thirty-five years would have been enough. People these days have lost the sense of information being scarce, and counterintuitively that makes it harder for them to develop profound thoughts. It’s like practicing chess by asking the computer right away, all the time, what the right move is.

[and later] …contemporary academic is overly bureaucratized and there is a very good chance I would [if I were starting today] look for another model of success and contentment. It is an open question whether or not I could find one. Whatever its limitations, there is still a followable formula for academic success, which of course is part of the problem.

Other topics include when is the best age to live in various parts of the world, Alban Berg and Rilke, Marc Andreessen, my one hidden talent, Rene Girard, labor market networks, optimal travel into the past, and which is the most underrated or overrated wisdom tradition.  Do read the whole thing.

According to the O.E.S., songwriters and music directors saw their average income rise by nearly 60 percent since 1999. The census version of the story, which includes self-­employed musicians, is less stellar: In 2012, musical groups and artists reported only 25 percent more in revenue than they did in 2002, which is basically treading water when you factor in inflation. And yet collectively, the figures seem to suggest that music, the creative field that has been most threatened by technological change, has become more profitable in the post-­Napster era — not for the music industry, of course, but for musicians themselves.

That is from Steven Johnson, the piece is excellent throughout.  And note this:

The new environment may well select for artists who are particularly adept at inventing new career paths rather than single-­mindedly focusing on their craft.

A few of you wrote in and asked me to match this Guardian list of the top one hundred English-language novels of all time.  (It is notable how many second-rate English novels made that list, and how few second-rate American ones did…)  Well, one hundred is too many but here is twenty, in no particular order:

James Joyce, Ulysses

Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Charles Dickens, Bleak House

Wuthering Heights

William Faulkner, Light in August, Absalom, Absalom, As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury

Huck Finn

Joseph Conrad, Nostromo

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, The Waves, Mrs. Dalloway

Nabokov, Pale Fire

Henry James, The Golden Bowl

Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure

J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Sterne, Huxley, Lawrence, Beckett, and Wharton are all knocking on the door and probably would have rounded out a top twenty-five.  Scott and Trollope too, more Hardy.  I consider the omission of Austen to be my flaw, not hers, but I just don’t love them.

You’ll note I made no attempt to be “balanced.”  I gladly would have awarded all twenty spots to the same author, had such a choice been justified.  There is also no attempt at racial, ethnic, gender, or geographic balance, none whatsoever.  I simply picked what I think are the best books.

And if you think there are some obvious omissions, they probably are intentional.  There are plenty of fine books, but no I don’t put 1984 in the top twenty, and while America has many very good novels from the latter part of the twentieth century, only a few (V?)  would receive my serious consideration for a top thirty list or even top forty list.  Not many are better than Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, or for that matter John Galsworthy.

A good sentence

by on August 16, 2015 at 12:57 pm in Books, Economics, Music, The Arts | Permalink

Pretty much anyone can be a ‘rock star’ these days — except actual rock stars, who are encouraged to think of themselves as brands.

That is from Carina Chocano, the entire article is good.

This Leah Sottile WaPo piece is excellent in many ways.  Here are a few bits:

Bees are still dying at unacceptable rates…Ohio State University’s Honey Bee Update noted that losses among the state’s beekeepers over the past winter were as high as 80 percent.

…Researchers say innovative beekeepers will be critical to helping bees bounce back.

“People ask me, ‘The bees are going to be extinct soon?’ ” said Ramesh Sagili, principal investigator at the Oregon State University Honey Bee Lab. “I’m not worried about bees being extinct here. I’m worried about beekeepers being extinct.”

Commercial beekeepers are leaving the sector and innovative bee hobbyists are taking on a much larger role:

“I feel a social responsibility to provide good bees,” Prescott said. “It makes me happy to look at the part that I’m playing.”

…Obsessing over bee health was unheard of 50 years ago, said Marla Spivak, a University of Minnesota professor of entomology. “In the past, it was very easy to keep bees. Throw them in a box, and they make honey and survive. Now, it takes lots of management.”

The story has some excellent examples:

Henry Storch, 32, does it because he felt a calling to beekeeping. A farrier by trade, Storch said he could make more money shoeing horses. But five years ago, he became obsessed with the notion that he could build a better bee…He barely flinched as a bee stung him on the upper lip.

…Storch’s mountain-bred “survivor” bees are like open-range cows: tough, hardened and less in need of close management than the bees he trucks to the California almond fields. Storch compares the effort to growing organic, non-GMO food.

The good news is this:

Amid the die-off, beekeepers have been going to extraordinary lengths to save both their bees and their livelihoods.

That effort may finally be paying off. New data from the Agriculture Department show the number of managed honeybee colonies is on the rise, climbing to 2.7 million nationally in 2014, the highest in 20 years.

Recommended.  To trace the longer story, here are previous MR posts on bees.

Assuming a continuation of current policies, the paper predicts the Chinese economy will expand by 7-8 per cent for the next 10 years or so, with growth slowing to 5.2 per cent on average between 2024 and 2036 and then a rate of just 3.6 per cent between 2036 and 2050.

That is actually slower than the growth rate of 3.9 per cent it predicts between 2036 and 2050 if China were to return to Maoist policies introduced in the aftermath of the disastrous Great Leap Forward, in which between 30m and 40m died in a famine that was largely the result of economic mismanagement.

The authors of the paper were focused only on economic factors and did not consider the impact of individual policies or the enormous social costs of Mao’s “brutal” political movements and purges, which left many millions dead, ostracised or imprisoned in gulags.

Putting Mao aside, the 7-8% prediction already is clearly wrong and this is a July 2015 working paper.  By the way, the four economists who wrote the paper (NBER) are working at “…the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Princeton, Yale and Sciences Po in Paris.”  And get this:

They concluded that the abolition of the private sector in China and the return to a command economy would yield an annual average GDP growth rate of 4 to 5 per cent between now and 2050.

The journalist who wrote the FT piece is the very good Jamal Anderlini, who understands the Chinese economy, and perhaps the limits of growth models, better than these researchers do.  That’s the actual fact here which we don’t take seriously enough.