Many times because a piece of art can be reproduced it is said to decrease in value. But is this true? If many people desire it how could this mean the artwork has little or no value? Is it possible for art to be measured in terms of cultural wealth instead of monetary? And if more people are buying it wouldn’t that mean that the overall monetary value returned from the artwork would be just as high in total as say a single drawing that has been sold? This paper will discuss value in terms of cultural wealth, and monetary wealth, and why art should be valued in terms of cultural wealth as opposed to monetary.
Value is defined as “the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something” (Webster). It is something that has meaning for a culture. In this sense of the word, value is not something that can be seen or held, but it is the amount of significance that something has to a group of people. In order for something to be considered valuable people need to have some sort of a connection to it, there is a reason for them wanting it.
According to Benjamin, “the introduction of technology of lithography, which enabled many copies to be printed from the same master plate, increased the potential of the lithograph to reach a mass audience. A work of art that once could only be seen by the wealthy in a museum or gallery could be reproduced at little cost and mad accessible to many more people”. Because art was now available to the general public, people were viewing it as having less value. However, this is looking at it from a monetary standpoint, and only looking at one individual sale. On the other hand if one looks at the cultural wealth of a work of art, the value changes. If the majority of people in a culture desire the same thing, then technically it should be considered to be of high value. People don’t often see eye to eye on things so for the majority of a culture to see something as desirable, it must mean something, and it must have value.
Photography has the ability to preserve the history of a culture or of a particular event. Let’s talk about the image of the firefighters lifting the American flag after September 11th (Raising the Flag at Ground Zero). This image has meaning for so many people, so how could anyone say that this has no value. New Yorkers can recognize the image of firefighters just as easily as they can recognize the Mona Lisa. Yet because the Mona Lisa has the highest insurance level of a painting, worth around $772 million today, it is said to have more value. But the difference that gives the photograph a higher value culturally is that photograph has a personal significance for many people, where not many people feel a connection to the Mona Lisa.
When asked about the photo, the photographer said “the shot immediately felt important to me, it said something to me about the strength of the American people and about the courage of all the firefighters who, in the face of this horrible disaster, had a job to do in battling the unimaginable.” The fact the he felt that the shot was “important” means that by definition there is value in this photograph. This photograph was also not only desired by the people, but newspapers and magazines wanted to feature it as well.
If this photograph were to be valued only from a monetary standpoint, then it would probably be seen as having little to no value. Anyone can easily access this photograph from the internet and print it out on a nice piece of photo paper, or just save it on their computer, and bam they own it. However, nobody can own a painting unless they actually purchase it; they can only have a photograph of a painting. But looking at it from this point of view is very closed minded. You are forgetting about the whole reason why this photograph was taken. You are forgetting about its ability to have an effect on a group of people. And all of that is what makes this photograph art in the first place.
By defining anything by just monetary value, you are forgetting about the history of the work, and the meaning. You are taking away the artistic value, and the cultural value, which are the most important. They are what make something desirable. The fact that something holds significance for a large group of people makes it important and desirable. Also, nobody wants something solely because of the reason that it costs a lot of money. People typically desire something because they feel a connection to it or it means something to them. They value it not for its cost but because something about it is important or significant to them. So if you define value by how much something costs, you are forgetting about the whole reason why people are spending that money in the first place.
“Ground Zero – 9/11 World Trade Center – New York Firefighters Flag-raising Photo.”Ground Zero – 9/11 World Trade Center – New York Firefighters Flag-raising Photo. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2013. <http://www.groundzerospirit.org/about.asp>.
“List of Most Expensive Paintings.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 11 May 2013. Web. 09 Nov. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_most_expensive_paintings>.
“JUMP CUTA REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA.” Benjamin’s Age of Mechanical Reproduction by Richard Kazis. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2013. <http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC15folder/WalterBenjamin.html>.
“Value.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2013. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/value>.