The Arts

After a mere week or so at work, it can no longer be said that Catherine Rampell is the most underrated force in economics writing and journalism (or can it?).  Here is her post on which are the most expensive schools.  It is art and music schools, when you take all relevant costs and financial aid into account.  Excerpt:

Now here’s a list of the top 10 most expensive four-year private nonprofits, after subtracting the average amount of government and institutional grant/scholarship aid at each institution:

1. School of the Art Institute of Chicago

2. Ringling College of Art and Design

3. The Boston Conservatory

4. Berklee College of Music

5. California Institute of the Arts

Do see the earlier MR post “Artists grew up in households w/typically higher incomes than doctors did.”  What does this imply about the competitiveness of the sector?  About our models of child-rearing?

Sentences to ponder

by on March 19, 2014 at 12:01 pm in Data Source, Medicine, The Arts | Permalink

Artists grew up in households w/typically higher incomes than doctors did…

There is more information here, along with a picture, and the original story here.

Addendum:  Cowen and Tabarrok once wrote on this topic.

Try this:

Long years have passed.

I think of goodbye.

Locked tight in the night

I think of passion;

Drawn to for blue, the night

During the page

My shattered pieces of life

watching the joy

shattered pieces of love

My shattered pieces of love

gone stale.

Here is (supposedly) the most computer-like human poem, “Cut Opinions,” by Deanna Ferguson:

cut opinions tear tasteful

hungers huge ground swell

partisan have-not thought

green opinions hidden slide

hub from sprung in

weather yah

bold erect tender

perfect term transparent till

I two minute topless formed

A necessarily sorry sloppy strands

hot opinions oh like an apple

a lie, a liar kick back

filial oh well hybrid opinions happen

not stopped

Here are related rankings and explanation (sort of).  Was this poem written by a human or a computer?  I have no idea.


Sotheby’s New York will offer the most famous stamp in the world in a dedicated auction on 17 June 2014. No stamp is rarer than the sole-surviving example of the British Guiana One-Cent Magenta, a unique yet unassuming penny issue from 1856, and no stamp is more valuable: each of the three times it has been sold at auction, it has established a new record price for a single stamp. The British Guiana is equally notable for its legacy, having been rediscovered by a 12-year-old Scottish boy living in South America in 1873, and from there passing through some of the most important stamp collections ever assembled. The stamp comes to auction this spring with a pre-sale estimate of $10/20 million*, which would mark a new world auction record for a stamp…

Wikipedia describes the rarity as follows:

The issue came about through mischance. An anticipated delivery of stamps by ship did not arrive so the local postmaster, E.T.E. Dalton, authorised printers Joseph Baum and William Dallas, who were the publishers of the Official Gazette newspaper in Georgetown, to print an emergency issue of three stamps. Dalton gave some specifications about the design, but the printer chose to add a ship image of their own design to stamps. Dalton was not pleased with the end result, and as a safeguard against forgery ordered that all correspondence bearing the stamps be autographed by a post office clerk. This particular stamp was initialled E.D.W. by the clerk E.D. Wight.


It is imperforate, printed in black on magenta paper, and it features a sailing ship along with the colony’s Latin motto “Damus Petimus Que Vicissim” (We give and expect in return) in the middle.

You can rest assured:

At one point, it was suggested that the 1c stamp was merely a “doctored” copy of the magenta 4c stamp of the 1856 series, a stamp very similar to the 1c stamp in appearance. These claims were disproven.

There is more here, via Ted Gioia.

How beautiful is mathematics?

by on February 14, 2014 at 2:22 am in Philosophy, Science, The Arts | Permalink

From James Gallagher of the BBC:

Mathematicians were shown “ugly” and “beautiful” equations while in a brain scanner at University College London.

The same emotional brain centres used to appreciate art were being activated by “beautiful” maths.

The researchers suggest there may be a neurobiological basis to beauty.

The likes of Euler’s identity or the Pythagorean identity are rarely mentioned in the same breath as the best of Mozart, Shakespeare and Van Gogh.

The study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience gave 15 mathematicians 60 formula to rate.

Euler’s Identity is a particular favorite of mine, and indeed:

The more beautiful they rated the formula, the greater the surge in activity detected during the fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans.

