Pause for Thought June 2015

picasso“Pause for Thought” this month comes courtesy of:
The London Institute of Contemporary Christianity

This week, Picasso’s Women of Algiers (Version O) was sold for $179 million (£115 million) by Christie’s in New York, making it the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction. But it’s unlikely to hold that honour for long. In 10 years’ time, says fine art investment consultant Philip Hoffman, Picasso’s cubist twist on oriental exoticism ‘will probably look inexpensive’.

Like other forms of human labour, art can be bought and sold. ‘Good business is the best art,’ declared Andy Warhol, and he should have known – prices for his works, even during his own lifetime, broke records. And once a revered artist dies, the sums paid can go through the roof.

Can a painting really be worth £115 million? Connoisseurs might praise its rarity, compare its quality with other works or stress its importance to art history. But really, it’s worth only what someone’s prepared to pay for it. For a billionaire collector, owning a Picasso confers status. But more than this, it has a commodity value; selling it on will hopefully bring profit. The painting’s meaning, beauty, or whether you like it is irrelevant.

Our gut reaction might be to tut and say it’s outrageous; but it’s worth considering why. Not just because this is yet another reminder that the world seems to operate on two levels: one for the super-rich, and one for the rest of us. Not just because we immediately imagine the ‘worthier’ things that could have been bought with all that cash.

But perhaps it’s because – as Lewis Hyde argues in The Gift – there’s a sense that great art is not a true commodity: ‘That art that matters to us – which moves the heart, or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offers courage for living... that work is received by us as a gift is received.’ Something about creativity, he says, has a transformative, even redemptive effect on the world.

God’s economy is not based on exchange or commodity: he loved us so much that he gave his Son to die for us. And thanks to the cross, we can’t do anything more to increase our value. God’s economy is based on a massive gift of grace, love and forgiveness.

We’re not under the appraising eye of some cosmic auctioneer. We don’t have to worry whether our value will go up or down. God, through his Son, has already placed the highest bid possible.
Rachel Giles