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A little fable of the art market …

“Ridiculous!” cried somebody whose art appreciation was about average. He could not believe the economic absurdity. A painting by Picasso had sold at auction in New York for $95 million. A single work!

Better, he thought, for art patrons to buy something from 95 separate, living artists at $1 million each. What encouragement to their work.

Along came June and Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Arts Festival. The man went. Not with $95 million, it’s true. But he had $1 million handy and he went with that, in satchels of $10, $20 and $100 bills.

“I’ll take this one and that one,” he said at an Asian lady’s booth. She was selling watercolors of birds in forests, priced at as much as $2,200. “And that smaller one.” The artist almost fell off her chair. “Don’t take them down,” he said. “Use these.” He gave her stickers with the word “SOLD” in big red letters. “Everyone will see how good your work is. Keep it on display. I’ll have it all picked up at the end of the festival.”

He moved on to the next booth and bought. He bought in the morning and in the afternoon. No display of art or craft was too mediocre to earn at least one SOLD sticker. And many were good. There were African animal sculptures. Glass in wondrous shapes. Ceramics, quilts, toys and jewelry. Art to stand up in gardens and art to hang from ceiling hooks. Art for walls, windows, corridors and coffee tables. Objects of gold, silver, copper and gemstone. Calligraphic poetry on pottery. Photographs of alleys in Italy and ice in the Arctic. Portraits, purses, leatherwork, beadwork, metalwork … SOLD, SOLD, SOLD.

The word got around. A crowd followed the man, applauding at every SOLD. More shoppers bought. If the art was good enough for him, it was good enough for them. Television caught the contagion. Cameras and microphones materialized.

“Of course I don’t have room for it all,” the man said. “I’m donating to hospitals, schools, libraries, lawyers’, dentists’ and accountants’ offices. We all need art in our lives.”

The sun was sinking and still the man was buying. It’s not easy to spend $1 million on art in one day. Not when it is priced reasonably. And when the artists have gained no value by dying. Dusk fell as the last $20 went for something SOLD. Then what cheers rang out! Never was there such a day at the Three Rivers Arts Festival.

That last sentence, of course, is true. None of this happened. And anyone in touch with economic realities will know exactly why. People with ideas like this never have $1 million.

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