I continue to share bits and pieces of An Ouroboros: Art, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action as I develop several of the essays in the collection. This small bit is from Essay Four, on novelty and uniqueness, the introduction to which, since revised, I posted earlier.
I moved into a new office several years ago in a re-purposed dormitory building. The previous occupant had painted the office battleship gray; I painted it tangerine. The office I was moving out of was weighted down with the “stuff” of academic administration: book cases, file cabinets, a large L-shaped desk, a small conference table with chairs; my new office needed little of that, save for a surface on which to place a small notebook computer. The spare, brightly colored office was just what I needed to transition my work from administration back to teaching and research, but its very simplicity created a problem: it was very live in terms of sound. A simple conversation would echo off the masonry walls disturbingly. Knowing I needed to deaden the sound, I went to Pier One, the suburban mall mainstay of inexpensive decoration. There I found what I needed: mass-produced multi-media (paint + collage) representations of birds on canvas panels. The canvas panels would deaden the sound in my office and the colors complemented the tangerine of the walls. I paid $15 per panel and never thought of these as “art.” Nevertheless, several colleagues, many of them artists themselves, have walked into my office, complimented the artwork, and even asked about the artist and provenance. I hadn’t considered these canvas panels as anything more than what they are: mass-produced decorative objects. Hand-painted, yes, but hand-painted on an assembly line halfway across the world. They have a certain aesthetic appeal that masks their practical purpose as sound baffles, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are not “art;” neither their creator nor their audience considers them as such.