I think it’s fair to say that the art is important to all cultures. Whether the art form is clothing design, dance, pottery, poetry, jewelry, wall paintings, garden design, and more, we seem to need art. Art of all forms is valuable to us–but what makes art truly valuable? And what is the true value of your art?
I was recently talking to my artist friend, @victoriasmithdavila, about the power of art, and how it can manipulate our emotions. She and I both love to use movement and bright colors in our art, and we can’t help but feel our own emotions shift as we work. Does that make our art valuable? Or does the value come from the materials used? Or maybe the price we can sell it for?
Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of messages from new artists asking me if their work is good enough to sell, and I will, without hesitation, tell them that I love their work. Do I think it’s technically skilled and that you could sell it for thousands of dollars? I’m not as quick to answer that, because the potential to make money is not where the innate human drive to create comes from, and a lack of potential to sell shouldn’t stop you from creating more art in the future.
The true value of your art is not about money.
Money is the last thing I want a new artist to think about when it comes to their art and their creative process. Yes, if you plan on selling your work or being a professional artist, then you need to eventually think about how much you should charge for your work–but the price you put on your art does not determine its true value. A price tag does not communicate meaning or the story behind a piece.
True value is not about skill level or materials used.
I don’t care if you are using a Crayola crayon or a Copic Marker, a piece of printer paper or hot pressed cotton watercolor paper– the cost and quality of materials you use in your art does not give your art more or less true value. Nor does a lack or an abundance of technical skill. Sure, materials and skill level inform the the dollar value of a piece, but not the true value.
So what actually determines the true value of your art?
The true value of art comes from the following:
The stories, memories, and experiences that informed the art
Art is a symbol. A language. A medium used to tell stories. When you learn the context behind a piece of art, it takes on new meaning to the viewer. Who you are and what led you to the moment of creating a particular piece of art is factored into the true value of your work.
What story are you telling? What experiences led you here? How can your audience connect to you? What makes your story unique or relatable?
How the art reflects culture and society
Through the centuries of recorded art history, there have been countless movements and art styles that pop up, and eventually evolve into something new. These styles give a window into what life looked like overall during that time period. The true value of art involves what it can say about culture as a whole.
What does your art say about society? What are the priorities of the time you’re creating in? What can historians learn from your art in the decades to come? What can your viewer learn from your art about society in the present moment?
How the art can change the creator.
Like I said in the beginning, my creative process changes me. The act of painting can manipulate my emotions depending on the colors I choose and the gestures I make. The creation of art can be a selfish act, and for me, that’s where my drive to create starts.
Art can be just for you. The true value of your art can be determined solely on how your work affects you. For those that keep a journal or a sketch book that is never seen by eyes other than yours, you know how cathartic the release of creative energy can be.
How do you feel when you are done painting or writing? What did you learn about yourself? What can you interpret about your subconscious from your finished works of art or even your creative process? What trauma or stress can you disarm through creating?
This is part of your art’s true value.
How the art can manipulate and change the viewer.
Art can take control of its viewer. A piece of art can pull emotions to the surface. It can change thoughts and minds. Sometimes the purpose of art is to create a reaction from the viewer, and this is also factored into the true value of art.
When you are thinking of the true value of your art, think about the following:
How can it move the viewer? How can the art push someone to think differently? Or feel differently? How can art humanize the unknown? How can art bring people together? How can your art comfort or discomfort the viewer?
How the art can create a chain reaction or a ripple effect Through a Community
I often think about creating the energy I want to see in the world, because when we interact with the world, we rub off on it. When we create art, that art makes an impact. Sometimes intentionally, but often unintentionally in the beginning of an artist’s journey. The subjects you work with, the colors you choose, the stories you tell, the message you send–this can reach outward and change an entire community.
The simple act of smiling at a stranger in a coffee shop can create a ripple effect of kindness. That stranger smiles back, then smiles at another person and maybe holds the door for them, and that person mimics the smile and pays from someone’s coffee–and suddenly multiple people find themselves with an elevated mood because you smiled at a stranger.
Your art, your story, and how you put it into the world can have far reaching effects. The true value of art includes its ripple effect. Your art can inspire a community to think, act, and feel differently.
How the art shows creative innovation.
Sometimes true power and value of art comes from how different and exciting it is in comparison to what’s trending. This value is more volatile and slippery, and can lead to artists being different just for the sake of being different. (Which personally feels hollow to me at times.)
With art, new style movements pop up constantly, because creative people keep trying different things. Once that new thing gets overdone and more and more artists give it a try, then the styles shift again. What was valuable and new before, becomes cliché and tired. It’s part of the cycle.
I encourage you to challenge yourself to be innovative as an artist over time. Push yourself to evolve in ways that are true to you, and avoid getting stuck going through the creative motions or doing what everyone else is doing. If this is the type of value that is important to you, that is.
As you can see, the value of art comes from a variety of factors.
It’s easy to look at a price tag on art and be fooled into thinking that is what determines the value, but the true value of art is complex. You have to look at the layers of meaning, intention, history, and affects of art. And to make things even more complicated, value changes according to the viewer. Both true and monetary value are transient.
When you are trying to assess the true value of your art, start with the intangible qualities of your work. What does it mean? What does it contribute to the world? How does it affect the creator and the viewer? What story does it tell? How do you feel about the work? Then you can factor in the tangibles like materials used, skill level, and the current market to put a price on your work.
But if you ask me, I’m always going to tell you that your art has value, because you have value. Your story, your experiences, your memories, your culture–it all informs your art.
Even if you never sell your work–your art is truly valuable.
Do you feel closer to understanding the true value of your art now? Did this post change your perspective at all?
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