What Is the Value of Art?

Assiniboia-2-rev-webArtist with sign

What is the value of art? How do you measure success in your artist’s life? Do you gauge by the world’s response or your own? What is the measuring tool?

At the end of January I was asked to participate in an exhibition at the Assiniboia Gallery in one of Saskatchewan’s two main cities, featuring my artwork along with two other artists. The Assiniboia is a well-established commercial art gallery; it’s been a part of the visual arts scene in this province for over two decades. We’d started working together earlier this year.

That’s me above, beaming on opening night, April 24. Never in all my years has my name been on the outside of a building until now. Gallery staff hung and lit the paintings beautifully. Plenty of people came to the reception. There was dinner out with old friends afterward, and lots of laughter and stories.


Exhibition installation (photo Robert W Harwood)

Three days later I was asked to take down my post of the exhibition invitation from a local community Facebook page. Though I’ve made many contributions to the page in the past five years, this post was deemed too much like “personal businesses, such as multi-level marketing schemes selling everything from jewellery to weight-loss products.” Posts about Wings Night at my town’s only hotel “benefit the community as a whole.”

Then I was nominated for a national visual arts advocacy award. It’s a true honour to be thought of that way, no matter the outcome. The award has now been granted to someone else.

An interview was published about my artwork and the Assiniboia Gallery exhibition in one of our regional newspapers. A whole page, with photos. It was a bit alarming to see myself publicized so, and exciting at the same time. So far, two people have mentioned they noticed the story.

And so far, my artwork in the exhibition isn’t selling as well as I’d hoped. It’s some of the best art of my career.

So from this roller coaster of happiness and daunting I wonder, what is the value of art? Do we value its making? Its quality? Its financial reward? The opinions of our peers? The opinions of the communities we live in? How important is public attention or recognition? What value is highest? Who decides?

And what do we focus on? Do we decide that the ups are what counts, or the dejections? Is there a balance? Or does neither really matter? How do we know?

How do you measure success in your artist’s life?

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13 Responses to What Is the Value of Art?

  1. Paige Mortensen May 14, 2015 at 10:15 am #

    Interesting that this came shortly after I read this post by Alyson Stanfied entitled “What’s the Point of Making Art When the World is so Screwed Up?” Highlights for me: #1: Art is Why You are Here and #7: Art Completes our Humanity.

    • Laureen May 16, 2015 at 10:23 am #

      Paige, thanks. The timing is a good coincidence. I like #1 Art is Why You are Here 🙂 Though I wonder what it means on those days when you can’t fulfill why you’re here!

  2. Hermina Joldersma May 14, 2015 at 11:28 am #

    Hi, Laureen –
    first of all, my heartiest congratulations on this wonderful achievement and recognition. You should be primarily proud and content!
    As to how art is valued in our society, by ourselves as well as by those around us – it IS a roller coaster ride unless we have a core inside that says “this is worth it to me.” I speak not from much experience with art, but from experience with doing research and publishing in the academic realm – and unless one had a solid core (or was a star, which I wasn’t, but even then…) of believing in and valuing what one did, the roller coaster could get very bumpy. For me, appreciation by others is added value, but the true value comes from the satisfaction I derive from what I am doing.

    • Laureen May 16, 2015 at 10:25 am #

      Minnie, thanks for the congratulations. Much appreciated. And I think you’re right about what true value is. Even though there are days when that Zen-like calm seems to elude me 🙂

  3. Jeanne May 14, 2015 at 4:34 pm #


    Experienced something similar in my recent move into jewelry making. I made a lot of pieces that required many hours of work and design….work I was very proud of. No one was interested. Then I tried another design….not all that original and not a lot of work involved. They are selling like hotcakes. I can’t make them fast enough.

    Same experience with my artwork as well. I have been in local exhibits where absolutely no one showed up. It is heartbreaking. Not even close friends! It is really puzzling and disappointing, but maybe there is a lesson there too. We have to value our own vision and stay true to it no matter what. Anyway, that is my take on it.


    • Laureen May 16, 2015 at 10:32 am #

      Jeanne, it does seem to get especially tricky when what others value isn’t what we consider our best work, and when our best work is left unconsidered. But I think you’re right, we need to give precedence to our own valuing. Maybe especially when we seem to be in the minority. And even when the easier pieces sell better. Because making sales is also good! And please take a bow for that. It isn’t easy to make something people want – even if it feels easier than making things they don’t.

  4. Lindsay Arnold May 14, 2015 at 7:43 pm #

    Thank you for sharing the highs and the lows. In my modest journey as an artist I have found that both seem to pass swiftly. The most important thing is the next thing.

    • Laureen May 16, 2015 at 10:34 am #

      Lindsay, I love “The most important thing is the next thing.” You may have the key to all feelings of satisfaction!

  5. Antoinette Herivel May 16, 2015 at 10:13 am #

    Hi Laureen
    I can identify so much with this post-not about an FB page but the frustration of trying to “make it” what ever that means! I recently had a show in Vancouver with 19 paintings- some large and 4 drawings. It was my 1st in Vancouver- at a theatre gallery and the work was for sale but I did not sell despite a huge amount of promotion I put in and great feed back from viewers. It was expensive to ship and organize but the only way I am going to get known in BC is to put my work out there! I sent a notice to the BC CBC arts weekend program but did not get air time.
    Today I heard on same program a piece about a male artist who lives on my island and manages to always get attention no matter what he does- quality or not. So I ask myself questions I have asked a hundred times over my career– about me and other artists who are: not white male; do not paint local landscape; funky ( self taught) garish style; have not studied at major local institutions; are immigrants-no matter how long they have been in Canada; use content where people have to think etc etc etc etc.!
    Regarding the public’s interest in quality art- I think that the ( public) are so bombarded by imagery that we have become blase to some extent. The market is flooded with art and most people do not know how to distinguish or appreciate quality. I know that you have worked hard during your career and have a wonderful technical grasp of media – and I have also worked at this but does not seem to be appreciated( in my case-anyway) . I am finding it very hard to break into the BC scene and especially now I am older. I struggled in Sask also-but i was working several jobs -but now I am a full time artist -but it does not get easier.
    However- keep on trucking as they say- congratulations on being nominated for the CARFAC award- that’s achievement. You have always been a great mentor and supporter of many artists. Sorry about this long “rant” but your words it the nerve of what I am presently thinking.

    Would love to chat with you at some point-maybe on skype if you are interested. All the best- I really like the images of recent work you have put out there. I was with Assiniboia for awhile but did not sell much— and that’s another story!

    • Laureen May 16, 2015 at 10:39 am #

      Antoinette, thanks for all of this. The issue seems to be one that we all face at different times. I knew an artist years ago who had an excellent career until he changed provinces. He went from being known to being unknown, and he never really recovered from it. And he was young. I think we don’t get bouncier as we get older – but maybe we can replace that with having a longer view.

      • Antoinette Herivel May 19, 2015 at 10:30 pm #

        Thanks for your reply Laureen,
        I think we are so regional in Canada -and that is frustrating. I am always finding artists in other provinces who are wonderful and I wonder why we don’t hear about them!
        I like your thought of “the longer View” I think it is really the only way.
        Look forward to your next blog!

  6. Shalagh May 17, 2015 at 12:45 pm #

    Thank you for this Laureen. Such an important question plaguing me for sure. And yes, the most important thing is the next thing. I have declared this the year of making art for me. Otherwise known as the thing and the next thing and the next thing. Ha!

    • Laureen May 17, 2015 at 1:02 pm #

      Shalagh, thank you for being here. Think I will adopt your next things!