The discussion about the purpose of art, what it means, what it is, is something that has no definite answer. It’s incapable of being settled and for there to be unanimity in opinion because principally, it exists as an expression that can be full of poignant, multilayered and affecting meaning or, to be blunt, exist purely as a creative but simple conduit through which we pass the time.
As such, art, as a human activity, is just that, a thing to do, something that is very natural to our existence – a compulsion that one doesn’t fully understand as well – and an outlet for human beings to express themselves. Not all of us are artists, but we doodle don’t we This argument bases its conception on the idea that beyond love and work, what else is there to really do?
Of course, this is very disagreeable. You can look upon art as being a criticism of life – to take a novel turn on the Victorian poet Matthew Arnold’s famous insight on poetry – in the sense it fictionalises reality and condemns (fictional being utopian dreams and condemnation afforded to, for example, government misdemeanours). In a nutshell, like a Mark Rothko painting outside of a contextual frame, what is seen and experienced will not be uniform. Art divides.
So is a poster a work of art? Yes? No? How long is a piece of string? As was highlighted above, a resolute answer is impossible. We can only discuss, till maybe, one day, the proverbial penny will drop and we’ll know. Until then, let the markets decide – put a price on something and if people are willing to match that price, to outbid one another and elevate that figure to something unconceivable, then brilliant, this is the zeitgeist of today.
In a wonderful article for the Independent, the writer Nick Hasted suggests that such a reality is not only possible, it is already in bloom. Gig posters – to be very specific – past and present, generate powerful sentimental feelings because they act as a visual reminder of a great concert and a memorable night out, a souvenir of an unforgettable evening made into Hollywood though nostalgic embellishment.
They are products of art if they are scarce, within which is couched the basic tenet that such posters cannot be mass produced. Instead, as Mr Hasted observes, what is emerging is a sort of renaissance of considered posters, silkscreen printed in short batches – usually in the modest hundreds – similar to those that help defined the 1960s San Francisco rock scene. And what does scarcity equal in the art world, where critical acclaim and popularity combine? Value.
Although the price for an authentic gig poster is markedly lower than a classic work of art – let’s say a typical Gustav Klimt painting – they can sell for a lot of money, especially when they become the possession of powerful collectors and establishments. For example, what could be an innocuous poster from a Rolling Stones gig in 1973, has by virtue of association – hanging at D. King Gallery – become a valuable commodity, a “work of art”. It is worth $5,000 (approximately £3,213).
And it’s not just old classic posters that are valuable. Speaking to the Independent, Chris Marksberry, owner of Flood Gallery in London, a boutique store and space that is carving out a reputation as a leader in this niche but budding scene, remarked how commissioned pieces from Chuck Sperry, rock art illustrator, experienced a very sudden spike value.
“It was an edition of 50 that we sold at £90 per print, and sold out within half an hour online. The next day they were available via trading sites or eBay for $400, and I’ve seen one for $1,000,” he noted.
What emerges is a picture of two worlds. While establishments like Flood Gallery owe their existence and growth to the affordability of their rare products – opening up very collectible items to genuine music/art aficionados – on the flipside, the very same item can sell in certain circles for so much more. In some ways this comes across as paradoxical, but as Damien Hirst’s 1,500 plus and growing spot paintings testify – the very opposite of what it means to be distinct – all art, even duplicated, can be expensive. Trite as it may be, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”.
Art belongs to the individual then and their world shapes how a work of art is perceived and what its market value is. Unless you think otherwise, divisive as art can be.
A work of art is a confession, the result of a unique temperament, an imitation of life, a revolt against man’s fate, the proper task of life and the unceasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers and never succeeding, so said Albert Camus, Oscar Wilde, Seneca, Andre Malraux, Friedrich Nietzsche and Gian Carlo Menotti. They were all right…or not.