Priceless /ˈprīsləs/ So precious that its value cannot be determined: priceless works of art (Oxford Dictionaries)
When I was learning new words, one of the ones I stumbled on was priceless. To me, it seemed like one of those words that sounded like it meant the opposite of what it really means. I thought it meant ‘not worth anything’.
These days when I hear the word priceless, my ears expect it to be followed by art.
On a recent trip to New York City, I was walking along the High Line. The park was coming to life as the City seemed to turn the page of winter in just a few days. New art installations were being placed, and I stumbled on this beautiful piece.
Since it was in the midst of being installed, the exhibit was not yet attributed. Later, the internet told me that it is “Little Manhattan (2007-09)” by Yutaka Sone. The sculpture depicts Manhattan Island and all of its connecting bridges, carved from a block of solid white marble. I admired the sculpture for its intricate detail as well as for the irony of carving it out of stone.
(Manhattan Island is largely comprised of bedrock that is extremely hard and well-suited to build tall buildings. The depth of that bedrock varies, and in the center of the island, it is much further below the surface whereas the north and south ends of the island it is close to the surface. In order to erect a skyscraper, it must be solidly rooted in bedrock. So when Manhattan is viewed from New Jersey, the highs and lows of the building heights from north to south Manhattan reflects the relative depth of the bedrock. In essence, the skyline is kind of a mirror for the bedrock line underground.)
These are some of the many thoughts that filled my head long after I saw one art installation. It inspired me. One small interaction with a piece of art led me to many mind-wandering musings about carving and stone and the City itself.
As I wandered around this beautiful City, creativity caught me at so many turns. It was surprising and delightful, but it was also tinged with change. Old brick walls that were once filled with character, or possibly painted with murals, were being replaced with glitzy glassy skyscrapers at a break-neck rate: high-rise homes for the few who could afford them.
New York City, like San Francisco and other cities around the world, are places that people flock to for their diversity and creativity, yet these cities are quickly becoming a notch beyond their already-unlivable status for the creative artists, musicians, writers, and other people who infuse these cities with the character that makes them so attractive in the first place.
In Hardin’s economic theory of the Tragedy of the Commons, he discusses the individual’s tendency to act out of self-interest and the inherent difficulty in getting individuals to care about a collective good such as the environment (or art). The idea is that until a good is divided into ownership pieces where direct benefit (profit) or detriment (tax) directly impacts the individual, the tendency of individuals acting out of self-interest will be destroy the thing which benefits the community with its survival.
If we believe that having art is ‘priceless’ and that its existence and accessibility in our community is ‘so precious that its value cannot be determined’ we need to keep trying to pay for it even though we believe it will never be enough.
This translates into simple small acts like buying a book (not illegally ripping a cracked copy off the internet) or attending a live performance. Yes, sharing the joy with others verbally or socially is important but so is spending a few dollars per day/week/month/year to ensure that we will continue to nurture the creation of art and make it more accessible for everyone.
Without these tangible acts of support for art, it is very possible that the world keeps evolving into a place where art is owned by wealthy individuals, stored in vaults for private viewing, where stories don’t get written by artists who are too poor to write them, and ultimately where creativity withers. If this happens, the beauty in the world and our collective creativity and inspiration will atrophy along with it.
Celebrate art. Pay a price for it when you can because it is priceless.