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Peeks and Piques! Artistic Value vs. Market Value

By Raymond J. Steiner
ART TIMES Winter 2013

NEVER a great admirer of the US, Oscar Wilde is said to have written that, "America is the only country that went from primitivism to barbarism without ever having passed through civilization." Hmmmm. This was some time ago, when he also professed that some "know the cost of everything, but the value of nothing." Hmmmm, hmmmmm. Just think of what he may pronounce about our culture today! Err … is "culture" the proper word for our marketplace-driven world today? Wilde may have been a bit of a snob — even sarcastically ironic at times (most times, I guess) — but there was always a hint of profundity, a hint of truth, embedded in his quips. Of course — like most of us — he also spouted a lot of nonsense — but it's kind of difficult not to see how his comments apply to us and to our cavalier transformation of art into a commodity — i.e. of transforming the concept of 'value' into 'cost'. "How much?" is more often asked than "How good?" Are we even allowed to ask how "good" a work of art is in today's upside-down, politically-correct society? How creative? How meaningful? How well-crafted? More often than not, many art 'patrons' are more concerned with a work's market value than its artistic value — in short, its $$$ cost and not its aesthetic/artistic value (Wilde's point exactly). To make matters worse (in my estimation), is that the creative community, i.e. artists, have largely signed on to this 'de-valuation' process, making it more and more difficult for me to find the 'genuine article' out there. Most of our readers know about the conservatism of ART TIMES — we've made it clear since our inception 30 years ago that we were dedicated to taking the "long" view — and have largely avoided giving over our pages to the latest fad, fancy or trend. Often, what's "hot" this month is "not" next month, while Michelangelo, da Vinci or Rembrandt seem what's "trending" largely goes by me. Wilde's observation about our evolution — to me — seems hardly arguable. So much of our current "culture" seems not only barbaric but inexplicable, and I doubt if even our 'primitive' ancestors were ever so blatantly crude, so indifferent to the "right thing", so meaningless. Else, how would they have survived? Not only are we blind to the difference between cost and value, but also to decency, morality, 'taste', and good sense. Personally, I am grateful that my lifetime is coming to a close and not just beginning — as an ancient Chinese poet writes, "Better dark silence, than lies".* Sounds pretty sophisticated to me for a 9th Century "primitive".

*Han Yu, "Losing My Teeth" c.820

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