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dollar billA side effect of making art is that it produces rare objects that are hard to copy well, much like a dollar bill. Thus, they make excellent currency. Like any currency though, they’re only valuable once their rarity and authenticity can be guaranteed. Rarity means you have to be able to guarantee the quantity available won’t change quickly and flood the market, so preferably, the artist should be dead, to make the best currency.

Even authenticity is mostly random. An authentic dollar is more valuable than an authentic monopoly dollar, even though they’re both the same thing, because it’s harder to reproduce, but mostly because we agree it is. A Renaissance painting of Zeus is worth more than a painting of Zeus from 1997, likewise, because we agree it is. There’s no real reason beyond that though. We like the story behind the older one, but that’s about it. Stories aren’t valuable. You can’t do much with them, but we like them, a lot. So we agree that they’re worth a lot.

If you’re a working artist, it’s important not to confuse this with what you do. A sketch by Picasso is worth more than a sketch by you, for no real reason except that Picasso lived big, and worked a lot, and loved fiercely and was a horrible monster in many ways.  He lived in a way and recorded his world in a way that pushed beyond other people’s judgments and opinions. He lived in a way that most people want to live, but are way too scared or small to ever do. He did not respond to the world, but instead, said his own piece. Which people will be drawn to, and want to touch, and want to posess, because it’s a story people love to hear.

There’s no guarantee that you can live your life and make your work in a way that other people will want to touch and be close to. You can try though. If you try, if you live big, risk big, do dangerous work, regardless of what anyone else might think of it, it gives you a chance that people will see it and understand, and think it’s valuable.

If you’re big enough, and brave enough, and loud enough.

So that’s what you do.

j

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