What is the Value of Art?
Updated: Nov 12, 2021
We went down to the French Quarter of New Orleans last Friday to walk around and explore the galleries. I hadn't been down to the Quarter since before the beginning of the pandemic. I'd heard stories about the eerie emptiness and quiet. Most of the barrooms and a lot of businesses were closed and shuttered.
Jackson Square was chained and locked. Only three artists were hanging their work (it was also a drizzly sort of day). There were people, fewer than usual, wandering around and exploring but it was strangely quiet, quieter than the usual cool rainy day.
Soon after we got there I noticed some interesting graffiti on the ground: a heart wrapped in barbed wire with the words "423 PYH" and "Protect Yo Heart". As we walked around over the next couple of hours, I found that particular stencil piece in a several different places in a variety of different color palettes.
I realized that I was more intrigued and excited by the graffiti art than I was by what I was seeing in the galleries. Most of the galleries that were open were the same ones that I've visited dozens of times before and they always feature the same selection of art by the same artists. The graffiti felt fresher and more intriguing.
By the end of our outing, I found myself reflecting on what gives art value. I know that art in high end galleries is often looked at as "investment" art. The art you find at a juried art festival is going to be as intrinsically good at what you find at a high end gallery, but it doesn't carry the same dollar value. "Investment" art as value because a handful of "experts" and critics have said that it does.
Somehow the graffiti art felt more exciting and interesting. Is it because that it isn't done purely for material ends? The art in most of the Quarter galleries is created for a specific audience. They keep making it because it sells (not for the same dollar value as "investment" art of course) but it does bring in revenue.
What makes art "good"? The stencil graffiti pieces are simple and quick because the artist needs to throw it down and then leave as quickly as possible. The graffiti won't last both because of weather conditions and because the powers that be won't let it stay. They look on the graffiti as mostly an annoyance.
Yet the graffiti of Banksy is highly valued, Is it because it's "better" than most stencil graffiti art or is it because he's so well known?
I don't know if I know what makes art valuable or worthwhile or "good". I like making art and I particularly like it if other people enjoy my art enough to take it home with them. Seeing the laughter or the intrigue in someone else's eyes gives the art more value to me,
Scavenger hunting for the heart graffiti made a pleasant day that much more enjoyable to me. That gave the graffiti a lot of value to me. It gave me something to think on.
If you saw a Rothko sitting on a street corner, would you think to yourself, "That has to be worth 80 million dollars"? I probably wouldn't.
Art has monetary value if we say it does. Art has a deeper value if it resonates with us and moves us. I don't know what the dollar should be for that. I don't know if it matters.
Art has value because we say it does. How much value depends entirely on the viewer. Take it home. Hang it up. Soak in the full worth of it. Art only matters if it matters to you.