Image Credits: George Hodan / PublicDomainPictures

Can we put a price on art?

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H[dropcap]ow much would you pay for a painting? A sculpture? An installation? There’s plenty of debate on the value of types of art, but how much do we even value art overall in comparison to all the other commodities our society offers?

Very little comes for free. Take the noteworthy example of the National Gallery’s attempt to raise £30 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and an unprecedented grant from the Treasury, in order to save Jacopo Pontormo’s ‘Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap’ from a US hedge fund manager, Tom Hill. In fact, it is our troubled economy that caused problems with this deal after the value of the Sterling slumped in the wake of Brexit. But really, how much would you want your government to be investing in fine art when we live in a world of constant governmental cuts to everything from the education sector to disability allowances?

Quantifying the value of art is a difficult task

Quantifying the value of art is a difficult task. A hedge fund manager like Hill may see it as an investment to increase over time. Our ideas of what constitutes a lot of a money to spend on an object vary dramatically. Some choose to embrace their inner Carrie Bradshaw and pay hundreds of pounds for a pair of shoes, yet drive a beaten-up car. Then others will splash cash on the latest muscle car but aren’t too bothered by a fancy holiday. Every person has their own ideas about what merits their hard-earned money and what is an unnecessary extravagance, and for the most part, one perspective isn’t more valid than another. In fact, just because some people do not buy art pieces and own them, does not mean they don’t value them and will happily view them in a museum.

Nevertheless, the hefty £30 million price tag on artworks like Pontormo’s does convince many that we should value these pieces so much and fight to keep them in our British galleries and museums. They emphasise the importance of engaging the public in the arts, and these famed pieces and the fascinating stories behind them could inspire generations to come.

Not everyone approaches and appreciates art in the same way and places the same monetary value on it

Ultimately, the problem lies in our subjectivity: not everyone approaches and appreciates art in the same way and places the same monetary value on it. Yet, the reason why we should fight to preserve the presence of great art in our prized British institutions is the fact that we are having this debate. While the latest iPhone, fancy car or snazzy shoes will break, age or become obsolete in probably just a few years, art has stood the test of time. Of course, many artworks were created for patrons or may have been useful, but unlike something you wear, use or drive, art isn’t designed for an individual in the same way and speaks to many.

It’s hard to ignore the issues of our current economy or the nature of the art business that has pushed prices so high to even push out many life-long art buyers for the billionaires. However, these are problems that need to be discussed and addressed separately from the value of art. It’s clear that when we’re talking about the value of art, we may have to separate this from the idea of a price tag and actually question why we’re always so quick to assign one as a society.

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