…To the untrained eye there may not be much beauty in Euler’s identity, but in the study it was the formula of choice for mathematicians.

Oh, and this:

In the study, mathematicians rated Srinivasa Ramanujan’s infinite series and Riemann’s functional equation as the ugliest of the formulae.

For the pointer I thank Joanna Syrda.

Anne Enright on plot and writing

by on January 15, 2014 at 2:01 pm in Books, The Arts | Permalink

 AE: Plot is a kind of paranoia, actually. It implies that events are connected, that characters are connected, just because they are in the same book. I like the way Pynchon exposed the essential paranoia of plot in The Crying of Lot 49. When I read that book as a student, I realized that if you bring coincidence or the mechanics of plotting into a book, it begs all the questions about who is writing this book and why, or why you’re making this mechanical toy do these things. That, to me as a reader, is slightly alienating. But, you know, things do happen in real life. People die in car accidents. There are connections and coincidences.

She is an Irish writer, there is more here, interesting throughout.  I also liked this sentence:

The unknowability of one human being to another is an endless subject for novelists.

And this bit about writing:

It’s like getting a herd of sheep across a field. If you try to control them too much, they resist. It’s the same with a book. If you try to control it too much, the book is dead. You have to let it fall apart quite early on and let it start doing its own thing. And that takes nerve, not to panic that the book you were going to write is not the book you will have at the end of the day.

Hat tip goes to The Browser.

To an economist like me, this fondness for hospitals is surprising, because hospitals are expensive in Korea and much of the bill is not covered by Korea’s National Health Insurance system.  Price-elasticity of demand does not seem to work in Korean drama.

That is from Princeton economist Uwe E. Reinhardt, from a document from his “class” on Korean Drama (pdf).  He introduces the “class” with this explanation:

After the near-collapse of the world’s financial system has shown that we economists really do not know how the world works, I am much too embarrassed to teach economics anymore, which I have done for many years.  I will teach Modern Korean Drama instead.

Although I have never been to Korea, I have watched Korean drama on a daily basis for over six years now.  Therefore I can justly consider myself an expert in that subject.

By the way, I have been watching Boys Over Flowers lately, a Korean drama (it’s also on Hulu).  Think of it as a mix of Heathers, Mean Girls, and Clueless, but set in a posh Korean high school, with lots of “Average is Over” value.  There is definitely income-elasticity of demand in Korean drama, even if there is not much price-elasticity.  There is also plenty on matching models, moral hazard, status competition, and repeated games, and not always with cooperative solutions.

For the pointer I thank Oriol Andres.

Happy public domain day!

by on January 1, 2014 at 12:53 am in Books, History, Law, Music, The Arts, Uncategorized | Permalink

I received this email from James Boyle at Duke:

Dear Tyler, An early Happy New Year to you and your family — I hope all is well?    You may remember our annual survey of the stuff that would be entering the public domain if we had the copyright laws from 1976.
The list this year is a particularly scrumptious one.  The mouseover of the book covers is another pleasure.

·      Samuel Beckett, Endgame (“Fin de partie”, the original French version)
·      Jack Kerouac, On the Road (completed 1951, published 1957)
·      Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
·      Margret Rey and H.A. Rey, Curious George Gets a Medal
·      Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat
·      Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley, The Untouchables
·      Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays
·      Walter Lord, Day of Infamy
·      Studs Terkel, Giants of Jazz
·      Corbett H. Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley, The Three Faces of Eve
·      Ian Fleming, From Russia, with Love
      ·      A.E. Van Vogt, Empire of the Atom


The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Bridge on the River Kwai, A Farewell to Arms, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,  3:10 to Yuma, 12 Angry Men, Jailhouse Rock,  Funny Face,  An Affair to Remember, Nights of Cabiria and The Seventh Seal..

(Is this list depressing when set against 2013?)

In the world of fine arts, Picasso’s Las Meninas set of paintings… only themselves legal because no copyright covered Velazquez’s.. would also be entering the public domain.

Lucian Freud on gambling

by on December 30, 2013 at 11:41 am in Books, Philosophy, The Arts | Permalink

Gambling is only exciting if you don’t have any money.

