Yesterday I was in a restaurant and saw a little sign propped up by the window that read “best soup in town.” Though we are constantly exposed to such signs advertising “the best” of something-or-other, I began to wonder when this kind of language first appeared – has the language of advertising always included “the best”? The sign wasn’t effective in the way it might have originally been intended (I didn’t try their soup), and it didn’t inspire cynicism, either (I didn’t snort), but instead it seemed a quaint and tentative leftover from some other time (though that time must be now, since I can buy the same sign online from a restaurant supply company).
Maybe a customer brought it in and set it up after they had a meal, just for fun – it’s that kind of restaurant, with an atmosphere of accumulating the discarded – regardless, it was unread as it was read – proclaiming your soup as the best soup in Ames, Iowa isn’t saying much, really.
Then, this morning, two articles in the New York Times appeared, both very much about value, great in juxtaposition:
The Art World’s Patron Satan
Ferran Adrià Feeds the Hungry Mind
First, the piece on Stefan Simchowitz, sponsor and promoter of young artists who is upending art world etiquette by buying and selling artists as well as their work. His is not a new model, really – patrons and artists have cohabited in uneasy ways throughout history – except that he is selling the work by selling himself – he’s got billionaires buying artworks they have never seen by artists they have never heard of. He sets up the artists with studios, materials, places to live, clothing – with the understanding that they have to do that one thing, make art. One of the artists he helped out was making large canvases filled with eyeballs. He requested that she cut those canvases up so he could have more paintings to sell – she did – each one sold for $150. Taste? Value? Better? Best? Who knows. Maybe Simchowitz does.
Second, the piece on Ferran Adrià, the former chef of El Bulli who appears to be a phenomenologist at heart – he tends towards questions like “What is wine?” and ponders essentials like what makes a drink different from a sauce – “Maybe it is a drink if I put it in a cup. But what if I make it into a sauce and cook with it?” Adrià’s restaurant was named world best (there’s that “best” thing again) from 2002-2009 and operated only six months per year, serving one meal per day. He earns a little less than 100K for a one-hour lecture on creativity, his catering division brings in 400K a year, VIP dinners earned him about 3.5 million. His restaurant is no longer, but he is working on a foundation now and according to the article he “concedes that what allows him to operate such an ethereal enterprise is the value of his personal brand”, one that is deeply linked to Telefónica, the Madrid telecommunications company.
Next on my reading list: Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty.
Filed under: advertising, art, creativity, thinking