What is the value of art?


"Mom and Pop Art," The Simpsons, Season 10 Episode 19

“Mom and Pop Art,” The Simpsons, Season 10 Episode 19

Flash Points, a monthly conversational series that ran on the Art21 Blog (now the Art21 Magazine) from 2008 to 2013, welcomed a range of guest writers to address questions relevant to thinking about contemporary art. In 2009, we asked, “What is the value of art?”—a question that provoked writers and readers alike to discuss the Great Recession, its affect on artists and institutions, and “larger philosophical issues about the deeply complicated relationship between art and money, and…the value of art in our individual lives.”1 On the occasion of this fourth issue of the Art21 Magazine, with its focus on value, we’ve gathered highlights from the Flash Points archive.

Ben Street, a former Art21 Blog columnist, approached the value of art from the perspective of a museum educator:

You can’t [lead a tour] without being asked, at some point, ‘What’s that worth?’ Depending on the questioner, how well the tour went, and how loyal you’re feeling, your answer can vary wildly…Whatever amount you quote, the reaction is always incredulous, as well it should be. The very idea of art being worth anything, to a mind trained to associate fiscal worth with functional value, is ludicrous, since the apparatus that assembles value in art is a fuzzy one, a sum of socialized activities (writing, talking, thinking) of no translatable worth in the ‘real’ world, and of no logical equivalence to that pile of rags in the corner of the gallery or [that] picture of a flushed duke in a periwig.

Guest writer Julia Steinmetz directed readers to an episode of The Simpsons:

In ‘Mom and Pop Art,’ a treasure of an episode from 1999, Homer is discovered as an ‘outsider artist’ after a home improvement mishap. As the value of Homer’s work rises and falls on Springfield’s art market, Marge becomes increasingly disappointed that no one seems to appreciate the worth of her representational paintings.

Steinmetz also contemplated the value of mindfulness—of “being in the moment”—as it pertains to early works by Adrian Piper:

While most practices of mindfulness limit their focus to shifts in the consciousness of the individual; some artworks demand consideration of interpersonal mindfulness, the value of an attentional focus on the here and now of the social. While artist Adrian Piper is well known for having been a practitioner of yoga since the 1970s, mindfulness is deployed in her work in a way that expands beyond individual practice and moves to the interpersonal, making certain moments of social engagement very present. Piper describes the ‘indexical present’ as a directed attentional focus on the immediate here and now; basically mindfulness that is pointed to a particular moment, a moment of contact.

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