Have you seen The Price of Everything on HBO?
The maker of the documentary exposes the world of art collecting and the explosive valuations assigned to the art space. I call it “space” as I couldn’t get past the vacancy attached to paying a ridiculous amount of money for something to look at nor could I be persuaded by the pretension.
To me, it’s a profound lesson in how we define value in our lives. Because when you think about it, everything has value. And nothing has value.
What do you value?
What’s the value of feeling good in your skin?
Righting a wrong?
Speaking up for yourself when the timing’s right?
Seeing your child smile?
Seeing your child learn?
Hearing from a distant friend?
Having a warm place to live?
An image on the wall? Appreciating the passion for the art and the artists’ desires to express themselves?
I like contemporary art, because I’m a zero on the artistic scale. I am mainly intrigued by pieces that combine different textures. I understand the value of the artist’s ability to express human emotion, capture a moment in time, or grasp trauma and translate it to an image. On the other hand, I look at some pieces and think that the artist did heavy drugs, woke up from a bad dream, and scratched out some images that served as a catharsis, the same way a writer must write to maintain their sanity.
Would I pay $100,000, or more, for a piece? Um, no.
I watched the show several times to digest why people throw enormous amounts of money at items that serve no purpose.
The answer to the mystery is that wealthy people have created a new arena of proving their worth. The enormous prices are solely driven by the demand for an art piece. If you think poor people are envious of the rich, the 1%-ers are the real wanters. They want what someone else has or they want something so that no one else can get it. They constantly need to one-up each other. It’s an innately human insecurity.
The game also involves the acceptance factor combined with emptiness. The emptiness is filled with things. When useful things fail to fulfill, it’s time to move on to useless things. Why else do people buy name brands, expensive things, and showpieces?
That’s a sad truth that we all have to take responsibility for. When you think about it, after the satiety level is achieved and there’s nothing left to be bought, the only thing left is you and your senses. Most people don’t like to face that reality, therefore, life gets filled up with “things”.
The Artists’ Take
It’s refreshing to see the artists emphasize that they’re not in it for the money. These artists are regaled, almost in a pious sense, but it appears to roll off their backs. The appreciation for their work is their reward. Because the wealthy have created this fictitious world of high-priced demand, the artists don’t necessarily agree.
One artist, Gerard Richter acknowledges that his painting is the cost of a house and “It’s not fair.”
The Price Of Demand
An artist’s ability to create demand that pays in the multi-millions is as random as how talent is handed out by the universe. Maybe the value lies in the appreciation to jog the senses. The paradox is that the artists are fulfilled with the connection to people and sensations that are evoked.
This is evident by the reaction of Njideka Akunyili Crosby when she realizes that the first buyer of her work is auctioning it off, basically “flipping it” for $900,000. She wasn’t the recipient of the big dollars, someone else was, but she is gratified by seeing the demand as the potential for future acceptance. She defines museums as the gatekeepers of culture, where she wants her work to have an impact.
What do you truly value?
Review the above list again and see if you can’t find what you truly value.