Pei-Shen Qian, Diamonds, and Wine For Dummies

What makes something valuable? I guess the short (tautological) answer is that if someone values something, it’s valuable. Even in realms outside of economics, the basic idea if supply and demand holds pretty true. Does this connect to beauty being in the eye of the beholder?

Take the case of painter Pei-Shen Qia. He produced a number of paintings that look very much like the works of famous artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. They were sold at auctions for millions of dollars because people thought they were previously-unknown works by the famous painters. That raises all kinds of juicy questions.

Are his paintings less good because they weren’t painted by de Kooning? Apparently they’re clearly not as valuable, but value isn’t always connected to quality, it seems.

That reminds me of the humble cubic zirconia. These “man-made diamonds” are cheaper to produce than natural diamonds (and of virtually endless supply). To almost any human eye, they are indistinguishable from diamonds. They are less valuable but not less beautiful. Hmm. Weren’t diamonds valuable BECAUSE they’re beautiful? Isn’t a Renoir painting valuable because it’s beautiful (or beautifully painted)?

Which brings me back to Wine For Dummies. When I moved to the SF Bay Area, I bought the book at a Napa Valley winery gift shop for $12. I figured that it might be time to learn a little about wine. The $12 was well spent and not because I learned about noses, fingering or tannins. The book sagaciously sums it all up by saying (something like) this. What is good wine? Good wine is wine you like.

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