Valuation of Art vs. Science
I am tired world. Tired of having to fight to prove that art exists, that it has meaning, that it should receive its due. Tired of having to yell above the voices of more important people. Tired of feeling insignificant and marginal because i chose to spend hours on end staring at a blank canvas while other more important people were going about making money and making things happen. I was enjoying myself, minding my own business, quietly humming along doing the thing I so love to do. My painting made me happy and i dare say it made a few other people happy too. I know it made people think because they told me so. They wrote in my guestbooks, they sent me e-mails, and occasionally, they bought my work. All this to say to me: what you are doing is good for me and I support it. It is the dream. It is what every artist is hoping for. Some recognition from society. Making your art in your basement will only keep you happy so long. At some point, you need to brave the risk of the gaze of others. If you truly love what you do then it is no risk at all. Whether people love your work or detest it should make no difference. That is what i think the artist means when she says: "I don't care what people think". While this may be true, the artist does care that people should think something. In this sense, even bad press is good press and the worst thing an artist might have to endure is being ignored. If anything, an artist does what she does to exist outside of herself. This inevitably means to exist in the eyes of others. I don't write this stuff down simply for myself. If it were just for me, why should i write anything at all. These thoughts are my own and they might as well just stay in my head. No, this will not do. They must be reflected in the eyes of others in order for me to exist outside of myself. This is why we communicate and why we relate. Selfishly, communicating validates us, echoes our souls and mirrors our internal appearances.
Given how important our expression is. Given how our expression is the sum proof of our existence to one another, how then can we accept the present situation in which creative expression is so stifled and demeaned. Not my own expression necessarily but expression in general. How can it be that some things are considered important while others just fall by the wayside of our valuations. How did we get to this? Who took us to this place where only that which exists in concrete, measurable form has value. Religion is being tossed out like an old sock because nothing can be proven. In fairness, i understand the backlash against religions because we just aren't thinking in those terms anymore. But what about spirituality and the notion of something bigger than us? I've said it throughout the blog entries. Science is the new god. But what of the other ways of knowing? What of intuition? What of impressions questions? are we only interested in knowledge, interpretations and answers? Is this it then? The end of play? Was sitting around the kitchen discussing possibilities so awful? Was it so disquieting to turn over rocks and look at the dirt that we now want only roads to drive on, to get somewhere with GPS and see something we first Google mapped. What about driving 50 clicks in any direction and looking at what happens to be there? I read somewhere that only the true voyager knows not where he goes. I think you call this the phenomenological approach. It is a beautiful way to examine life. It is the child's way of looking. But there, you see, in saying the child's way, i have already condescended upon this way of looking. I have belittled it and berated it because children are but unformed and uninformed grown ups. Their way of looking can not possibly teach us anything. Even if it could, we have no time to tear ourselves away from computers long enough to look.
You can stop and ask questions about anything really. Any minute of any interaction gives way to a hundred questions. But if you do that, you are not really living in the present. Only analysing it. You can't annalize your life, you have to live it. The analysis goes on though. Unconsciously. It is all getting recorded and registered, bagged and tagged. This data is encoded in a vast registry of knowledge which most of us have little access to. As Freud rightly pointed out though, this registry is shaping the course of our every thought and action, the same way a registry key shapes the values which govern operating systems. With computers, registry keys are hidden from most users in order to prevent inexperienced people from going in there and fatally reorganizing the operating system, rendering it nonoperational. Yes, registry keys are to computers what unconscious motivations are to consciousness. They are the structure or the principles upon which the windows operate.
Anyway, i am losing more than a few people's interest here perhaps and also losing the grasp of my point. My point is that there is some really important stuff going on which nobody seems to be attending to. Something like climate change, or famine in 3rd world countries. We might attend to it if we had the chance but we have set ourselves up with blinders, designed specifically to keep us from seeing what we do. In that sense, we are truly evil creatures. Capable of lying to ourselves long before we learn to do it to others. Everytime there is something important enough to attend to, commercialization sublimates the energy required to attend to it and canalizes it towards our own desire to purchase something. So this means that the true value of art is supplanted by the commercialization of it. What art could truly be doing for us is completely destroyed by our presentation and perception of art as an object of consumption. In buying a song off of itunes, we loose the true effect which the artist and the music could have had in a live performance type of arrangement. The artist has something to say. John Lennon did. A few others did too. Today, no artist is speaking to us. Just marketing to us. It is as though, an important person with a job is standing behind every artist and saying: "if you want the gig, keep your mouth shut and sing the song".
There is an imbalance in the power dynamic between those living in the art world and those living in a world like say the finance sector. Until that power balance is somehow equalized, artists will always be seen as marginals who attempt to get through life doing what they love to do and refusing to compromise. The implicit view will always be: "why don't they just get a job?". The view of a painting will always be: "why should i pay for that?".
