What Is The Value Of Art?
I often question the question often asked: What is it worth? What I question is the meaning of “worth” in that question.
Worth is usually quantified as currency or—to be more precise—the amount of currency someone would hand over to own it. Does that really make sense? Money is fundamentally worthless. It’s what is called a secondary reinforcement. Its only value is what it can give us that has real value to us. The whole thing seems somehow circular, tautological.
What is responsible for these pseudo-philosophical thoughts is a newspaper clipping I just came across where the journalist wrote that the contents of this literary mag I published were “priceless” and then gave the price of an issue. (Two bucks, incidentally, but this was a long time ago.) I couldn’t help but hear someone remark on a friend’s ridiculous behaviour: “Isn’t that just priceless!?”
I guess I would agree that some of the literary works in that mag were—are—priceless. If good writing’s value is its market price, then even the works of Shakespeare’s writing are both priceless—and worthless, for it now costs nothing to make it your own by reading it. The latest, trashy novel is ‘worth’ more—probably at least $9.95 at Coles.
So it seems that one hell of a lot of great art is worthless, unless you can own it and demand money to part with it or share it. It all seems ridiculous to me. But then you wouldn’t want me as your financial advisor.