ps151114 Values and Valuation: An ambiguous pairing in art
Moving toward the Northwest Print Center and forming the
corporation to build it, the author examines the two meanings of value as they
apply to his plan to use his family art collection as seed capital. Putting
education before art has importance to him. Illustration: Sandbox stage of building the Northwest Print Center and Incubators
The most profound
experience I had as an undergraduate in college in 1962 was the Symposium in
American Values. As a farm kid I never thought about the meaning of the word,
values. We were not well off, financially, as my mom and dad eked out a
year-to-year, season-to-season existence between the bank, the Native
Americans, weather, and diseases that could wipe out livestock.
When the colloquium was
announced, I had several questions:
What’s a colloquium? What are values? What distinguishes American Values from,
say, Mexico’s migrants’ values? Value, in my mind, went no further than the
income from a ton of potatoes or corn, or the price-per-pound of beef on the
hoof. Monetary value was everything. Moral values were vague, fuzzy notions
having more to do with the heart than the mind.
For several days while
the colloquium took place back in that time, I was immersed in the questions and
answers from our invited speakers. Those days had a profound effect on me; half
a century later, I still consider that experience as I proceed toward the
building of the Northwest Print Center and Incubators. I have to decide how to
turn straw into gold, you might say, to get the money to start it happening. I
have to turn art valuation into something other than what it has become in
common terms—make the value of my art more than meets the eye.
Values and education
Fifty years ago, Vietnam
was not a front page item. The cold war, the rise of Castro in Cuba,
assassinations of the Kennedys—these were emerging events. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n
roll, TV, and folk music were uppermost on the minds of many college-age
people. All the while, in my ‘twenties, the specter of being drafted into the
army was omnipresent. When, in 1964, it was time for me to move on from undergraduate
school, what I wanted most was to be an art teacher, get married, and get a
Master’s degree and, hopefully, teach college art. I did all three—I got
married to Lynda, got a Master of Arts degree, and got a job teaching
printmaking at the University of Washington in our home state. Life was good.
Looking back, I wonder if
the exposure to the Colloquium on American Values had a subtle effect on my choices.
What made me put being a teacher above being an artist? Or, did my attitude
come from earlier experience—farming, and my parents’ influence? They were
exemplary people. They never got rich, but they had a rich life in the sense of
living pretty well and living long—though, sadly at the end, not in the best of
Something made me say I
wanted to be a great teacher when the art department chairman at San Jose State
University (where I got my MA) asked me, “Well, are you going out to become a
great artist now?” He was set back, I remember, and seemed a little let down.
Maybe his years of teaching art history, and being chairman of the art
department, had jaded him.
Many teachers in our
educational institutions will agree that it is difficult to achieve your
teaching goals in American educational institutions. It is confusing, for
example, to teachers with education in their hearts and minds to be asked to
spend time on non-educational efforts. Sitting in committees, for example, or
calling roll, giving tests, filling out forms, reading the latest orders and
changes to the rules and regulations of the institution. Then there are is the
competition for wages, promotions, and the question of what to do if teaching
doesn’t pan out.
Art teachers seldom have
a high place in American educational institutions, but we seem not to mind
because we not only love teaching, we also love art in all its varying
manifestations—performance art, crafts, design, fine art, art history,
experiments in art and technology—it’s possible to see why art teachers get by
on the meager budgets allocated to their domain of expertise.
The difference might lie
in the different meanings of value when applied to art and non-art. Training to
design cars, for example (a course which I came very close to taking) is
different than learning to make art using creative, inventive, and imaginative,
discovery research. Car design comes from without, from corporations and
stockholders who have one thing in mind: valuation by money, or some equivalent
of economic and political power.
Today, the influence of
incorporated economic and political power on American educational institutions
is profound—to the point of eliminating concern for American values. This is
not good, because the founders of our experiment in government made it clear
that the experiment depends on education. Without an educated voting
population, we will fail as a nation, and knowing values and valuation in art
is, to me, key to our survival—of any nation’s survival and, ultimately, Earth’s
human life sustainability.