TRUE VALUE IS NOT REFLECTED BY PRICE
In a market the price of a commodity is mainly set by the relationship of supply and demand. The more people wish to possess an item the more the seller can ask for it – quite independently of whatever material value the item may have.
At the same time our society adheres to the view that whatever carries a high price tag must be intrinsically valuable. Otherwise why would so many people find that an expensive pair of jeans must be much better than a cheaper pair? Often enough it’s just the brand value of a product that determines the price difference between goods of the same material value.
The evaluation of companies on the stock exchange is a more complicated matter. Based on suppositions about the future development of a company’s share value, it’s the psychology of investor behaviour that decides which company’s shares are to be bought or sold. From the standpoint of such speculative profit expectations, questions as to whether a company operates solidly and sustainably, and makes clever investment in its future – and thus represents genuine value – by no means always play the decisive role.
And art as a commodity?
But how does the relationship between value and price play out when it comes to art? Here we generally find a combination of the two mechanisms. If an artist and his work have achieved the same level of name recognition as a leading brand, the same work that once went for a modest sum will now fetch an astronomical price – often in hopes that the value of this artist’s work will continue to rocket on the art market. Art as investment.
In particular for young unknown artists, the predictions made by a gallery owner or art dealer about the expected long-term development of the value of their work for prospective buyers can be of existential importance. This is where we find the same psychology of betting at work as we find in investors. Nobody knows for sure whether things will turn out exactly as the experts say.
Freedom of creation as a luxury
Thanks to OUBEY I came to realize that art which has the extraordinary good fortune to be created in complete freedom from the market can develop its own very rare and very special quality. And when art that has been created in this way is not up for sale and thus comes with no price tag attached, then this freedom can also be transferred to the beholder and endow the encounter with a quality as exceptional and rare as that which imbued the process of its creation.
Such freedom can also be seen as a particular kind of luxury. The case of the marvellous painter Vincent van Gogh, however, shows that this supposed luxury of free creation can come at the cost of serious hardship and deprivation. As he hardly sold a single painting during his lifetime, he was totally reliant on the financial support of his brother for his very existence. Yet from such involuntary freedom he painted pictures of stupendous power in a style as revolutionary as it was unique. Today the same paintings that nobody wanted 120 years ago reach record prices at auctions. Yet the true intrinsic value of these paintings was exactly the same at the time of their creation as it is today. It is simply there – independently of any price.
Appreciation and esteem that come from within
If price cannot set the value of a work of art then the way is open for another non-material form of appreciation that comes from within. Possession is no longer the point of the exercise but rather pure discovery and pleasure. This is why I will never sell OUBEYs paintings even though I am often pressed to do so. I have freed myself of the rating system of the commercial art market.
The value of OUBEYs art is revealed to me in the resonance his paintings evoke in people when – free of all forms of commercial speculation – I place them in an open-ended process of discovery through others. This is just as experimental as it is deeply satisfying. People tell me that looking at certain pictures makes them happy. This is not something that can be computed in terms of money. It’s personal and it’s life-enhancing.