Dynamist Blog

The Value of Joy


The NYT has comprehensive coverage of the new Central Park installation by Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude. "The Gates" will be up for only 16 days, which makes me especially glad to be going to New York next week. This A.P. story contains a great quote that applies not only to fine art paid for by its creators but to product style paid for by consumers.

"It's a waste of money, but it's fabulous," said student Shakana Jayson. "It brings happiness when you look at it."

If "it" were a beautiful handbag or a sleek cell phone, social critics would deem Ms. Jayson a crass materialist or a victim of commercial manipulation. (Some, I'm sure, would condemn the artists for spending $21 million on transient public art. Imagine all the people you could feed, house, or vaccinate for that money.) After I spent Saturday morning defending aesthetic products and consumer choice in a TV interview, it occurred to me that the critics are often the true materialists, unable to see any legitimate value in the sensory experiences or emotional associations embedded in aesthetic goods.

The TV interview was for a future episode of Penn and Teller's Bullshit! on Showtime, whose new season begins in June. These producers plan ahead.

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