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.