I Found a Million Dollars on the Road... (Dwellings on the Value of Art)

I was walking along the road and taking some picture. I do it quite often, as photography is one of my greatest passions in life. I even chose it as my major at the university, even though quite a lot of people were surprised by my choice, knowing how difficult it is to get a job with studio art major. But for me art is something totally unrelated to job market or financial value; it rather has some idealistic meaning. You make art because you can't but make it. Of course, if the art brings monetary value, that's great (and it's, in fact, a dream for a lot of artists), but if it doesn't - it's still Ok. If somebody thinks more about financial rewards, they would, probably, go to business school.

But these days we hear more and more stories about artists getting enormously rich by selling their art so that at some point you might think "If they can sell their art for million dollars, why can't I? I can be an artist, have exhibitions, be recognized and ... yes, become rich. And why not?" Some of my fellow artists, while still being students, already had this idea of becoming rich and famous. But isn't it a kind of a trap for an artist? Do we still need to differentiate between materialism and idealism? And to which category should art belong?

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I continued taking random pictures when, all of a sudden, I saw a potato on the road. It wasn't a highway, and there were houses nearby, but it was still a bit strange to see that potato on the asphalt. I took several shots of it and suddenly this thought struck me: " If I were Kevin Abosch, I could sell that type of picture for more than a million dollars". This artist's photo "Potato #345" was purchased by a million Euros, making it one of the most expensive photos.

Of course, I didn't seriously think that I would sell my picture for such money (and I wasn't going to), but reading about that photo of potato, its value, comments people were making, made me think about the above-mentioned questions regarding the relation between monetary value and the work of art, between materialism and idealism.

A lot of people (and it's not surprising) couldn't understand what is so special about this picture of the potato that makes it worth more than a million dollars. Well, it's nicely shot, it has sharp details on the black background, so skillfully used by Kevin Abosch. Some people were ironically saying that they now would start making pictures of rotten cabbages, carrots, whatever, and start selling it for as low as $10 000. Some were saying that it's not the photograph itself that brings so much value, but the name of the artist, who has become famous by making portraits of business and entertainment elites charging $150 000 or more for a portrait, so it's like overpaying for the brand. Did a lot of people envy Kevin Abosch? Of course, they did. Who would refuse to become a millionaire without having to work hard every day, year after year?

Having art education, I've learned that it's not quite right to judge somebody's works, just because we don't understand them. It's not professional to say: "It's so stupid. I could have made the same picture too (so why didn't you?)". It's the same as saying that even a child can draw a black square, and so why Kazimir Malevich is so much valued as an artist? It's not right to formulate the question like this, without diving deeper into art history and understanding art process in general.

So, instead of asking whether or not the photograph is worth $1M, it's better to post a question about the value of a photo as a work of art. I still think that there is a distinction between materialism and idealism, and there is some space, where the two can overlap. In my point of view, a true work of art is something that comes from within your heart, and it doesn't matter much whether or not it was sold and for how much. Only the artist can know if s/he creates something truthful or just tries to adhere to the changing norms of society and fashion.

I've sold only one of my works so far. For $50, in one of the galleries in Dresden. And it did make me happy. I am not sure whether I will ever be famous or will sell works for an enormous amount of money. But it all doesn't matter much. I am an artist, because I have a need for art creation, and the process itself makes me happy. In my case, idealism always wins and, no matter how much value others put into your work, it's just important to stay true to oneself and continue making art, even if it wouldn't make you rich or famous.


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