Inflation and the Gold Standard in Old Master Drawings

In the human sciences, including economics, the “event” has a history of the concept of structure. Such is the reasoning of the philosopher and literary critic Jacques Derrida.  Let’s take the example of the gold standard as a structure. It is its own episteme, or logical system and embodiment of knowledge.


The gold standard will plunge only to absorb from the ordinary and rise again claiming it as part of itself.  That first point of reference remains as something like a fixed origin.  Drastic fluctuations from the center are relative: the higher the market, the more drastic the volatility may seem, but it compares proportionally to market trends of relative stasis.  Which is to say; inflation is more difficult to control upon greater shifts upwards from the gold standard.  


When this “play” of the structure fails to orient, balance, and organize its shape, its center is lost.  This is one of the most natural functions of language in the modern day as words begin to take expression as substitutions, and an endless deferral from an origin.  Both business analysis and financial analysis face this managing their information embodied in data.  The information about industries is permutational, constant repetitions and deferrals of the same variables; and the invariables are the extremities or deviants, what I call the intensional sites of rupture, which threaten to completely readjust the structure itself.  Such cases are either rife with disaster but potentially also opportunity.


In more troubled times, people invest in gold to avoid risk.  A phenomenal rupture happened in finance in the interwar period with the loss of the gold standard during the First World War and the invention of the coin.  Suddenly, in the face of depreciated value, coinage became as much of a fiction as a “counterfeit.” The situation no less affected literature as in the case of Stéfan Mallarmé in his famous poem Un Coup de Dés’.  


In the years prior to the First World War, the chaos in the Balkans and hysteria across Europe set the economy into a state of wreckage.  People were chattering nervously in cafés in Paris and reading the newspapers, at once feeling very distant and unaffected but also tenuously on the cusp of its impact. The rampant inflation ended up blowing the center way off the structure.  The permutations and deferrals of the impacts compounding meant that gold coinage could no longer be used.  It’s value increased greatly, but token money began to circulate from the bank to hand forming a new structure.  


How can the eye teach us to perceive inflation in sensuous form?  What does inflation in numbers translate to in an image? Such works of art are namely graphic. These are works of art that relate more to “skill,” no differently than in the sense of embodied knowledge in various fields where the manual operations are more inclined towards technique.  Such professions draw upon implicit inferences, memory, and haptic awareness.  


An exception to this rule are the types of drawings which are invested in historical myths and personalities.  In such a case we see the work of a mind of genius, which is why connoisseurs claim such graphic works of art are invested with an aura of not only an individual but a time, epoch and historical continuum. 


How does Picasso go about depicting images in the year 1912?We can think of those tokens of a linguist of which the signs continue to defer to the referent endlessly without ever reaching the tangibility of the real, its referent.In linguistics those operations of the sign are unmotivated and conventional.When we look at his Violin of 1912, two things stand out.For one, the newspaper and secondly the harsh scumbling up against intersections of bold black chalk lines.

Picasso, Violin, 1912.jpg

The newspaper emphasizes a diminished value of something disposable after use.  We see it in oppositional relationships, which seem to indicate the nature of things fitting together in inverse.  The scumbling means depth and opacity, something obdurate and exhaustive like burning coal.  The first seems to say something of an economy of inverse proportions; the second industrial waste.  


Old Master Drawings are usually considered the gold standard of connoisseurship.  If we look at one of my favorite drawings by Jean-Antoine Watteau of the French 18thCentury Rococo, we at once acknowledge a spark of genius.  With his eyes, he would ask his models to turn to several sides, examining them from every possible angle knowing that we all may seem to know something but have to look and look again.  He mostly drew models attired in fashionable costume dress.  He was a poor man from a poor background who was drawn into the aristocratic high life, a celebrity among the connoisseur class.  

Watteau, Heads.jpg

Watteau invented the trios crayontechnique – black, sepia, and white.  Those colors demarcate the sensuousness of color and highlighting, the objectivity of outline and mass, and the understatement of white heightening.  His technique goes beyond the mere tacit knowledge of Picasso’s papier colles.  We rather witness the individual eye of an artist observing the particularities of his own milieu and psychology interacting with virtuoso skill harkened upon the influence of great masters such as Pieter Paul Rubens.  


