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The Column icon The Column: Issue 16

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The Column is a monthly feature that explores the world of creativity and aesthetics.

The Value of Art
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable

The value of art appears to diminish in the public's eye year by year. Contemporary art is now firmly established and promoted as a commodity, and the efforts of influential public relations firms solidify the cynicism and suspicion that so many now feel about art. Is art worth less or priceless?

Art as Luxury

Art in the West is more often than not viewed as a luxury. A non-essential diversion for the well off. It is not at all clear to many what role art has in society, and governments and arts organisations struggle in their efforts to justify funding art from public taxes as they support obscure works that often fail to connect with the general population.

The public is presented with a seemingly simple choice: should taxes be used to pay for a new wing of a hospital, or to buy a painting to hang in a gallery that relatively few people will visit or care that much about? The public perceive the value and choice of art within a marketplace, when in truth art has little to do with buying and selling.

Art as Capital

Living artists are sucked into the world of media, spin, and self promotion. Modern art is defined by prize winners and art marketers who favour those who aren't necessarily producing enriching or original art, but that are easily lead to satisfy their ego and bank balance in exchange for media malleability. The public see this and view the modern art world with a cynical eye.

The dead artist has been usurped by the heritage industry as it too promotes art and artist as products. Capitalism is like that, products are required for sale and art is high jacked by the world of producer and consumer.

The Nature of Art

Art however is far more than commodity as it expresses, comments upon, and enriches our lives. At its root, art is essentially spiritual and taps our senses in its path to our hearts. It makes sense of our place in the world. Art is of great value yet often of little price: a child produces a painting. The painting may not be aesthetically sophisticated, but it is a powerful expression of how the child experiences the world. The painting is for the child and connects the child with those who view it. Price plays no part in this equation. The art the child has created is priceless.

Art has far more in common with our spiritual lives than capitalism. Unlike religion, art does not require faith. It simply, is. Art is amoral and human centred. We experience it, are persuaded or not by it, connect or not with others because of it, and our eyes are opened or not as result of it. The choice and experience of it is all ours. The experience is 'owned' by us and cannot be sold. Art has an intrinsic value but we must judge its value according to our own lights. We have to take responsibility for its value rather than allowing others to make those judgments for us. Art makes us act.

People still see Hamlet four hundred years after it was first written, not for its historical perspective, but for the observations, comments, and truths it contains about the human condition. Although art doesn't necessarily ask questions or provide answers, it can help bring us into a state of consciousness about the world around us. The more effort we make, the more time we give, the more enriched we become.

Art is born of the imagination, an original and singular vision rather than a cloned mass-produced object spewed forth from a factory or production line. If money ceased to exist as inevitably one day it will, art will continue to flourish.

As to what art is, that's for each of us to decide. What is art to one, is craft to another, profound or superficial, we each have our views. For me however it is not the view that is the most significant as the fact we need to view to make us whole.



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Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

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