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Hogarth, 18th Century Feast in Formal Dining Hall

Hogarth, 18th Century Feast in Formal Dining Hall

Is Art As Essential As Food?

Is art as essential as food?

Or is there something in contemporary art’s asset status (viz. the Detroit Institute of Arts mess, the marvelous sums perfuming “sales” at Christie’s and the Sotheby’s) that prevents it from being seen as an everyday need? That leads to its further marginalization as inessential to our lives in the polity?

I have been musing about this question this year as I got interested in all the “slow,” all around: Slow Money, whose founder Woody Tasch, moved from northern New Mexico to Boulder recently; Slow Food, which sends me monthly emails from the local chapter; and a Boulder conference minus the word, but with an aphorism, “lifestyles of health and sustainability” that connotes “slow.”

There’s also a new art coinage – Community-Supported Art – which means that you pre-purchase a “share” that includes the makings of people’s hands and presumably some of their ideas manifest in material form. While some might argue that the substitution of the word “art” for “agriculture” in a CSA evokes Mad Libs, others construe it as promising logic, regardless of whether the art is actually, physiologically sustaining.

On the subject of trading production and consumption values, “Bitcoin” has had a very, very big year. Since 2008 there have been 3.6 million downloads of the software to trade in the virtual currency (29% of them from the US).

Many in New Mexico who enjoy our champagne-of-air lifestyle certainly already practice barter economy.

Posted online on 9/11/2013 comes news that Bitcoin gained 1000% on 796 Xchange, a Chinese stock exchange where people buy and sell shares of companies that trade bitcoins. The GAO, the entity of our federal government that reports to Congress, has concluded that “business conducted in virtual currencies isn’t exempt from taxes.” Read that line again.

“Enforcement may prove challenging,” the writer continued, humorously. Even if the money is virtual, this next part isn’t a joke: Silicon Valley fast-money venture capitalists want in. Those circling the wagons to “invest” in Bitcoin include Andreesen Horowitz in Silicon Valley and the Winklevii — the Winklevoss twins, of Facebook-also-ran fame.

Whither art?

Visiting northern California in August, I heard writer Elizabeth U discuss her new book, Finance for Food, which deals in “raising dough,” and educating sustainable food entrepreneurs in local systems about methods of generating capital. The August 18th La Cocina Food and Entrepreneurship conference in San Francisco sold out in every ticket range. So did a long list of other conferences purporting to pitch a slow-but-flowing lane between those passionate about eating local and keeping dollars local. I extrapolate to say that if we art types could figure this out — with art truly feeling essential in community and not only as community attraction — this could carve out a fruitful new path.

Yet, yet. If you were to read the national and international art news of the last few weeks and months you’d also discover that when the city of Detroit declared Chapter 9 bankruptcy in July, suddenly art– that is, the art by those guys in the Detroit Institute of Arts city-owned museum — went metaphorically floating in a thought-balloon smorgasbord of other high-dollar-valued assets. The chattering classes went understandably up-in-arms. Look what trouble New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl got in, when he first wrote that maybe the art wasn’t meaningful compared to the cause of city workers who might lose their pension funds.

He retracted later at the point of a lot of unsheathed pens.

DIA leaders and Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette are on the same side – they will be rightly fighting in court any move to sell the art to pay down city debts. Detroit’s art brings “economic, educational and other significant benefits … to the city and the region.”

Are you confused yet about what constitutes nourishment and why the collective mania for one kind of pleasurable, and yes, essential, intake (of calories) can serve in an odd way to eclipse the pleasurable and yes, essential, intake of art/material ideas? I know I am. Let’s re-essentialize art.

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