What is the true Value of Art?
Art has always mirrored changes in politics, economics and society. These changes mean that, individually and collectively, we must assess various values. Constant change is a fact of life for the world, society, individuals and cultures, but often these changes are difficult to detect. As a result, we pay little heed to them until the moment comes when they can no longer be ignored and the necessity arises for new viewpoints, theories, value systems or just plain opinions. Therefore, the question of the value of art is not particularly original, new or surprising, as Barbara Fässler cogently illustrates in her answer. It was interesting to observe that those whose everyday work involves assessing works of art and writing theoretical and analytical studies of art and its problems had the most difficulty answering this question. Apparently, a foundation of theoretical knowledge doesn’t make it any easier to answer the question; rather, it can result in paralysis. Conversely, people who spend their days working with various forms of art and personally creating art had an equally creative and personal approach to the matter. Thanks to everyone who found the time for this exchange of views.
Barbara Fässler: The question of what is the true value of art has been discussed since the time art was born. For Plato, works of art were completely worthless in comparison to thought. He considered works of art to be copies of items from the sensory world and these in turn were copies of the idea that existed in the skies of ideas. For him, a work of art, therefore, had the status of being a copy of a copy, and thus of no value at all.
The first thing that comes to mind today, on the other hand, is the economic or speculative value of an artistic object, as Andy Warhol said: “Good business is the best art.” Luckily, in this regard there are also ideas circulating around that are less aligned to the marketplace, for example the ironic coup of Piero Manzoni who, in 1961, put up for sale his Merda d’artista (‘The Artist’s Shit’) in a multiple edition of 90 copies. Yves Klein, for his part, in 1962 presented a performance where he made fun of the economic value of art: he sold his sensibility for leaves of gold. The buyer, however, was invited to burn the certificate that they were given in exchange, and Yves Klein threw the little pieces of gold into the Seine. Cesare Pietroiusti, present-day Italian artist, recently sold in a workshop “artist’s working hours”, where whomsoever bought them was to instruct the artist what to do in the said hours and would in return receive a contract drawn up and signed by the artist.
Clearly, in addition to material worth, we would wish that works of art were to have spiritual value also. For Walter Benjamin, the value of a work of art is in its aura, which he defines as being “the here and now of a work of art, its unique presence in the place where it is located”. For Immanuel Kant, too, the value of a work of art lies in its intangibility, in beauty which can be defined as usefulness without function and which arouses disinterested pleasure in the viewer.
Let us not forget, beyond its economic and spiritual value, the visionary capacity of art. For André Breton, a work of art has value only if it is permeated with reflections of the future. The statute of autonomy that an artwork has, free of any social or political function, gives it the most powerful potential for broadening the mind and stirring the heartstrings of our senses and emotions. It is precisely in its non-functionality (as Kant underlined) wherein rests its great liberty, its revolutionary force and hence its deepest and most important value.