Art History 245S.01: Art and Markets

"When bankers get together, they talk about art. When artists get together, they talk about money,” says Hans Van Miegroet, paraphrasing Oscar Wilde.

Van Miegroet’s course “Art and Markets” has broad appeal. Listed under both economics and art history, it unites students with different backgrounds for a semester-long collaborative project.

Eight years ago, one group of students created a database of art sales from Amsterdam to Paris in the eighteenth century. “This is particularly interesting because the world’s first multinational corporation was formed in the Netherlands before then,” Van Miegroet says, referring to the Dutch East India Company. “These art exports are completely ignored in French art history.”

Too large to be completed in a single semester or even two semesters, the database is now continually passed down from group to group as classes change.

“Art and financial markets are interrelated,” says Van Miegroet. That dynamic is showcased not only in students’ projects but in many concepts the course addresses as it looks at art as a commodity as well. “Wallpaper put landscape painting out of business.”

Professor and chair of the Art, Art History & Visual Studies department, Van Miegroet has been teaching “Art and Markets” for more than fifteen years. Students’ projects have ranged from researching the Iranian film industry to studying Chinese art exports.

“Novelty lies in bringing existing things together in new ways,” says Van Miegroet, and the projects are intended to do precisely this. They force students familiar with contrasting branches of thought to “learn each others’ languages.” On a daily basis, the class deals with case studies and recent articles.
One term “Art and Markets” addresses is “the cult of originality,” which describes how art is considered more valuable when it is thought to have one original creator. “In reality, a great deal of art has been created in groups,” says Van Miegroet.

One of the course’s major challenges is the often counterintuitive relationship between art and financial markets. “Teams struggle with this,” Van Miegroet says. “They are confronted with things they never would have thought of.” For example, students studying Chinese art exports found that, although China is dominated by Western art, Chinese art flows consistently to the U.S.

“Some students have taken the course three times,” says Van Miegroet. “Every semester, the class is faced with new research and fresh material.”


Hans J. Van Miegroet earned a licentiate in the history of art at the University of Ghent in Belgium, an M.F.A. in the history of art at the Higher Institute of Arts in Ghent, and a Ph.D. in the history of art at the University of California at Santa Barbara.




Articles from journals and texts on art and economics


Weekly readings

Class participation (including preparation
of required research questions and
an executive research brief)

Research paper

Oral presentation

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