Earlier this month a version of the Munch painting "The Scream" sold for $120 million. Here is an interesting New York Times article entitled, "If I Had the Cash, I Wouldn't Buy That." The author, Holland Cotter, details some other artwork he would buy if he had that kind of money, and concludes the article this way:
"Of course I never will start a museum, or, apart from an odd or end, an art collection. Part of me doesn’t warm to owning precious things. I’m glad there are museums where art can be kept, dusted and safe and out of my apartment. Personally I love ideas as much as objects, not that I can separate them: I feel ideas are as sensuous as things.
What I collect are experiences — traveling, seeing, being there, anywhere. For me “The Scream” will always mean the memory of a moody Oslo twilight from decades ago. The value of that experience to me is beyond price. When I hear $120 million, I think of how many experiences, for how many people, that might have bought."
Experiences. Yes, I agree with Cotter. I think the experiences are worth more, too. But I also think about a world where hunger is the #1 health risk and one out of seven people goes to bed hungry. A world where every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water-related illness that could be prevented by access to clean water. A world where measles still kills about 380 children per day. And I wonder, $120 million dollars for one painting? Is this really justifiable?
I love art, music, poetry; many people consider these things frills or luxuries. To me they are not. In Haiti they are not. Haiti may be poor, but it is full of all three; art flourishes here. I'm not saying that nobody should enjoy beauty. I know that art saves lives, as my friend Jess always says. I know that beauty has a way of changing things, as my friend Shelley says. (One could argue about whether or not "The Scream" fits anybody's definition of beauty, but clearly it expresses something about being a human being.)
But, really, $120 million? How can the world be such a lopsided place, where one painting goes for that much money, and children die for the lack of basic necessities like food, water, and vaccines? How can we put more value on a piece of canvas than on human life? Yes, that money could have bought a lot of experiences for a lot of people, as Cotter says. But it could also have saved countless lives. To me, that is something to scream about.