I was talking with an old friend the other day about the meaning behind the creations that artists make. Sounds silly maybe, but the most often asked question is” how long did it take to make that?” What they really mean is “how can I place a value on this “, because it’s not comparable like a dishwasher, or a car. The problem has more than one answer obviously, so I will try to share some thoughts as to why art has any value and where it comes from.
Time is a factor it turns out, but not the way people think. I create using all the memories I have collected in my lifetime as a point of view to make judgements. Without a personal history I have no experience from which to make decisions. It’s like when I learned how to chop wood as a child and I managed to figure out grain in the log so it would be easier to split. I still use that understanding ,but for many more reasons than chopping. It takes a lifetime of living to be able to form an aesthetic value system based on my personal perceptions of hiking in the Olympic rain forest, taking painting class at Western Washington State Collage, or living in the desert in Arizona and studying the monolithic rocks. But does this help the person standing in my studio decide on my works value?
This leads to a second point, which is about the difference between functional and emotional value. Granted it doesn’t sound like very juicy subject, but give me a moment. Maybe it is. Everyone has a use for items that have function, we just decide on which ones we need as the value is self explanatory, need. Art is not a needed item, right? Well how would you feel if I took away all your music, or all your movies? Emotional content in our lives is actually the “meat” of what makes our lives interesting and gives us the depth to feel and make an assessment as to our place in the world. It is a paradox that we place a very high regard on material items, and yet the esoteric value of art is the one that actually gives our lives depth.
When we see a creation of someones imagination, we either relate, based on our experience in life, or we have no connection, as we have never crossed that path. The value is not one that can easily be agreed on as it is based on a individuals life experiences and the emotional depth they feel as the art is viewed. That is why some people must have a painting and others couldn’t care.
So art, is a communication, made up of the sum of the artist life experiences, values and beliefs; a reflection of their personal humanity. A piece of their life offered to share. It can only be a true communication if it touches someone else and is experienced at an emotional level of understanding. The true value is in the emotional joy or depth of fascination by the viewer. The meaning, and thus the value, is really an agreement between two people, the artist and the viewer when they find common ground.