What Is the Value of Beauty?

When I was ten years old, I remember wandering through the Getty Center, looking at the dollar value of each item I saw. I assumed that was the worth of each piece displayed. If some silly grown-up thought it was worth a million dollars because it was painted two-hundred years ago by some strange man whose name happened to survive in the annals of time, then that was the value of the piece.

I knew that if I ever laid my hands on art like that, I would sell it quick and enjoy being rich. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to buy art if not to sell it for more money.

I’m quite embarrassed at how long my thinking (about nearly everything, not just art) ran down those tracks. I saw only the monetary value in things.

What a naive perspective!

And I don’t mean that flippantly. I legitimately believe that reducing things to their monetary value is foolish and even morally wrong.

When we reduce things to transactional value, we essentially make them worthless. How might such a claim affect the creative endeavors of human beings?

This reductionist approach turns money, inescapably, into an idol. It elevates what has little real value to a standard that judges all works based on temporary currency, when creative works ought to be gauged by a truer standard. And we all know that money is a poor judge.

Learning to appreciate human creation is a lesson that I wish I had learned long ago. It’s tragic how many people still walk through  galleries and analyze the monetary value above the aesthetic value.

If we  could only see that making art is a reflection of the greater creation. It is filled with imagination and power to transport. A piece of art can provide a glimpse into a world you may have never known otherwise, and reveal to you the sacred.

Beauty has value. Smashing the value of something into a stack of paper bills is a kind of theft committed against both the work and us.


Image by Ryan McGuire via Pixabay. 

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