Art: What’s it Worth?

The value of a work of art is an old question, with artists obsessing over it more than collectors or the general public. Most people probably never think of it unless there is some shockingly high price paid, or when a famous painting goes up for auction.

Underlying the question of worth is the debate on whether art has a function. Is art a need? Why does art exist if it doesn’t do anything, or is not a need?

In Neal Stephenson’s book The Diamond Age there is a character that talks about how everything is either stuff or entertainment. In the book all basic needs are met with cheap technology. Everyone can get free food and shelter just by walking up to a kiosk and waiting a moment for the machine to give them a cup of noodles.

So how does this apply to the value of art?

Art is entertainment. Buying art is like purchasing an exclusive ticket to a show that only you and the people you invite get to attend.

But it even goes beyond that. Think of going to the movies. How much is that movie worth? Is it just worth the eight dollars of the ticket price? I know of a few movies that I would say weren’t even worth that. But what about movies like The Godfather, Citizen Kane, or Star Wars? How much are those movies worth? How much would you pay to be the exclusive owner of them? What makes them of value?

A book I was reading once talked about how a landscape painting could not be appreciated until society reached a certain level of civilization where nature is no longer looked upon as an enemy or something that will hurt you.

But what causes this shift? Does simply having an extra potato in the pantry trigger something in our brains so we all of a sudden enjoy landscapes?

As with all questions worth asking the answer is yes and no. I believe that there is a hunger, or need of the human mind for stimulation. If we are scrounging for our next meal the variety of things we must do to get that meal is enough to occupy our minds. When we do get that extra potato in the pantry we no longer wonder where the next meal is coming from, but this leaves our mind with nothing to do, and we invent entertainment.

So, why is some entertainment worth more than others?

I contend that the value of entertainment, or art, is based on the answers to two questions. Does it make sense, and how complex is it?

Whether we are watching a movie, reading a book, or looking at a painting, the internal logic of the entertainment has to make sense to us, even if our idea of what makes sense is different than others.

After we figure out that it makes sense, we start to unconsciously examine how complex it is. The more complexity that is evident the more valuable it becomes. And if we don’t see the complexity, we will make it up, or bring our own complexity to the mix.

As an example look at this.

How much is this worth? In your mind put a real dollar amount on it. What if I added complexity and told you it was a real painting?

That last image was only part of this image. Is this one more interesting and valuable than the last one? What do you see in it? Is it a landscape? Are you looking through a misty haze or the glow of a sunset?

What if I said you could have this painting for just a little more than what you said the last one was worth, would you pay it? What if I told you this painting was over 100 years old?

Look how the artist has handled everything with such delicate use of color and value. This was painted by a famous artist. I wonder what all of those little people are doing? How much more would you pay for this one over the last one?

Wow! Here’s the entire painting! Would you pay more for this than the small section shown in the previous image?

How much would it be worth if I told you the title was The Finding of Moses?

How about if I told you the artist’s name is Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema. He was born in the Netherlands in 1836, and was one of the most highly esteemed painters in Britain during the Nineteenth century.

What if I told you that this recently sold at auction for over 35 million dollars?

How much is this painting worth? Is it more than the dollar amount that you first thought of?

Quilts and Paintings at the Museum

Hubble Quilt by Anna Munoz
Quilt by Anna Munoz (Sorry I forgot the title.)

I never thought I would be saying this, but there are some cool quilts.

The Springville Museum of Art is having their yearly quilt show and I have to say that I was amazed at the quality and variety. I was down there to pick up my painting from the Spring Salon, and to look at some of the paintings. I wasn’t expecting to be thoroughly engrossed by quilts.

I’ve spent my life mostly ignoring quilts, but now I can see that they transcend craft and are art in their own right. Some people are probably thinking, Duh! But it wasn’t until this show that I truly appreciated quilts.

The quilt above by Anna Munoz was inspired by a Hubble Telescope photograph. She Started with white cloth and used the batik method using wax resist and multiple batches of dye to end up with this superb quilt.

Quilt Show at Springville Museum of Art

This room had particularly colorful quilts and alone would have been worth going to the museum to see.

Red Fish quilt by Cathy Porter
Red Fish quilt by Cathy Porter

The quilt Red Fish by Cathy Porter jumped out at me with bright reds and shiny bits all over it as I turned the corner down the hallway off the main exhibition area. The photo really doesn’t do it justice. There was a red dot on the title card meaning someone had purchased it. The asking price was $200. I don’t know the demand for art quilts, but all of the prices seemed low in my opinion for the work that must have been put into them.

Valley of the Virgin by Jim Floyd Jones
Valley of the Virgin by Jim Floyd Jones

I saw a documentary on Jim Floyd Jones, or Jimmy Jones as they called him, and thought his landscape paintings were very interesting. I was saddened when at the end of the documentary they said he died just a few years ago, I think it was in 2007. So, I was excited to see one of his paintings down in the basement, in what is called the children’s gallery. In the documentary Jimmy Jones said that he avoided painting clouds for the first decade or so of his career since he was intimidated by them, but you see by the end that he had made them one of his main subjects.

Signs of Spring by Kirk Larsen
Signs of Spring by Kirk Larsen

Some of the paintings from the Spring Salon were still on the walls of the second story. It was kind of sad to see all the empty space, but also interesting since it highlighted the few works left. Signs of Spring by Kirk Larsen caught my eye and I was impressed by the handling of the paint and the sense of light.

There are some other gems at the museum like a John F. Carlson who wrote the accepted bible on landscape painting, and a Frederich Waugh, probably America’s best sea scape painter ever. These will have to wait for next time as I’m sure I’ll be back.

Old Oil Cans and Newsletter

Well Oiled 12 x 16 oil painting by Brady Allen
Well Oiled 12 x 16 oil painting by Brady Allen

My latest still life Well Oiled was featured in my first newsletter that came out earlier this month. Read an excerpt from the newsletter below.

It always seems a little sad to me when I take down the old still life set up, and contemplate what will be put on the cedar table next. Today I took down the oil cans, sockets, and wrench. I put the tools back into my tool box, thinking about how I inherited most of the tools from my older brothers, dad, and the cast offs no one else wanted. I think of the old Craftsman socket, size 13/16ths with red paint peeling off from some time when it needed to be painted red, and how I don’t even have a socket wrench that fits the massive half inch drive.

The cans already feel like old friends, even though I only got them a couple months ago. I love all three, but I’m especially fond of the little blue one. I saw a segment on the news about junking, where this lady would scour local antiques stores, or junk yards, or combinations of the two and would find old almost worthless things to turn into something crafty for the home. I wasn’t interested in what she was making, but I was riveted by the background shots showing all the wonderful stuff that she was passing by…

To read the rest go check out the sample newsletter, and sign up to receive the next installment coming out in just a few short weeks at the beginning of August!

Painting Outside Hawk Edition

When you spend a lot of time outside sitting in the same place I’ve come to the conclusion that nature sees you as either a meal or a non threatening part of the landscape.

Mosquitoes and insects of all sorts usually take the meal approach and have a tendency to fly into any opening, ears, nose, eyes, that they can find. But when you aren’t fighting the insect kingdom, you sometimes get to see other creatures, such as the hawk in this video.

Or is it an eagle? My friend I was painting with thought it might be a golden eagle. I wasn’t sure.

The hawk must have gotten too close to another bird’s nest, as a few minutes later this small bird attacked the hawk, latching on to the feathers behind the hawk’s head and mercilessly pecking at the top of the its skull. The hawk wasn’t having too much of that and tried to escape, but the other bird kept at it until the hawk got the message and flew away.