In the Balance

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Why is it we feel a little cheated by art made of everyday objects? Is it because we value the materials as well as the labour?

Talking to a Sri Lankan clothing entrepreneur this week, I discovered that in modern garments a surprisingly large part of their price is in the materials – 65% or more. This may tell us that labour is undervalued. But it might also tell us that materials still matter.

Historically pigments were immensely expensive. Some say the reason medieval art had large patches of colour – undisturbed by shading or relief – was to ‘show off’ the expense and opulence of the rare pigments; usually topped off with plenty of gold leaf.

By contrast, Damien Hirst’s dot paintings are always sneered at for ‘only’ using household emulsion. But then again his diamond encrusted sculls divide opinion too.

I’m strangely reassured to know my clothes are made of stuff of intrinsic value. Perhaps, like the ‘rag trade’, it takes the right balance of labour and materials to make a great work of Art too.

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