What makes something art?

I spend a great deal of time visiting museums and art galleries all over the world. While I am not able to appreciate all art, I may very well be addicted to art. In a very small way, I might buy an inexpensive piece of art from an unknown artist just to help them out because I recognize that we need to support them in order to make the world a better place.

I still do not know what is art and should cost insane amounts of money. I have looked at paintings that are valued at millions of dollars or are priceless (Mona Lisa) and still cannot figure out why a street artist has to struggle to convince people to buy a painting for $10 when I had to fork much more than just to enter the Louvre.

As I think more and more about it, I realize that there are works that give us visual and aural pleasure. For an illiterate tribesman in Africa, Mona Lisa may mean nothing. He maybe more thrilled by handicrafts made by a friend in the tribe. In that sense, outrageously priced works of art are nothing more than speculation by the rich about the potential for increase in value over time. The art pieces are, therefore, nothing more than financial instruments, the way stocks or derivatives are. In other words, if some crazy collector with way too much money thinks that if something is a masterpiece and worth millions, then it is worth that much until no one wants to buy it, and then it is worth just as much as the next buyer thinks it is.

It was in this context that a study by BU caught my attention. Psychologists there asked art students to judge paintings by famous abstract expressionists along with creations by a kid, monkey, chimpanzee, gorilla, and elephant. Funny enough, 1/3 of the students found works of art by kids and primates of higher quality than those by famous artists. Imagine doing this test with average people.

In other words, I love the definition of art often used by Andy Warhol: “Art is anything you can get away with.”

What can unemployed Americans do?

Nobel prize winner Paul Krugman has some interesting findings. According to him, the American job market is hollowing out. What he means by that is that there is a demand for people with very unique skills in management, science, technology, and finance. These are individuals with knowledge and experience in areas that simply cannot be replaced by cheap labor overseas or even by machines (at least at this time). This is important because The Times has a story on how lawyers who were first replaced by cheap labor in India are now being replaced by software. Krugman also concluded that demand for low-skill, low wage employees is still steady, and it makes sense, considering that we simply cannot do without plumbers, janitors, restaurant workers, and so forth.

The most remarkable finding in his work is that medium-wage jobs, the kind that most Americans have had and have allowed them to lead middle class lives, are shrinking as a combination of offshoring and redundancy. In other words, if we were to see a boom in the economy, some of these jobs will come, but if Japanese experience is any guide, they simply won’t.

There are no easy answers except that people need to figure out the opportunities for themselves. One article that caught my attention is about the new breed of farmers that is coming up. It is one example where a business opportunity is emerging that no one with college degree would look at, but with the emphasis on healthy eating among high-income Americans, the demand for locally grown, organic food will continue to grow.