What makes something art and gives it value? I don’t like to spend too much time getting philosophical, but a couple of events recently have jogged my curiosity on this one.
The first was the contemporary art “happening”, where a man ate a banana stuck to a wall with duct tape that had been presented as a work of art at an art fair by Maurizio Cattelan and priced it at $120,000. The man turned out to be a performance artist, so one form of art became another, a bit like when Banksy shredded his own work when it sold at auction last year. Cattelan can always stick another banana to the wall, so not much damage done there, I’d say.
However, there is a more general point about how items that are created for a specific purpose (banana = food), can turn into art when that purpose either becomes redundant or non-essential. Folk art pieces, such as duck decoys, which can make hundreds of thousands of dollars as works of art in the US, are good examples.
Just this week I saw that two vintage tractors sold for almost £30,000 at auction. Surpassed by modern machinery for farmyard use, they are loved by collectors for their cultural and artistic quality, from the engineering through to the overall aesthetic of their look.
It’s wonderful to think that something can have a new lease of life as a work of art after its practical purpose has diminished.