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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Disposable money: Disposable culture

In Ancient Greece money was a form of art. Money was created by artists who carved beautiful images into precious metals - like the Gold Stater of Kroisos pictured above. These artists were commissioned by Kings, Tyrants and Civic Councils. And persons of wealth and position collected the money as artworks, as well as a medium of exchange.

The Greek word for Art is Techne - from which we get the word "Technician." These days, a Technician - a person of great technical skill - is a pejorative term for an Artist. To call an artist a technician is to imply they somehow lack "creativity and vision." To an Ancient Greek this distinction would have been meaningless.

Is it that we are now so sophisticated that we can make distinctions that simple naive Greeks like Plato, Parmenides and Heraclitus could not?

Or is it that technical excellence is the substance of a permanence that we no longer value?

Our money is perhaps emblematic of our culture. It is created - like all of our commodities - to have the most value when used up and turned over in the shortest possible span of time. Like a car, or a computer, or a McMansion, or a movie, or a television program, or the latest Concept Art Phenomenon, it is has the most value at the moment it is manufactured and foisted off on a somnolent and unsuspecting public. Within a few short years it will have lost a substantial portion of this value. Within the span of a lifetime it will become substantially valueless.

Compare this to the creations of Greek culture which have infinitely more value now than they did when created. Of course it could be argued that some of this value is due simply to a fascination with the past. But I doubt this fascination would exist if this particular past had not been created by excellent technicians.

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