That is from the excellent Breakfast with Lucian: The Astounding Life and Outrageous Times of Britain’s Great Modern Painter, by Geordie Greig.

Companies, academics and individual software developers will be able to use it at a small fraction of the previous cost, drawing on IBM’s specialists in fields like computational linguistics to build machines that can interpret complex data and better interact with humans.

That is a big deal, obviously.  The story is here.


by on November 14, 2013 at 6:16 am in The Arts, Web/Tech | Permalink

Very cool.

The subtitle is Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion.  I believe this is her best and most compelling book.  It is wonderfully researched, very well written, the topic is understudied yet of universal import, and the accompanying visuals are striking.

Here is Virginia’s list of personas to help us distinguish glamour and charisma:

Glamour: Barack Obama, Che, Thomas Jefferson, Jackie Kennedy, Michael Jordan, John Lennon, Leonardo, Spock, Tupac Shakur, Joan of Arc dead, and Early Princess Diana.

Charisma: Bill Clinton, Castro, Andrew Jackson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Janice Joplin, Raphael, Kirk, Snoop Dogg, Joan of Arc alive, and Late Princess Diana.

Except she does it in a nice vertical table which I cannot replicate.

She lists Ronald Reagan, Nelson Mandela, and Steve Jobs as having had both qualities.  The book is definitely recommended, and it is out in early November.

Here is her TED talk on the power of glamour.

*The Goldfinch*, by Donna Tartt

by on October 28, 2013 at 12:47 pm in Books, The Arts | Permalink

Many people are calling this book the novel of the year (reviews here).  It’s pretty good and it held my attention — I read 780 pp. and was never tempted to quit.  It is an ideal plane read, but I don’t expect it will stick with me.  I put it in the “worth reading if you’ve read most of the other books you want to read” category, but that is not a space you should wish to inhabit.

Tyler Cowen talks to Emily Moore

by on October 25, 2013 at 12:37 pm in Economics, The Arts | Permalink

Here I am interviewed in Tank magazine about my article “An Economic Theory of Avant-Garde and Popular Art, or High and Low Culture,” co-authored with Alex.  Excerpt:

EM: Your essay contains one of the most interesting footnotes I’ve ever read: “The interactions between the quantity and subjective quality of art are similar to the interactions analysed by Becker and Lewis (1973) between the quantity and quality 
of children.”

TC: Becker’s work considered how families might regard “more investment in each child” as a replacement for “having lots of children”, and that is indeed a common substitution as economic development proceeds. Analytically, we can think of artworks as similar to children in this regard. Quality, in the sense of an artist pleasing himself or herself, can substitute for quantity. Syd Barrett perhaps knew he had nowhere left to go, aesthetically. Proust and Cervantes didn’t need to write so many other works, perhaps because they felt satisfied with how thoroughly they expressed their visions through what they did. Balzac took a different course and achieved a different kind of creative satisfaction, yet precisely for that reason he may resonate less with people today than the more idiosyncratic visions of Proust or Cervantes.

The original article you will find here.

Banksy Comments on the Nobel Prize?

by on October 15, 2013 at 10:22 am in Economics, The Arts | Permalink

Mashable: Street artist Banksy set up a stall in New York’s Central Park Saturday, selling his original pieces — worth tens of thousands of dollars each — for $60.

The event was documented on video and posted on Banksy’s website. It took several hours for the first artwork to be sold, to a lady who managed to negotiate a 50% discount for two small canvases. There were only two more buyers, and by 6 p.m. the stall was closed with total earnings of $420.

For comparison, in 2007 Banksy’s work “Space Girl & Bird” was purchased for $578,000, and in 2008 his canvas “Keep it Spotless” was sold for $1,870,000.

What would Fama, Shiller and Hansen say about these asset prices?

Maximizing revenue for non-reproducible art is a matching process, the artist must find the handful of buyers in the world willing to pay the most (see An Economic Theory of Avant-Garde and Popular Art) so perhaps one can explain this as a failure of marketing.

An alternative explanation is that modern art is a bubble, people buy only because they expect to sell to others–take away this expectation and the art doesn’t sell. (Fashions and fads can help the latter explanation a long but there still needs to be an expectation of a future sucker buyer.)

Or perhaps Banksy is commenting on an earlier Nobel winner.