For a significant part of last week, I was working on framing "The Garden of Earthly Delights" for the exhibition, Remastered, which just opened this weekend. When I wasn't focusing on the "final finesse" of this piece or figuring out how to price it, I was carving and printing the pigeons in my current wall installation. All this made me wonder what the value my work really holds.
Of course, you should never sell yourself short. But how marketable are you really? Not that you should be terribly concerned; you're making art, not merchandise, after all. But at a certain point, what is your art but the stuff you store beneath your bed? Where is our time going, and why has it been worthwhile? Does it have value to anyone else besides ourselves? Does it still have value to us after we've finished it, besides being a reminder of how much we spent on paper this month?
Why did you absolutely have to make it?
As I set up my installation, I thought about how much I really love making big work and taking up space. But simultaneously in the back of my mind I wondered what it all became once I took it off the wall. The pigeons would revert from installation to scraps of paper in my drawer. I wish there were a way of assuring that the things I make are still the same when not on display, are worth the effort to keep flat and well-preserved, and can be valued by anyone besides myself. I'm not trying to make my work over-precious; rather, I'm trying to understand why I should keep it at all if all it if it might never see light again. The subject matter is dear to me, dear enough at least to make me want to create. So am I doing some sort of dishonor to my subjects if I can't insure their worth or good keep? Have I failed in my message if I store it away and nobody but me ever knows about it?
We tell stories to share them and, in essence, preserve them. We believe they deserve that attention, to be recorded and remembered. We choose images that mean something to us. So how do we give the same justification to our subjects that we give ourselves to depict them? Without our inspiration, our work is nothing, and therefore valueless. The beginning of a work's true value lies with its concept. It is up to us to craft it adequately and to know what we want when the work is in our hands - and how we would feel should it go to or be judged by someone else.