Art – what is it worth?

A few years ago I prophesied that ‘when we learn how to value art, the housing market will be re-valued’. I have re-visited that word many times with perplexity. Many artists struggle to make a living; many of the high, high end earners will buy up art as an investment. The ‘art market’ is all over the place. The investment of time, effort and soul that some put in for little return is so wrong; storing art away from public view simply as a means for personal security is also so wrong…

What is the value of art? (And rightly by extension I include ‘the arts’.)

My perplexity I now realise (I got this insight by reading Deb Chapman’s comment on the last post) is that I have been thinking in monetary terms. As we know the vast percentage of money does not exist. 97% in most western economies does not exist, hence it is only confidence and debt that keeps the economy at the levels we find them. I should never have been trying to work out what the word meant money-wise. Driving as we do in our San Lorenzo (died 258AD in Rome) whose gift was to force a revaluation I should never have been trapped into the way of thinking I was in over art.

The value of art

It has to be given its rightful place. It is one of the means to connect heaven to earth. It touches the imagination (and therefore can also be perverted to connect hell and earth) so that speech can be made that releases heaven to earth. God made the trees and saw that they were good… If for a moment I overstate things. God saw what he had made and it impacted him. That is art. We are not talking about a rational function but of an inner transformation through a visual / auditory / kinesthetic experience. How do we value that?

Art challenges how we value everything. This is the challenge San Lorenzo presented to the emperor when he presented him with the blind, sick and poor. ‘These are God’s riches’, he said! The emperor had him killed… but he being dead still speaks. Jesus said that no prophet can die outside of Jerusalem, but he fulfilled that. From his time on the place of death is Rome / Babylon / the empire, the place that says we value things and you will not buy nor sell unless you bow to our value system.

Art is subversive. In art we learn how a new economy that is not based on trade, but on giving and receiving.

Now is the time. Yes the winds are adverse but there is a breath of the Spirit behind the arts right now. So vital as we are coming to another economic crisis. The last one was patched over when the body of Christ (the ‘authority carriers’ for the future) opted for an alignment with the familiar, lacking imagination for a different future. When we can only imagine change through getting to the top we have failed to imagine. Art can help us imagine change through the subversion of service and love. We owe you a huge debt, you artists.

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Wednesday, May 23

A date in the calendar in Prague. The second ‘defenestration’ of Prague took place on this day (and date) 400 years ago. We were there today beneath the window where it took place on the same day and date, just separated by some 400 years. A small event when protestants took into their own hands dealing with ‘justice’ and throwing the three Catholic lords out of the window. Unbelievably all three survived, put down to the luck of falling on manure that broke the fall (the protestant version) or saved by the virgin Mary (Catholic version). This event is what sparked something much bigger, the outbreak of the devastating and continent-shaping thirty years war. This has been our focus for today.

A focus on the past is so important to deal with, and getting the focus ‘right’ between past and future is perhaps more important and also extremely challenging. In Prague there is a real sense that the city and nation should be setting the right time for Europe. We began today, and will on each successive morning, by meeting at the metronome on the hill overlooking the city. Marking a rhythm this large metronome replaced where the statue of Stalin was previously, and only placed there temporarily until they knew what to put there. If ever something spoke and cried out for something to fill it… and that is the issue, what will fill this space, where time is being marked?

That is the question for Europe. Leave it empty and there can only be a reversion to what has been before, so there is the necessity to call for the future reality to press in and fill the gap. This is a pressing issue for us in these days, as Prague is a clock for Europe, and it is some hours behind.

In Prague there is a gift / a pride / a knowing who they are of valuing truth. Both from a Christian point of view with the heritage of Jan Hus and others who held on to truth, and at a national level they too see themselves as founded on truth. But yesterday’s truth only gets us so far. Our last place to pray this morning was in a strategically placed jewellery shop whose owner is a believer. It was as we stood in the shop I saw that:

  • Truth can anchor us in to what we have inherited, but
  • only the imagination can open up the future.

Truth is important. It stimulates us but does not by itself lead to the future. It can anchor us but to move beyond, it is the imagination that has to be engaged. Truth says ‘do not let go of this’, but the imagination has to see a new community, a new way of living, a new value system. Once the fresh future is seen truth that we once held has to adapt, for we only ever see and believe in part. Fresh revelation is always waiting to break forth, and having held on to truth that both anchored us and got as far as we are now, we then find that that element of truth was (only) ‘truth as we understood it’. Fresh understanding has to update our truth. We can never update the Truth (a Person) but we can certainly update our understanding of truth.

