One of the favorite tactics of modern advertising is to inspire envy by showing images of happy, successful people using a particular product or service. “Keeping up with the Joneses” has become a well-known phrase in our culture. But all of those products and services are mass produced and ultimately impersonal.
Many years ago, a friend of mine and his wife bought one of the chairs I make as a five year anniversary present to themselves. It was a particularly nice chair and even got exhibited as part of a national juried show in San Angelo, Texas. And, of course, it was absolutely one-of-a-kind. Most art purchases ARE one-of-a-kind. That’s an important part of the satisfaction in owning art.
My friends enjoyed living with their purchase, but it led to an unexpected and thought-provoking conversation with my friend’s two teenaged daughters from a previous marriage. You see, they liked the chair too, and found the courage to ask who would inherit the chair when their Dad died. This was a healthy man in his forties. Naturally, the question took him by surprise.
Initially, he was pleased that the two teenagers were so approving of his odd art purchase. Clearly, as a buyer, he had done well in their eyes. He was also pleased that they both wanted “art.” It showed that he had raised them well and that they valued worthwhile things.
What concerned him though, and the thing that gets me thinking too, is that nothing he had owned up until that point had been good enough to warrant his kids’ envy. Everything else he had ever brought into their world was just a functional “thing” unworthy of praise beyond its simple functionality. The house, the car, the appliances, the furniture, nothing else had given his kids the slightest curiosity about that [hopefully far distant] moment when they would have to sort through the objects of his estate.
As an object maker, a maker of “ART,” part of my ongoing hope is that I’m making things worth owning and using. I don’t make things destined for museums or bank vaults. I make things to enhance homes and daily living. As makers, and buyers, I think a little envy on the part of others is a good thing. The goal is not to make other people sad, or uncomfortable, but to show them that there is a hierarchy of things and that some things are indeed worthy of our admiration. I’m not tricking them into buying something easily purchased and just as easily thrown away. I’m getting them involved with family about important issues of value.