So I can’t hang it up

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[no run since my last post]

I saw this youtube video and it really affected me.

A young lady brings a piece of art to Antiques Roadshow and tells how it came to her from her grandmother.

There’s a little foreshadowing when she talks about cleaning a mosquito from under the glass and saying, “it scared me a little… it looked like it might be real.”

They talk about the artist and such things. Then the AR appraiser person tells her how much it is worth. The young woman just has this mini-breakdown. She pulls herself together a little bit and says, “so I can’t hang it up.”

That’s where I pretty much lose it too.

She can’t take it home and hang it up because it is worth so much money, probably more than her house (definitely more than _my_ house). It changes her whole perception of the item and her relationship with her grandmother and who knows what else. I think her reaction is a happy one, mostly, but also a sad one.

To some degree, a small degree, I can relate. It’s nice to imagine owning a classic car or a gargantuan house or a piece of valuable art… or winning the lottery or just having a few spare million in the bank. But eventually that turns serious. Money is the way we value things, sometimes unfortunately so. Something that is worth a lot of money means it has a lot of value, value as power or value as cultural significance maybe. If you gave me a Bugatti Royale, I couldn’t keep it, I couldn’t afford the opportunity costs of having such a thing in my possession. And I don’t have the means to responsibly care for it. (And there are the tax issues which I don’t even pretend to understand.)

Not only that, the implication of a valuable artifact like a Bugatti Royale or a fine painting is also the cultural value of the item above the monetary value. Bill Gates may be able to afford to buy a Van Gogh for the outhouse at his cabin in the woods, but it would be culturally offensive (to some degree) for him to keep it to himself. Even more offensive if he used it to light a cigar. An economist might say that Bill paid for the Van Gogh, he can light cigars with it if he wants. And that would be economically right but morally wrong, on the Dante Inferno level of Hoarders and Wasters.

So this young woman learns that that old picture which came from granny is actually valued by our culture to the equivalent of multiple years of a normal person’s work output. She can’t just go home and hang it back up. And her reaction indicates to me a healthy level of humility and understanding.

I hope some day she has the wealth to have that painting and others hanging in a gallery somewhere with her “donated by” on the wall tag next to them. Somehow I feel she is the kind of person who would handle it well.

Of course, the other side of this is to argue against the kind of materialism that sets any artifact up on a pedestal of value over it’s pure utility. A Buggati Royale is just an old car with manual transmission and a bad heater.

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