Art and the market

Here’s a little piece I wrote about the value of art for ‘The Venice Vending Machine’ which comes to Bristol this coming Friday. Details are below – if you’d like to join us you would be very welcome indeed.

“Art has an uncomfortable relationship with the market. Artists engage with other markets every day without a thought, yet when it comes to art we often feel uncomfortable. Why is this?

The market is a place of exchange that uses currency to create a common understanding of value so that an exchange can take place. But, does this really apply to the arts? Can money and the market give us an accurate indication of how we value art?

The Venice Vending Machine invites us to explore this and other important questions that go right to the heart of how who we are and the kind of society we want to live in. It invites us to explore who and what is and artist?; How we value art?; and who gets to decide what has value?

If it is down to the market to decide the value of art then our ability to participate will be directly related to our level of income. This is not just unhealthy, it is also unhelpful as the value we put on currency is inversely related to our level of income – a tenner has far more value to some of us than to others. So, we have to ask ourselves whether the market can give us an accurate indication of the value of the arts?

Even if we think we can get an accurate measure of the financial value of a piece of art we still need to ask if this is really a good indication of its value? This, of course, depends on what we value and what is important to us.

It has always seemed odd to me that there are many more reports about the financial contribution of our creative industries than there are those that suggest the arts may be important in other ways. This begs an important question: Is the value of the art that it makes money or is the value of money that it enables us to make and experience art? Isn’t the purpose of development to enable people “to live long, healthy and creative lives”?

Perhaps the reason we feel uncomfortable is because ultimately art, cannot sit easily in a capitalist paradigm? Perhaps we can only resolve this discomfort by understanding creative development as a different and often competing paradigm – one that values the quality of human experience above quantitative measures of income or property?

The capitalist discourse is indeed dominant and pervasive, but, perhaps it is not the only way to think and to live? Maybe it is time to talk about art in a different way? Isn’t it time we talked more confidently about what it means to be creative and more openly and honestly about being our true creative selves however uncertain, anxious or depressed we may sometimes be? Perhaps we could stop assuming that everyone else is competing with us and extol the virtues of collaboration and postive mutual development? And perhaps it is time to stop treating people – and our planet – as disposable and recognise the long-term impacts of our actions for all those around us?

It seems to me that questions like this that are become increasingly urgent for us all and I’m delighted that The Venice Vending Machine plays the vital and important role of providing an open, creative and playful space for us to consider them together.”

The Venice Vending Machine is a “collaborative live art public installation”, conceived by Venetian artist Marina Moreno. Its aim is to question the role and the value of Art in our society, whilst promoting emerging artists alongside some famous and established ones. 

Artists submit small pieces of art that are placed in the Venice Vending Machine and revealed through random selection ONLY by engaging in a conversation with the curator of the machine who will actively promote the artists as she facilitates a lively, informative and often surprising mix of live-art, performance and discussion.

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