The Price of Art

Story By
D Metta

“The EARTH without ART is just EH” -Anonymous

Art, by its very nature, is an expression. It contradicts firmly established laws which exist in the business sphere, where material is material is material. Art unleashes while business defines, delineates, denominates. In theory, it’s impossible for these two contradictory practices to exist side by side, let alone walk hand-in-hand.

And yet, we step into a Starbucks and purchase a cup of overpriced coffee, sometimes alongside a slice of overpriced cake. The same coffee (often ten times better) exists in other establishments for not even half of the price—but a few weeks later we walk into another Starbucks anyway and pay for another experience on overpriced beverage.

A professor of mine in college once said, “You don’t go to Starbucks to buy coffee, but to sit down and enjoy the place.” It’s obvious that we pay as much for the drinks as the atmosphere as we sit thumbing through a book or chatting with friends or opening a laptop for work. Even if we only stop by for a moment, stand in front of the counter to place our order and get it to go, there is still that flash, that quiet, oft-unnoticed ripple of pleasure from the mere act of setting one’s foot inside the place, with its warm, comfortable décor and the smell of coffee swirling in the air.

There is a reason why Starbucks is everywhere—and yes, the company knows where the magic lies. It’s for the same reason that many eating places are going all out on interior designs. Bright colours turn our heads, always has and always will. Chinese restaurants clad themselves in red while Sundanese in bamboos; just part of the performance. Some go the modern, minimalistic way: sleek, sharp, classy. Others occupy the other end of the spectrum with their nostalgic, throwback kind of places now popping up all over the city, putting old-tune ephemera up on the walls and at every corner.

The same rules apply for most other kinds of business. Perhaps it's due to our increasingly appearance-oriented world, but even internet-based businesses do not escape these laws. For most prospective customers, the look of a website determines as much as the content.

It begs the question: why? Why are we attracted to something as intangible as impressions, a mere swell of emotions, even to the point of willing to spend some—or lots of—money on them? Why does art matter?

Perhaps the answer lies in the nature of art itself. Art piques our interest or tugs the strings of our emotions. It offers something different, something to sprinkle a bit of colour on the jaded glass of our life. One looks at paintings in an exhibition or photos in Instagram to have a taste of something different. The same curious magic is at work when one goes to the movie, or listen to music, or pay a considerable sum of money to purchase a concert ticket.

The ambiguous business of putting a price tag on art aside, the fact is we are willing to pay for it. Because these are the things that stand out, things that offer a respite from the humdrum day-to-day life of endless traffic and constant repeats.

The Maestro Picasso obviously knew what he was talking about when he said that the real purpose of art was washing the dust of daily life off our souls. Art is colour, and yes, we need it in our life.