Sunday, March 10, 2013

Oriental Rugs “Fine Art” or Not

I recently had this question posed to me by a Southern California Appraiser. Her customer had extensive water damage from a broken pipe. The insurance company paid the far larger water restoration claim but only allowed $3,000 of $14,000 of the claim for two very fine Tabriz rugs. Their rational was that the rugs were “Fine Art” and the policy had a $3,000 cap on loss of “Fine Art”. I wrote the following opinion and I am quite pleased that the insurance company accepted it and paid the $14,000 claim. I owe part of the credit to a University Professor who forever burnt into my consciousness the phrase; “Words have meaning”. With that in mind here is the letter that prompted the insurance company to pay the full claim (Client information removed).

A question has been posed to me: Is a Persian Tabriz rug a work of “Fine Art”? This has been an ongoing question with those who assume that Fine Art means something that is beautiful and I have been dealing with this question going back at least to when I authored the Oriental Rug entry for the Encyclopedia of Modern Asia.1 Since words have meaning I turned to my Oxford Universal Dictionary. 2 “Fine Art” means art that is “the art that is concerned with “the beautiful “or appeals to taste. Often restricted to the arts of design, as painting sculpture, architecture. Hence in sing. one of these arts.” As such Fine Art is an object whose purpose is to be art rather than an object of useful purpose that may or may not be beautiful.
So then the pertinent question is was the Tabriz rugs meant to be, and used as, “Fine Art” or were they made with a useful purpose other than to delight the senses. In this case the rugs were purchased to be floor coverings and were placed in an area where they received foot traffic.  The intent and use shows the rugs to be “Furnishings”. The Oxford Universal Dictionary2 defines Furnishings as “Furniture, fixtures, apparatus, etc…”
Price, value, and inherent beauty have nothing to do with whether something is Fine Art. Therefore a rug made to be a rug and used as a rug is not and cannot be “Fine Art”.
Yours truly,

1. Encyclopedia of Modern Asia. Charles Scribners & Sons; 1 edition (November 27, 2002)
2. The Oxford Universal Dictionary. Oxford at the Clarendon Press; 3rd edition (1955)