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Art, Money, Value


I was recently asked if I would be willing to share some thoughts about why I do what I do and some of my ideas regarding art and money.

I am very happy and excited to do so, I just have a very hard time synthesizing my thoughts into coherent writing, particularly with this subject matter. After a little focused concentration, this is what I came up with… Enjoy! ;o)
What is “art” and what is “money”? And why do we value them?

Money, Art, Monetary BondageX

“5 Colones?”, Daniel Icaza, 2011, Copper, Silver, Paper Money

There are many ways to look at the relationships between these ideas and I am simply thinking out loud here…
“Art” has many different definitions and I would argue that everyone has their own interpretation of what art is. Some definitions are very specific while others are incredibly vague.

The definition of “money” can be as specific or vague as the definition of “art” depending on the context and view point of the individual or group that defines it, and the time period in which they lived.

One of the most challenging factors in coming up with a specific and all inclusive definition for these concepts (art/money) is the fact that they are always changing and evolving into new representations.

The first “exchangeable goods” (aka: money) were stones, shells and beads; then came coins and paper, and now we have digital money which is in many ways intangible.

What exactly is “art”? Is it painting, sculpting, drawing, dancing, literature, or all of the techniques of creation which people often refer to as an art form; from cooking to science and technology or performances (which are similarly intangible)?

Everything is subjective. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Andy Warhol Brillo Soap Pad Boxes

“Brillo Soap Pads Box” (Pasadena Type), Andy Warhol, 1969, Acrylic and Silkscreen on Wood

This is the first definition of “money” available from “dictionary.com“: ”any circulating medium of exchange, including coins, paper money, and demand deposits.”
I mention this definition because I find it to be rather good. It is nice and vague (just like art can be), leaves plenty of room for interpretation, and focuses on the action of exchange.

So, if the object which is exchanged is not the focus of the idea, does the money have value? Or is the value represented in the act of exchange?

As the concept of exchange has become more abstracted with digital banking and the exchange of information has come to represent “money”, I would argue that the concept of value is most definitely present in the act of exchange, and not so much in the physicality of the object.

After all, when we say “I wish I had more money” or “I wish I wasn’t so broke”, we are usually not desiring stacks and stacks of paper and metal or numbers on a computer screen, but what those objects represent in transformative potential.

”Scrooge McDuck”, Walt Disney, Carl Barks, 1947

”Scrooge McDuck”, Walt Disney, Carl Barks, 1947

For example, less stress from bills and work, a higher standard of living, better food, more leisure time, etc… The transformational potential of money is overwhelming and purely conceptual.

This is the core of money and why people value it. It is not the money/object itself which we value but what it can represent. The conceptual power of money is the real power of money, and that power will only go as far as people let it. If people lose faith in the concept, the “money” becomes “valueless”.

This is why traditional banking was based off of physical commodities such as gold and silver and not intangible hypothetical numbers. Numbers are infinite; the resources of our planet are not. This inherently gives mined minerals an immeasurable value do to the fact that there is a finite amount of them. That is why many of the “most valuable” objects humanity posses are often made of metal and/or stone.

I like to summarize this theory in the following way:

“Money = Concept + Faith” where money is an object that people value, the concept is the argument for why people value the object, and faith is the belief that people place on the concept.

One Dollar Bill USA

One Dollar Bill USA

For example: We value a one dollar bill (money/object) because we can exchange it for food, water, or other goods (concept) and we believe that some one will always want to exchange a dollar for another object (faith).

Art, in comparison to money, works in a strangely similar way and is so intertwined with “money” and “value” that it is almost impossible to see the blurry line that separates these ideas. After all, paper money is usually nothing more than a small landscape or portrait when you really think about it. But what makes one portrait or landscape more “”valuable” than another? Is it simply aesthetics, the person who created it, how old it is, how new it is, the materials it is made of, the size of the piece, the amount of detail, the amount of copies that were made; what is it that makes one object more valuable than another?

In many ways this relationship can be represented in the same way that money is valued.

“Art = Concept + Faith” Where art is an object that people value, the concept is the argument for why people value the object, and faith again is the belief that people place in the concept.

Detail of cave paintings form Altamira, Spain

Detail of cave paintings form Altamira, Spain

Here is another example for your contemplation: We value the cave paintings of Altamira, Spain (art/object) we value them because we consider them to be part of our human history (concept) and people believe that we can understand more about our past by preserving our history (faith).

The true measure of value in the relationship between art and money is concept and faith. If you believe the concept is valuable, then it is; and if that concept is embodied or manifest in an object then that object becomes valuable in turn.

If people stopped considering the caves in Altamira to be a site of valuable historic art, it would lose its’ value, the same logic is true with a dollar bill or any other “valuable” object for that matter. An object or concept is only as valuable as we make it.

I personally think that if more people were willing to focus on the faith behind the objects and the concepts that we value, we might better understand these relationships and humanity might be able to come together instead of drift apart.

In the end, I feel that both money and art are nothing more than concepts backed by faith. I find the most interesting aspects to be the concept and faith as these are the true motivators; the materialization (object), that represents the faith and concept, is not the true focus for me.

“Infinity?”, Daniel Icaza in Collaboration with Dadara, 2012, Copper, Exchanghibition Infinity Bank Note

“Infinity?”, Daniel Icaza in Collaboration with Dadara, 2012, Copper, Exchanghibition Infinity Bank Note

I hope you enjoyed this little window into my mind.

