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Monday, September 19, 2011

spalted wood vase $15,000

"What do you like about the idea of working at a retail art gallery?"

I like the idea of connecting people to a piece of art that will inspire them-

"No, no, my friend. These are luxury items. You're talking about idolism."

My friend, thank you for making me think.

How can someone justify charging fifteen grand, money I could live off of for a year, for a turned bit of wood the size of my torso?...

First-off, I was annoyed that someone, somewhere in the mercantile chain of command had outfoxed me... and that clearly, it had been going on for a while.

Then I progressed to fuming about how 'luxury' must be French or something for 'purchaser doesn't know any better.'

Finally my core of enlightenment patiently renewed its gentle, warm glow; and I realized I was being silly. I realized this was a messaging issue, and that I understood:

Picture a spectrum of artworks organized by cultural significance. At the bottom (not to decry them as being inherently inferior) are artworks that do not have too much by way of lofty meaning. They do not address existential questions, or the human struggle. Genre scenes and superficially 'nice' pieces with not too much weight of meaning are extremely popular in our culture; indeed, many people who do this 'lighter' kind of art are able to make a modest income...

At the very top of our spectrum are works of fine art: profound free-standing symbols of human tragedy and triumph. While many geniuses of high art have met with success and been celebrated by history, an uncomfortable number of the most popular, most commonly repeated stories of high artists are ones of poverty and avoidable waste...

In the middle of the spectrum we have luxury items: artworks not necessarily possessing significance, but definitely having disproportionately large price tags.

If it seems like there are snakes at work; if it seems like there is an injustice built into all of this: you have detected culture's messaging issue. For the moment I invite you to ignore the pretty shapes and join me in being extremely shallow, for good reason:

Backyard artists' canvases covered with mountains and fluffy bunnies embody the fact that they are relatively carefree people.

High artwork symbols encoded with great human suffering and joy embody the fact that great artists struggle with the depth of their vision, in an aspiring, dreadful world.

And overpriced, undersignificant product embodies the fact that clever businesspeople have carved out a niche in an underaware population; have embraced their role as wielders of overconcentrated, hyperinflating currency... and that something major is out of joint in society...

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