What are my paintings worth? That’s the question I tried to resolve during my first art show in 2012 at Red Beard Roasters on Tranquille.
One way would be to let the market decide. After all, isn’t that the way of the world? If you want to know what anything is worth, offer it for sale and see what people will pay.
While the marketplace is effective in pricing widgets it excludes a lot of what it means to be human says Phillip Roscoe, professor of management and author of I Spend Therefore I am. Small economic calculations have a profound effect on society, Roscoe told CBC Radio’s The Current. Economics have become such a invasive force that we’ve become “homo economicus.”
In his criticism of the dismal science of economics, Roscoe worries that we are heartless reflections of cold calculations. It “brings into being the agent about whom it theorises: self-interested, calculative and even dishonest”.
Other values such as friendship, family, community, compassion, wisdom, beauty, and peace of mind have no worth in this calculation. Houses are not homes. They are things to be fixed up and flipped over as fast as possible for a profit.
Economics has recast each of us as an “entrepreneur of the self.” In this model, Society works best if everyone looks after themselves. But self-interest and greed don’t generate art, self identity, fulfillment, character, integrity, and community.
It’s no accident that we became this way. Homo economicus is a particular sub-species that has risen to power. They are those who equate money with all things worth living for. They imagine that they are rich because they worked hard, or had a clever idea, and pulled themselves up by the bootstraps to become the envy of undeserving masses. Never mind that their success depends on the foundations of collective society: public infrastructure, the willingness of workers exchange labour for money, good and corrupt-free government, people’s faith in a society of equal opportunity.
Those who equate money to anything of value want to proselytize and spread their dark redemption by funding schools of economics at universities. Their apostle is Adam Smith.
“Every individual… neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it… he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”
Schools of economics churn out clever disciples who come up with obtuse ideas like derivatives that ordinary laymen can’t comprehend. In their mysterious alchemy, profit is to be made by selling houses to people with so low a credit rating that they will eventually default.
I have come to the conclusion that my paintings have no monetary value. The term “monetary value,” while not quite an oxymoron, is a corruption of thought because it suggests that if there is no market price on my art, there is no value.