By Loukia Richards

Gucci Shoes in a display window. Photo: Chr. Ziegler.

What would be more valuable to you if you lived in the jungle: a Swiss army knife or a Picasso painting hanging in your hut?

It is relatively simple to calculate the value of a pair of shoes – a common item and basic need in most societies. You add up the cost of the materials, design, shoemaker's wages, electricity and other overhead including the cost of the initial investment for purchasing tools, machinery, and equipment, as well as depreciation, and you arrive at a figure that represents the item's material value. Let's say ten euros. But that's not the price you charge for the shoes, just what it costs you to make them. Your selling price is determined by additional factors. For example: do you sell retail or wholesale? To make our point easier to understand, let's say that you sell directly to retail customers.

"Rainbow" pendant, Wagner Collection. Photo: Wagner Preziosen.
To the cost of the materials and manufacturing, you must then add the costs of rent and utilities for the retail space, the salesperson's wage, advertising, transport from workshop to store, and so on to arrive at the sum needed per unit sold to be 'invested' in new materials to keep production going, your pension/insurance fees and taxes, plus VAT, accounting fees, the cost of design and marketing workshops that helped you to develop an exclusive product or a marketing plan and, of course, your profit – the amount of money that does not correspond to past spending, but is a projection of future liquidity.

You may also include in your retail price the added value of your reputation or how much it has cost you over the years to become famous for your designs and quality, as well as your desirability as a fashion brand. The beauty or exclusivity of your product, the scarcity of materials used, as well as the presence or absence of other competitors of equal quality and standing in your sector are also factors that influence the retail price of the pair of shoes you produced.

Having taken all these costs into account, you may arrive at a retail price that is two, three, ten, one hundred, or more times the initial material value of ten euros.

Shoes are a simple example because even if handmade and thus unique in a sense, making them follows a standard process that can be repeated infinite times with the same results. Thus, the human effort, skills, and time invested in making a pair of shoes can also be calculated.

"One Reuro". Self-made paper bank note. Photo: Chr. Ziegler.

Human needs

All products or services that cover human needs, basic and even some wants, such as clothing, food, energy, housing, transport, education, medical care, child-minding services and so on are valuable.
Your family, partners, and friends may have good reasons to be proud of you for your artistic achievements and efforts, for your talents and commitment, however, many excellent artists never manage to earn a living from selling their work regularly. Artistic merit does not necessarily define the artist's price.

The economic and monetary value of art is difficult, if not impossible, to calculate. Consumers do not starve or freeze or are unable to travel or cannot read or write if they do not find art to buy. Nor can artists calculate how long it will take them to develop an idea or how long it will take to implement this idea in material or digital form or how long it will take them to market this idea. Thus, it is very difficult to talk about 'producing art' in the same way we talk about producing a pair of good shoes. We cannot find the 'value' of the process.

Gold, silver, diamonds are rare and hard to mine, one may argue, and not necessarily needed for survival, even if precious metals have medicinal properties as well. Since antiquity precious metals have functioned as tokens for accumulating wealth and acquiring goods and property. Why can we not apply the same principle to art?
To do so, we need public consensus. People must agree on what art is 'valuable' to store and exchange as they did with the metals and stones which they also invested with ideas of power, beauty, spirituality, and immortality.



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