Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Value of Art

A friend of mine tried to argue once that my career aspirations were unworthy and so if I were to achieve them my working life would be pointless - I hope to critique art. (This knocked me down a little, though he has always been good at challenging me for the sake of improvement – of ideals, of values, morals and of sanity.) Art, he said was essentially pointless because on a global scale it helps no one and only commercially, does it please the rich. A generalisation, yet mostly true I considered. At which point in self-defence of my desires, I attempted to argue like-wise via gross-generalisation, that his job in finance only betters the big guns and widens the poverty gap, if we again look at it on a wider, less mundane day-at-the-office scale.


Often I consider the purpose of art, and how it has changed historically. I wonder if art is truly accessible and really appreciated – or if really it is just me, and people like me. I intend in all I voice that I make art seem appealing, interesting and engaging, and this will be my life-long aim. This, I believe is worthy of commitment.


I have just begun reading a brilliantly perspective book called Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic and already I am being inspired. It discusses a need for people to turn from consumerism that is wholly dissatisfying, back to social values. The author of the forward to the second edition, Vicki Robin, references the late Donella Meadows who ‘saw affluenza as the tendency to fill nonmaterial needs materially.’ To get heavy, the book itself describes affluenza as, ‘n. a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.’


Is art part of this disease? Does it fit into the valued pleasures of life, or the unfavourably dismissed consumerism?


I think of art as a necessary luxury, and I do admit that is an oxymoron. No, my friend, art isn’t life-changing, it does not always advertise wholesome values but its purpose is like a good holiday. Life would seem disagreeable without cushioning: the coffee breaks, the time at home spent with family, and so on. For me, art is intellectual stimulation, it may for others simply be visual stimulation – and I see this as of great importance too.


Should art be free? Should I have to pay up to £12.50 to see an exhibition on Turner and the Masters? Is this not exclusive? What does this twelve pounds fifty pay for? - A booklet exploring the exhibition? It isn’t as though they are paying Turner and his friends commission. Yes, then there is the cost of restoration of the paintings; employing the staff; for transportation of works; and so we conclude everything really does cost. Yet you wouldn’t pay £12.50 to see a film, which is essentially hundreds or thousands more painting in the stills that form the moving image.


Who really depends on art paying? A few collectors who cater for millionaires’ desire to own? Yes then, viewing art should be free. I genuinely believe that even though the need appears less great when technology allows us to view almost any noted work of art online; the need for people to view art first hand to get genuinely excited and value it earnestly, remains. Critical to making art accessible is thus to make all galleries and exhibitions free is it not?


In the article ‘How we all learned to stop sneering and embrace modern art,’ Miranda Sawyer wrote for the Observer that our contemporary approach to art, which is evident in the workings of the Frieze Art Fair, is ‘a weird hybrid of commerce and curatorship.’ Although those who work high up in the art world such as the Tate’s deputy director, Alex Beard ‘flatly refuse[s] to think of art in terms of boom or bust.’ I think there is, and there needs to be more to art than monetary worth in order for really brilliant art to be created - art for joy, rather than art for cheques. I see money as a looming threat to the art of our age.



Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, Second Edition is written by John De Graaf, David Wann and Thomas H. Naylor.

The article mentioned from 11 October 2009, can be found at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2009/oct/11/art-frieze-turner-tate-turbine 

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