There can be no debate on how much art is valued, both as commodity and object of beauty; that is, not only for the dollars and cents, but also—begging your pardon, fellow Jane Austen fans—for the sense and sensibility. It is as intrinsic to our modern life as it once was to cultures thousands of years ago.
But what defines priceless? The rediscovered Impressionist painting? The abstract installation you examine from multiple angles to fully comprehend its meaning? The look of pride and joy on a child’s face when revealing a masterpiece in crayon? Stunning architecture? A film that leads you to unabashedly roar with laughter or quietly weep in a theatre full of strangers? It is this less quantifiable value that leads to waxing poetic: the soul value.
When even the stalwart commodities plummet, the worth of art increases—from the finest gallery pieces to the conceptualization energy behind everything from engineering to marketing. It is at the root of our curiosity and our creativity; one naturally feeds the other. It also enhances our ability to maintain delight in the everyday and a sense of awe in the extraordinary, particularly at those times when we need it most.
Supporting art—and the cultural institutions that provide the opportunity to experience it—is not about defending esoteric kingdoms where only the well-heeled can live; it is about ensuring our greater collective wealth. Art makes us think and thinking leads to dreaming; both help us to better manage the broader core priorities and issues du jour.
We can all afford to appreciate art. For less than the price of a standard-fare pub meal, you can enjoy a visit to a museum or other cultural institution and learn something—or experience something—that will change your perspective on life, history, nature, the universe (your pick) forever. That’s about as fundamental as it gets on this human journey. We value art because it is how we discover, define and celebrate life.