Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nothing Ever Happens

This morning I awoke to a song from my youth, Del Amitri's Nothing Ever Happens. I was inspired to write this blog article by some of the lyrics in this song, particularly this verse:

Bill hoardings advertise products that nobody needs 
While angry from Manchester writes to complain about 
All the repeats on T.V. 
And computer terminals report some gains 
On the values of copper and tin 
While American businessmen snap up Van Goghs 
For the price of a hospital wing 

It got me thinking. Why is a Van Gogh worth the price of a hospital wing? The simple answer is something is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. However, then you must ask yourself why someone is willing to pay that amount for it - could it be scarcity? after all there will be very few new Van Goghs being made anytime soon. I'm sure this is a factor in determining the final price, However, there are thousands of dead artists - some exceptional and pretty well known who will never achieve anywhere near 1% of these prices.

Could it be the paintings aesthetics? Its beauty? I find it hard to believe that it is a million times more beautiful than a £100 painting from my local art dealer. I am aware however it is a million times more expensive.

Something else is affecting this paintings value - something other than it's scarcity and its aesthetic qualities. I thought about what other things seem grossly overvalued in modern society. Football transfer fees have reached astronomical proportions in recent years with fees nearing and sometimes exceeding the cost of a Van Gogh.

What do footballers and fine art have in common? They are both traded commodities. Unlike a hospital wing which is rarely if ever traded footballers and fine art all get bounced around with their prices seemingly ever increasing. Bankers and investors trade them trying to make a profit. It is these forces that skew the prices of a Van Gogh to that of the price of a hospital wing. It is no longer and maybe never was a mater of art for arts sake.

This seems like a great social injustice. A deep scar on a society  - it in itself shows how we as a society collectively value things. What is the solution? It's not an easy one - I'm not even sure if there is one. The abolition of money is the only way I ever see this stopping - with the world moving to a resource based economy. That is not going to happen any time soon. 84% of the world consider us religious although the world thankfully is heading in a secular direction. 99.99% of us belief in the power of money and its grip grows ever tighter - who doesn't want to be a millionaire, own a Ferarri, and Iphone 4, a yatch and a private jet in this day and age. It is this misplaced faith in the banking system alone that values a footballer more than a doctor and a painting more than a hospital.

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