Tue, Sep 21, 2010 - Page 8 News List

‘Art’ defense of flora expo costs insults true artists

By Hsu Yu-fang 許又方

The Taipei City Government and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) have gone to great lengths to defend themselves against criticism that too much money was spent on the procurement of products for the upcoming Taipei International Flora Exposition. They claim that the expo is a matter of “art” and “cultural creativity,” and that the things used during the expo should therefore not be subject to the same standards used when calculating the costs of everyday items.

This statement may seem reasonable at first, but if we think about it more carefully, it sounds more like they are abusing the meaning of art. While it is difficult to estimate the true value of art, that does not mean everyday objects become designer products just because the word “art” is slapped onto them or that their prices can be jacked up at will.

The price of a piece of art often is not dictated by the artist, but rather by market manipulation. Before an artist becomes famous, they don’t get paid much for their work regardless of how creative it is. Many artists struggle financially throughout their lives and the prices of their works are only hiked up by businesspeople and art dealers after they pass away. Post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh is great example.

Some pan-blue political commentators recently cited renowned clothes designer Issey Miyake when defending themselves, and said a suit made by an internationally renowned designer could not be compared with any old piece of cloth. While this is true, we should not forget that before Miyake made a name for himself, his designs were probably just another piece of cloth to regular people.

I would like to ask those political commentators and architects who keep talking about the “works of art” at the expo, which well-known designers were behind the original designs for the expo?

I also wonder whether the money spent to procure the items that commanded prices 10 times the going rate really made it into the hands of the artists or if most of it went to middlemen and contractors, who saw the expo as a chance to hike up prices and make some money.

After hearing that NT$350,000 was spent on a rest area made from bamboo at the flower expo, a well-known stone carver could not believe it. With envy in his voice, he told me that he works hard for months designing and making a stone carving, and still he rarely manages to sell his works for that price. If works of art could fetch the same prices as the items procured for the flower expo, Taiwan’s artists would never have to worry about money ever again.

After being involved with the humanities for many years, I know how hard it is to work in areas like literature and art, and I understand how hard it is to make money from such work. Therefore, most artists are short of money and they do not have the audacity to say that their works are fantastic, valuable pieces of art.

It is only to be hoped that everyone pays attention to and appreciates the value of art and realizes the importance of developing the cultural and creative industries. However, not all creative industries can be called art, nor can every work of art have a highly inflated price tag.

Employing the word art to hike up the price of a product or cover up corrupt practices not only degrades art, which is supposed to be about beauty, but it also insults true artists who struggle in order to uphold their creative ideals.

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