We can translate these perceptual features the genius of the gold standard and a kind of “counterfeit” art versus into the everyday.  Our practice of looking at commodities in an inflated market orient themselves towards hard data, implicit knowledge, and inferential reason.  We start with the observed and go from the specific to the general on the knowledge tree.  


By contrast, the gold standard takes us really the psyche, the mind.  We think more impressionistically, through metaphors and allusions; we practice deductive logic from the general to the specific. Moreover, this kind of art requires more of our sensibilities and affect to detect what is hidden and maybe even not even really there.  As we see in the most sever historical crises, the gold standard in art is that safe haven which rarely varies to far from the center.  It is always there to remind us of what happened as Europe began mobilizing for the first war.   

Mental Mapping: From Cognitive Schema to Reality and Back

In the fields of science, medicine, technology, business and law, among others, our perceptions constitute a world of possibilities.  Those perceptions we have signify meanings to be deciphered.  In the pursuit of knowledge, those who seek questions to solve problems learn how to both apply cognitive schemas to reality and conversely reflect back habits of perception onto such mental models of their respective fields of knowledge. 


The experience of art lends an useful comparison.  The great art historian Ernst Gombrich, born in Vienna and knighted by the British, explains in his Art and Illusion the interesting concept of “making and matching.”  Which comes first?  The artist knows they begin with an idea.  Borrowing the ideas of Neo-Platonism, Michelangelo claimed he began with the perfection of l’idea in his mind.  The process of creation was a struggle to embody this absolute essence with truth to reality.  He never found to his satisfaction a reconciliation of the idea of beauty he had in his mind with reality.  Note the distortions of body proportions and age in his Pietà for expressive purposes.

Michelangelo Pieta.jpg

If we take the example of knowledge specialist, they rely upon formulae but also realize the necessity of exercising the best of their judgment to empirical fact.  That latter factor is the indeterminate, which must be evaluated by various operations of objective problem solving.  In the face of the invariable conditions of a given situation, they must reconcile such unknowns with their cognitive schemas or revise them.  Arguably, while artists draw upon reality, they continually go back to an expressive idea as the first principle.  


Unlike the knowledge specialist, the ideas of an artist are inconsequential to life.  Artists can dwell in ideals.  Gombrich reminds us Plato objected to the increasing trend of realism in ancient Greek art.  He found the appearances of things would always be misleading.  This is the world of illusions where the eye is only deceived and our perceptions at best caught in a world of mirrors.  Plato feared the world of the senses. 


Without exaggeration the same may be said of knowledge specialists even while reality is the object of speculation to master.  But what are these illusions that are the culprit of our false perceptions?  Possibly Plato meant the limitations of the human mind bring us the farthest distance from the object of our perceptions.  Those pitfalls of knowledge construction are the way our expectations and biases interfere with the objective construction of knowledge.  We are constantly on the pursuit to match the data of experiential intake with those mental structures we are naturally inclined to form to create what Gombrich called his book, The Sense of Order.


Interestingly enough, the best lessons of circumventing the failures of sensory intake, absorption, analysis and interpretation may be learned from our earliest ancestors homo sapiens sapiens, the masters of the renowned cave paintings in Spain and France.  In their experience of the wild they depicted on the walls of the caves, they apprehended them firstly through fear.  This emotion lent the animals a force of strength both fierce and awesome.


Prehistoric humans’ awesome regard of creatures they depended upon and to which they also felt inferior invested their interest in the vicissitudes of sense experience.  Their pursuit of mastery stems from rigorous analysis of every detail of the anatomy of wildlife, how their bodies looked in motion, and migration and mating cycles.  Early humans saw the animals they worshipped flicker and move magically across the walls by candlelight like ephemera.  Their world was unstable.  Strangely enough, our experience of the world is no different today. 


By their wits alone, homo sapiens sapiens circumvented the natural pitfalls of the mind and relied upon the objectifying functions of sense perception to master their subjective reality. They opened up potentialities of experience by exercising a thoroughgoing and meticulous analysis of empirical data as if every piece of sensory experience were a question to be deciphered.  Seemingly inferior to us, the genius of our ancestors actually demonstrates modern human intelligence’s ability to cross-validate what beliefs we hold to be true by experiential and tacit awareness. Even if we are not dealing with tangible things we see, we can better problem solve by learning different ways of looking. We can learn how to outsmart the fear they had not so unlike our own.