A short start to a long conversation

Since I got my start in publishing years ago the idea of an economy of arts has always fascinated me.

“Art” and “Economy” — they are two words you wouldn’t normally think could co-exist in a sentence, but the art world has a currency and economy all it’s own. And this goes for every art culture.

What is arts’ value? What is art’s worth? What will you pay for art?  While they might seem like the same question, closely inspected they are all very different.

Let’s look at something innocuous (so-called because I have nothing to do with this industry!) the MUSIC industry. What does one song cost? You can get it from iTunes for $0.99. Is that what it’s worth? If you’re talking about the latest Britney Spears tune, you might not agree that it’s worth a buck, you might even say it’s worth more. Let’s consider in the broadest of terms what it cost to produce that single song — including the cost of all the Volvic that she drank — you ‘ve got to pay the writers, the artists, other musicians, production costs, marketing and so on. We’re into the high-end of six-figures, for sure. But for all the money invested, it’s fair to say that this Britney song will have a short shelf-life and eventually drift silently into oblivion.

So. We have something you could buy for less than a buck, which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to make, and has an ultimate worth of nil.

The relationship between price, cost and worth is skewed and seemingly disjointed. Yet it appears that they all exist in a delicate balance with one another, all three simultaneously sacred and profane.

Art is an expression, an impression, a meaning, a feeling, an impulse, an irresistable urge. It is the manifestation of something ultimately intangible in something perceivable by our senses in paint or sculpture or photograph, and others. How can you put a price on art?

Art inspires, it confuses, it humbles, it glorifies, it stands alone, it fits in. Some people wait years just to see a work and decades appreciating it, others let works languish in neglect, gathering dust, forgotten. How do you value art?

Artists rise and fall, artists are panned and lauded, critiqued and praised, courted and curried, some works sold to the highest bidder, and some works are bought-in. But how do you judge art’s worth?

It seems to me that every stage is raw and vulgar and secretive and exclusive, and overarchingly subjective. There is no true way to qualify and quantify effort or market value or appreciation. And yet, at some point there is a figure for everything — but I’m left with more questions than answers.

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