Art has not objectively ascertainable value and art therapists know this well. In fact, they capitalize on that fact. The art market knows that art has no objective value and so massive theater campaigns must be set up in order to artificially boost the value of art to the desired position. Why should Hitler's art sell today for a mere $400,000 when he is easily the artist who taught us most about ourselves in the last 100 years? It sells for that price because it would be morally reprehensible by many to value it any higher given the kind of man that he was. On the other side of the valuation of art, we have dismal works from artists who have had relatively little significance in the grand scheme of things selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. So my point here is that the value of art depends on a lot of different considerations but that it is by no means a precise formula for measurement.
People who work close to the pot of money tend to have more access to the money. So while a bank teller doesn't make a whole lot, the higher up you go in the banks organization, the more money you make. At the end, a person works hard, goes home tired at the end of the day and gets a lot less financial recognition for it than someone else who happens to be higher up the ladder. Sure there are differences in education and level of responsibility but what i am saying is that the meritocracy we are supposedly living in does not flow according to the set of rules we are supposedly morally obliged to follow. There are short cuts for example. People get jobs through connections. There is racism which holds one group back while another moves more steadily forward. In this competition based economy meritocracy means competition. Where you have competition you have cheaters. Look at how much steroids can be found in the Olympics or in baseball and Hockey. When you wave hundreds of thousands of dollars in front of peoples faces, you can't complain that they are stepping over each other to get at it. When it comes to societal valuations of the artist versus the bank worker we can observe that the artist has been steadily loosing ground for a long time until the internet came along. In the old days, a handful of artists good good work by getting connected to bankers. Today, things have evolved more laterally as that all powerful equalizing force, known as the internet has given a greater number of artists a greater measure of exposure to the public. Ultimately, this has been good for both artists and public because artists are getting to reach people, and people are getting a greater variety of art. This situation is a typification of a general trend towards the democratization of art which art therapists currently find themselves at the center of. If art belongs to everyone, then the art therapists says, let's all define it and use it for what we need it to do. The only people losing art the artists who were at the very top and the millions of people who stood between them and the adoring public, greasing their palms every step of the way. I am not apathetic, but I have to say i have a very limited amount of empathy for those people complaining about copyright infringement. I say to them, if you got credit for your work in whatever form then you got paid.
I don't wish to be particularly unsympathetic to the music industry or to artists in general. To prove this to you, I feel the same way about the financial industry, religion, law, medicine etc. If we the people can learn something from you, then take that knowledge to build something better then everyone wins. That means that private insurance concepts can be used to benefit all people. Knowledge of medicine can be used to put in place a system of preventative care. Current banking models can be regulated and governmentalized in order to benefit the people. Basically, this all amounts to a redistribution of wealth which follows the redistribution of knowledge which is currently taking place. The current system is ineffective and the bad news is that this probably means a lot of people are going to lose their jobs. The good news is that those jobs were probably pointless anyways and that those same people can be employed towards making the system more efficient.
I realize i have gone left and right in this post but that is because talking about art is like talking about life in that the discussion rarely flows in a straight line from one point to another. I have not given up however on making some sense here and now.
This post started with the motivation of expressing the view that art has no objective value while work done in other spheres like economics is objectively remunerated. I made the point that this circumstance explains how it comes to be that art is often found on the distant poles of the valuation spectrum either near worthless (average joe artist) or priceless (Michelangelo's chapel). I also made the point that there are important things going on right in front of us and that we don't see them because we don't want to. I made the point that this meritocracy is an illusion in which some people are paid more than others for pretty much the same level of physical and mental exertion. Nurses, social workers, teachers and cops all earn roughly the same money for similar educational sets and do very important work. High placed bank workers and private business consultants or political consultants get paid higher salaries on average for similar educational sets and work hours.
Artists have to fight to be heard and this is a parallel to the reality of the average individual who also must fight to be heard. It is ironic that the artist is the marginal player in the day to day scene of society because the artist actually represents the average individual who aspires to be free, do what he loves, obtain recognition, be one with others, create beauty, live with nature etc. It is ultimately the artist who represents the average man on the street. Not the politician with his made up narrative, not the banker with his eye catching suit. Ask yourself who represents you best in a global sense. Look at the values presented by all the groups of people religious, political and social who represent you and ask yourself: "who is more close to saying what i want to say?" If you ask yourself that question, you will invariably come back to either the scientist of the artist. Most of us will say that the artist reflects what we dream of becoming while the scientist reflects what can really happen. The two are integral parts of our personalities like anima and animus. So why then must we pay respect to only one?