Art and Value

A Complex Relationship

I’m not entirely sure what to write about this week, so I thought it would be interesting to jot down some thoughts I’ve had about the art world for some time now, specifically regarding the complexities of artistic worth and merit. 

As artists, the intensity and bustle of the corporate world imposes a looming pressure on us all to somehow conform to it or take the risk in carving out a swath of financial stability for ourselves. I think every artist, at one point or another, has wondered how they’ll survive if there isn’t a value placed on their skills by those willing to support it. This relationship between art and money has always proved complex, and often problematic in the sense that art is so often a reaction to the greater forces of humanity, yet it relies on these forces to sustain itself. There is a specific profoundness attached to the idea of the value of art being an inherent mark of human creativity, yet it often dissolves in the face of monetary worth, adding a completely separate twist to the idea of whether or not art is “good.” 

One example of this would be Maurizio Cattelan’s installation Comedian. In case you don’t remember, Comedian was a banana taped to a wall that stirred controversy in late 2019 for its overtly simple concept. If the banana spoiled, it would be replaced by another, and the same case goes for those that would vandalize the piece by removing the banana. However, not only is the piece an extremely simple concept, but it also implies a secondary, more covert meaning behind the way art is valued. Despite the intense criticism of the piece, three editions of the piece were purchased, two of which were purchased by private buyers at Art Basel for a value of $120,000. This might seem ridiculous, but the purchaser was not simply buying a Banana that would rot, rather they were purchasing the right to privately exhibit and profit off the piece. Without ownership of the installation and the specificities of Comedian, one is not allowed to display the same work with the title Comedian, thus adding a value of completely arbitrary meaning to the piece. 

Maurizio Cattelan, Comedian, 2019

It is this idea of exclusivity that is so divisive in art. Art in its best form (at least to me) is pure intuition, yet historically, art relies of the virtues held by the ruling class to be deemed successful. Whether it’s religious beliefs, historical depictions, or in the case of the 21st century, monetary worth, Art comes with caveats and sacrifice. On a smaller scale, this could mean setting aside personal principles in order to find success with Art, however one could make the argument that Art is one aspect of culture that shapes society rather than adheres to it. For instance, Keith Haring most likely didn’t paint graffiti in subway stations to make a profit, yet society managed to find the value in his work. I think it is this reason why, above all, I find myself relying on my intuition in my artistic endeavors. The caveats of clout, money and worth are three things about the art world I could do without, and so I will!

Keith Haring, Burning Money, ca. 1980

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