Art is emotional and as such its value is determined absolutely subjectively. The big question though is how, because even though ambivalent, subjectivity can still give us a lot of various starting points to calculate value from.
It’s all about perceived value though — not that the actual value of materials in a work or the hours we spend aren’t important, but the tag word for this topic is perceived. Because let’s face it, unless your art is made out of pure gold, the materials should matter a lot less than the story that’s behind it.
How people recognise a good story (true value is indeed almost only a story) in objects and experiences differs from person to person — that’s why it’s subjective — but usually we can find basic guidelines that can help us define this perception. The main idea behind this exercise is to find what is most important for each person, that we are trying to understand.
What are their needs? What do they wish for? Do these wishes and needs have a certain urgency? Do they provide pain or discomfort for them and can our art elevate or even completely fix their issues?
Even though art is seen as the complete opposite of utilitarian — especially is we look at contemporary art — it could not be further from the truth. If nothing else, the baseline of what art can do is to catch attention. To intrigue and incite curiosity about itself in those that experience it.
But, while this base function isn’t exactly of value, more a prerequisite for anything of value to be present in art, we still need to address it, as going past such an important issue in our artworks makes all further work pretty much useless.
Art has to be interesting. It can be either “avant-garde” or challenging, but at the same time it can be personal and quaint; there is no “standard” that defines what interesting is, except that whatever it is we are creating should stand out in the context of everything around it.
An apple on the ground of an orchard is about as interesting as a grain of sand on a beach, but that very apple, placed in a vineyard will catch people’s attention, because they ordinarily wouldn’t have expected it to be there. The same goes for art; anything we do should aim to be exceptional, compared to the environment it resides in.
But this doesn’t mean that we need to run naked in the streets while reciting the Yellowist manifesto, because there are much more subtle ways to stand out, and truly great art is always made in a subtle, but disruptive way. Think about all the one hit wonders in the music industry — they might have been successful with one song, but after the initial boom, they slowly fade into the background.
Their problem is, that they have been trying to impress and communicate to the kind of people that need constant novelty and excitement to give them their attention. And because they focused on people that needed cheap thrills, they themselves become one in the end.
Only those that build their novelty and intrigue with a long timeline in mind and cultivate the attention of the people as a friend or acquaintance, not a passing circus or magician, are able to find true success with their creative business.
Because, while a magician may be able to entice and amuse us for a few hours, after we’ve seen the show, there’s really no point in going back another time. We’ve seen all of her tricks, laughed at all of the jokes and it just wouldn’t have the same novel effect on us as it did the first time.
But comparing it to our favourite book, that we have reread a thousand times, or our favourite TV show, that we know by heart and still binge watch from time to time, these objects and experiences never seem to really get dull.
Quite the opposite, they get better and better over time.