Until next time.

Peace and Love

13 thoughts on “Art, Money, Value

  1. I MyseLf ReallY LiKe What dadara Is DOinG ! There was a BOoK PuT Together iN 2000 CaLLeD Money By Katy Siegel & Paul Mattick .UndEr The PublisHEr ThaMes & HudSon .REallY Worth A Look ! Is Dadara council Planning on Attending The Uk ?Please KeeP Me InforMed From 2000AD

  2. It is true, people desire more $ because that gives most people faith that this will help them "obtain a higher standard of living"…the big question is, by whose standards? What most people see or are subconsiously buying into is the standards that are high according to the general media. "Buy this and you'll be happy", then "buy that, and you'll be happier". The truth lies in observing happy communities, and happy societies. The good thing is that these smaller communities are growing, the sad thing is that many of the societies that existed as such are now starting to fall apart. An example is Costa Rica, it was amazing there before I lived there for many years, people were really happy! Costa Rica even won as the happiest country in a TED talk, since then…they (and many others) have aggressively geared into the same high product production/consumption that we consider normal. The happy index is going down. As a population we are required to THINK and FEEL what and where is the root of our decisions. As we begin to allow our hearts and inner spirits direct us, our faith will realign to that which is our highest desire, and that is to feel joy and to be happy and connected with eachother. I see humanity now on a massive scale to begin to use art as payment whenever and wherever possible. Your bank notes are the start of a human thought evolution. So exciting!

    • I think you hit the "nail on the head"!
      It is really sad to see so many countries adopt the "happy consumer" mentality.
      Sadly Costa Rica is a great example of this… and unfortuately there are far to many examples of the permiation of "modern media culture" across the globe.
      The effects of what people consider "normal" can have devastating consequences.
      As more people begin to think more critically about what we truly desire, we can more easily tap into the joyful connectivity that exists between us,
      It is exciting to see all the changes that are taking place all around us and where they will lead to. ;o)

  3. I love the interesting parallel between art and money that this blog post draws…
    But I also see a few differences that are hard to ignore. Let's compare an art piece that sells for 100 Euros and a 100 Euro bill…
    The concept of a 100 Euro bill is almost infinite, because there's a lot I can do with it.
    The concept of a 100 Euro art piece is in comparison quite limited. There is only so much you can express through a single art piece.
    The faith in a 100 Euro bill is (still) quite strong. I can go almost anywhere in the world and exchange it for the concept of my dreams.
    The faith in a 100 Euro art piece is highly subjective and again limited to a niche of people that know how to appreciate that art.
    What becomes clear is that the power of money lies in its concept flexibility and mass appreciation/trust. That's why I think that Daniel's Exchangibition Bank is so interesting. Following this line of thought, its success might lie in giving his art a flexible application and get masses to appreciate and trust in it…

    • OR…with supply & demand in mind, IF and when (there are many in process) there is a network where art could be paired WITH that niche person, THEN the 100 Euro art piece actually has HIGHER value than the 100 euro's…I feel we are not entering this age where these connections are quite possible. I have no proof, and I don't think we are there quite yet…but we will be soon.

  4. "humanity might be able to come together instead of drift apart"
    I see all of existence like the fractal shape of a tree. Moving in all directions above and below ground(you decide what is above and below), covering all free/empty space. Our trend is not moving away from each other. We are all attached(like the tree). We can not move away from each other. Instead we are seeking out the new (ideally seeking out new nutrients). If you have already found the new thing then I must find the next new thing. We are getting better and better at letting the rest of humanity to know what all has been considered found in hopes to allow for other to experience it more efficiently and allow them more time in their life space to seek out the new… we find the seeking of the new fascinating.

    (side side note – diet is one of the most amazing topics. we all need to eat (solent green is people always come to mind) and yet 12,000 years after planting our own food for the first time we still have no set understanding of what our body needs to survive.
    Continuing the discussion on seeking out the new…. if we could find a new nutrient to put into our stomaches to allow us to operate our bodies on that we only had to put into our bodies once a day or week or month or year we would have lots more time to seek out more new things. I LOVE my flavors in my life . I LOVE LOVE variety in ALL things but I do see the value in being able to have reduced amounts of time devoted to putting energy into my body. as of now i use meals as excuses to have time to spend with others. what if we only had to eat once a year (maybe the food grew in our stomachs, just add sugar/water -dunno). That would be three times a day we would not need to go somewhere to consume. So many aspects of our life would change. More life would be able to exist without our need to cultivate this garden we need to survive.
    While this is the way garden is defined:
    Garden – a piece of ground, often near a house, used for growing flowers, fruit, or vegetables.
    I am more fond of the idea: Garden – an area of soil where life is planted and needs to be taken care of because it can not survive where it is planted on its own.(other ideas formulating after writing this!)

    That would also mean I might need to create new ways to spend quality time with people…more like Http://www.TheBallofLight.com ( shameless I say)

    Yes i know i am a bit to the left of the box but i kinda like it over here.

  5. Dear Daniel Icaza,

    I appreciate your point of view and enjoy your clear and concise definition of what is art and money.

    For the past 15 years I have build an art project, which addresses the issue by introducing the object “artmoney”. Today artmoney has moved from concept through faith and into practical exchange as an accepted, alternative, global currency. You may find it interesting to learn more via the artmoney web site. Sincerely Lars Kraemmer/Denmark

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