Last week Wednesday, I went to a pre-viewing for a Fine Art Auction. Mainly because I was promised free wine and free cheese. But also because I wanted to see this Diane Victor piece in person:

Victor Diane Apocalypse Etching

The cheese was delicious. And the Diane Victor was impressive, but in a really artsy sort of way. I mean: sure, there was the anthropomorphic horse with the apocalyptic bride reference and the detailed farmlands in the horse’s shadow. It was all very textural and intelligent. But it felt like the kind of artwork that belonged in someone else’s hallway…

So I continued to wander around. Then midway through my third glass of free red wine, I found this:

Victor Diane Smoke Portrait p99

It’s another Diane Victor: one of her (apparently) famous smoke portraits. She “paints” these faces with a candle flame, giving it that ethereal ghostlike quality and those ridiculously evil eyes.

At this point, I watched myself succumb to almost every bias that I know of.

Two narratives…

What was happening in my head

  1. I quite like it.
  2. And I must have a deeply shrewd eye for awesomeness, because my art-buddy Alex just told me that Diane Victor smoke portraits are like hen’s teeth.
  3. Maybe I should come and bid on it.
  4. I wish it looked slightly less demonic.
  5. The estimate is between R20,000 and R30,000.
  6. Actually, I love it. It’ll look so great in my offices. People will comment, and I’ll get to tell the smoke-painting story, which is totes amazing.
  7. And also, the demon-like quality actually makes sense – what’s the point of a pleasant expression when it’s all smoke?
  8. OMG it’s MARVELLOUS.  
  9. I must have it.
  10. Question: how much am I willing to pay for it?
  11. Alex reckons I shouldn’t go higher than R40,000, otherwise I’d be overpaying and I’ll look like a mug. 
  12. *goes home, emails fine-art bestie in London, she loves it but agrees that above R40,000 would be over-paying*
  13. I’m definitely doing it.
  14. I cannot WAIT for it to be mine! 
  15. And actually, while I’m at it, there’s a Dali etching on auction. Look at how cheap it is! I’m going to bid on that as well.
  16. Oh wow – there are two Dali’s. Guess who’s gonna own two Dali etchings?!
  17. *asks Alex about Dali etchings, prints and lithographs – gets told that they’re sh*t because Salvador signed lots of blank pages before his death, and his widow farmed them out to other artists, so actually, the market is flooded with them*
  18. I don’t care – I want a Dali!
  19. *emails fine-art bestie in London, she confirms everything Alex said*
  20. Okay – so maybe I’ll only try and get it if it’s cheap. Or whatever.
  21. I’m an ART investor!

Now that the auction is over and the hype has passed, I’ve had the sense to reflect on what was really happening behind the scenes.

What was really going on

  1. Last year, I went to the house of an advertising friend. His house consisted almost entirely of art pieces, hairless dogs, a Victorian-looking bedstand and a broken toilet. He was particularly proud of his specially-commissioned smoke portrait by Diane Victor. With a clearer head, I remember disliking the drawing, but liking the idea.
  2. So while walking around the room, when I suddenly came across a picture that felt familiar, the familiarity bias kicked in, and I was now pre-disposed to liking it.
  3. Then Alex used the trigger phrase “hen’s teeth”, which made me afraid of losing a piece that I might never have the opportunity to buy again. Cue: some loss aversion bias.
  4. At that point, I’d made the decision to buy it, and immediately began justifying the spend (a little post-purchase rationalisation) as an investment and a great story and how good it would look in my office.
  5. When the London-fine-art-bestie declared her love for the piece, I felt affirmed and liked it more – almost as though I now had permission to buy it “rationally” (FYI: that’s the definition of a confirmation bias). It’s also a classic example of the bandwagon effect (if they like it, then I like it too).
  6. I’m not sure how art gets a value, and how we reach the point of “overpaying” for it. But because there was an estimate of R20,000 to R30,000 sitting in the catalogue, I immediately started to adjust my definition of “value” around those prices (that’d be the anchoring bias). And suddenly, R40,000 seemed like an expression of how much I really wanted it. But I could just as easily have voted with R4,000 as that expression, if the estimate were between R2,000 and R3,000.
  7. And do you know how I know that? Because the estimate on the Dali etching was R1,500 to R2,500, and I decided that R2,000 would be my limit. And yet, in the grand scheme of things, I would probably take equal delight in a Dali etching.
  8. And because I like the idea of owning a Dali, I was prepared to dispense with the expert advice and casually assume that most people are like me and wouldn’t know that a Dali lithograph is actually just an autographed poster (this would be the projection bias).

In short, I had lost my mind.

Here’s that Dali etching:

Dali Legitimate p21

I guess this would be the point at which I tell you about the auction.