Sharing and Value

I continue to explore, somewhat casually and, unfortunately, intermittently, the concept of “sharing” and what it could mean to have a true “sharing economy” for the arts. As part of that exploration, I am reading Arjo Klamer’s Doing the Right Thing: A Value Based Economy. In it, he differentiates between “willingness to pay,” a familiar concept in both economics and market research, and “willingness to contribute.” “Willingness to pay” is a concept of exchange in which something of value (a private good) is traded for something of value (a currency of some kind). “In the case of willingness to contribute, the expectation is that the contribution will add values to a shared good” (Klamer, 2017, p. 88).

If we consider that artist and audience co-create the value of art, then we begin to value the role of the audience and begin to conceive of art not as a private good, or even a public good (per Samuelson) but as a “shared good.” A “consumer” is antithetical to the concept of a shared good because a consumer reduces the value of a good through her very consumption of it (think of ice cream here or a car, which depreciates with every mile driven). [Sidenote: If we consider knowledge to be a shared good, as Klamer does, then the student-as-consumer model of higher education falls apart, as well it should; students and faculty co-create knowledge and understanding.]


[Shared] Knowledge is Power by Seymour Joseph Guy

But an artist creates work and wants to sell it to support the creation of more work (and the material needs of her life). Is such work — the product of an artist’s mind and labor — a shared good? Not yet; for this reason I can’t buy Klamer’s argument wholesale. But, as I am beginning to understand, the value of that work — its exchange value, its social value, and even its aesthetic value — is enhanced by the participation of the audience. So, it’s not that the audience co-created the work itself, but the audience, through participation, collection, attendance, co-creates the work’s value as a shared good.

About lindaessig

Linda Essig is Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA and principal/owner of Creative Infrastructure LLC. The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of Cal State LA. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix.
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