Artists, the artistic community, the arts are vital for this to happen. They help the imagination grasp other possibilities, even other realities. If that can happen then not only what we once held on to so strongly gets adjusted, but there is the potential in the community to shift values that have been attached to things, to products and the like. There can be a revaluation. So a two-fold shout. Come on San Lorenzo! Come on you artists!

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To boldly go

Changes, changes, changes. Who can predict the future? Post Brexit referendum the jury is still out as to what that all means. Gibraltar the clearest ‘remain’ vote (could this be down to vested interest?!!) and yet one of the biggest financial contributions to the leave vote campaign came from there. How will a year-old party shape up in France? Across the pond what is happening?

Dependent on the glasses one wears and therefore how we see the world I guess we could be anxious wanting to go back to some safe boundaries (for safe read yesterday and status quo) or we can see opportunities in the space that is opening up. I lean heavily to the latter. From a theological perspective I do so as my eschatology does not have space for a future antiChrist, but consists of an open future that we are challenged to shape in the light of the gospel of freedom; and from an intercessory perspective I see the open space as a result of prayer. Our task is to open space and let it be filled by those of positive vision for the future whether they have faith, as we define it, or not.

In some correspondence today I suggested there are three aspects of society that are essential to shaping the future at this time. I do not place them in an order of priority but suggest they are:

  • education
  • media
  • arts

All aspects / spheres of society are important but some have been colonised more than others; some have been suppressed more than others; hence I select these three as perhaps containing the greatest potential. In reverse order…

The arts. Years ago I gave a crazy prophetic declaration that when we learn how to value art the housing market will be re-valued (in many areas that means de-valued). When house prices dictate who can live where, we are not living in a free world. There are also come crazy valuations in the art world, but there are many artists (in the broad sense of that word) who are working with little return. Meanwhile there are those who make money from money… Paul was clear that those who are entitled to eat are the ones who are working, which of course begs the question as to how the word ‘work’ is to be defined biblically. I mentioned above that some spheres have been colonised, and some words certainly have. We have colonised ‘work’ along an ’employed’ / ‘unemployed’ line. Once we remove those terms from a creational context we will have very little left to pull us in a new-creational direction.

Artists are gifted to open our eyes, ears, emotions and imagination to where we could be going. There is a lament contribution that can be made that exposes the right grief about what we have done, but I think now we need more than ever a message of hope. Faith is related to what we hope for, it creates the shape for faith to develop.

The media. We have prayed for a new media. I admire the way that the media continues to push to get stories, even when so much of it has been designated as ‘fake’! The media is not unbiased, and this applies to the media that I like as well as the media that I disagree with. Thank God for social media, although so mixed, it gives access to alternative perspectives, sometimes alternative facts, but even when that is the case these are alternative facts coming from the bottom up rather than imposed from the top down.

A free media is vital. In most of our democratic western nations we struggle to really have a free media. The mainstream newspapers of the UK… the TV channels in Spain… ‘freedom’ is not the first word that could be used to describe them. But we are witnessing the same kind of shift as during the Reformation with the printing press and the release of Scriptures in the ordinary language. Controlling the press cannot and never will be absolute, and I applaud those who are committed to its liberation and doing so at personal cost.

Education. I love history, knowing the story of where we have come from is essential. The wisdom and knowledge that has got us here has great value. Animals seem to learn some aspects through instinct, but we as humans learn this through intentionality. We have the knowledge how to build a car, but imagine if you were the last human alive. I would struggle to put together a cart akin to one from ancient society. The knowledge and gifts are held corporately. We can build a cart, a car, a space rocket. Knowledge has great value in being passed on, but creativity birthed from questioning will take us further. Education is not simply teaching people what to think, it is certainly teaching people how to think, but perhaps its greatest goal is to teach people to question.

Neo-liberalism has all-but destroyed most aspects of the economic and business realms, so much so that there seems even in the Christian world very little radical thinking. Unless we have at the core the deliberate non-maximisation of profits, coupled to a strategic plan to be free from the love of money, and at least a measure of embracing the principle of jubilee there does not seem much hope for a change there. (And if this is not arrested I might well have to change my beliefs about an antiChrist – not because of the Bible but our inability to take the Bible seriously enough…)

So in this little musing coming out of this morning’s correspondence I am suggesting that the three areas of education, media and arts might be at the forefront of setting health care free from the monetary colonisation that is there… and from health care there might even be a shift elsewhere.

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