Thursday, September 25, 2008

Art as Commodity versus Art as a product of Humanity

True art cannot be bought or sold. It can only be experienced.

In that sense, it's a lot like love, or what we humans are capable of understanding of love. It follows guidelines that do not fit the mathematical constructs of economics. It cannot be explained with any language fully, or by any theory entirely. It defines our humanity, and therefore solidifies our position in the cosmos while it humbles us to our proper and healthy level of ego.

The tricky part comes here: We live in a society that quantifies values with the numerical constructs of economics. Art has been comodified in order to fit into an equation that crosses all human boundaries by reaching out to the worst things about our humanity. Greed has a funny way of unifying humans on paper, but not unifying them in reality.

I'll spin it this way. When I was younger, me and my brother played with an inordinate amount of lego building blocks. I had lots of legos, and I loved it. It's either a natural or trained inclination that any kid has: You have toys, now, you want more toys. More numbers of legos equals more fun. I mean come on, you can build more stuff with more legos, and create bigger sprawling lego metropolises where less legos only creates tiny buildings barely big enough to hold a green army figurine.

It's funny though, whenever I was playing with the legos alone, I never really was able to make all that big of cities. I could make planes, tiny main-streets, and maybe the occasional parachuting pirate, but I never expanded fully to the sweeping urban landscape my inner lego id desired. I always got bored. Perhaps I ran out of ideas, or more likely I realized playing with legos alone as a little kid is (surprise) lonely, and invariably not that much fun. But playing alone isn't how I created the best lego design of my life.

My biggest accomplishment as a lego architect came not as a sole vision by my own self, but as a collective effort. My brother Nathan laid a lot of the groundwork, bounced ideas, and helped construct at least a few of our skyscrapers. My sister Kirstin, always blessed with more reason than our 8 year old punk asses gave her credit for, made stories about some of the people living in lego town, and that changed the way we designed the city. The lego city, in our imaginations, was now complete. It was stronger than it could have been if we all were separate, and had an imagined social architecture to boot. And man, if you ask any of us kids, that was one damn great lego city. We even took a picture of it.

My point is this. I wanted legos. Lots of legos. Through garage sales and kind friends, us kids were given lots of legos. But nowhere in my recollection did HAVING or OWNING lots of legos make them fun. It was playing with legos, which wasn't cool unless somebody else was there playing with you. This is why it was so much fun to get together with my friend Tyler and mix up all our legos, much to the chagrin of organization and personal lego retention. The true validation and the best art came when my desires weren't based on the acquisition of more legos, but rather playing with the legos I had with other human beings.

Art, or at least true art, isn't a kid having lots of legos. It isn't a self absorbed performance, a way to impress people, or a way to make money. These things are present in art, but they can in no way shape or form account for the creative process. Making lego things was the fun part. Fun wasn't buying lego things or having the most lego things. Greed didn't give better lego cities or a better time, it just gave me more legos.

What gave me fun was playing with the legos as a small group of humans. Little people interacting with other little people creating a tiny world that mirrors our own humanity. You could never buy that in a box or sell it next to a game of Mousetrap. It was and is invaluable and completely impossible to define. It was the process of creativity.

You can't buy that kind of time. It's forever lost in the past and therefore off the market. We can only remember the experience and hope for more of that experience in the future.

And when the experience of that art comes again, we will know it. It will be the only thing that is both impossible to understand or quantify, but also so simply human that even a child is drawn to it. It is virtue not by its perceived value. It is virtuous by bringing together people selflessly for the common good and teaching them things that cannot be explained or put into definable structures.

It is indeed, a lot like love.