The Value of Things

November 19, 2008

I think one should be very careful when discussing this stuff. This value stuff. It’s not like there’s an arbiter out there. Oh yes, there are bloggers of course who proclaim themselves as the keepers of the flames of truth and beauty and knowledge. There are plenty of those folks about. Ahem.

There are critics too. Those who pronounce themselves smarter, keener of eye and wit than you, more able to see clearly and so discover the truth, the value of things. So too are there writers and lecturers who have pedigree on their side, initials to follow them up. [Personally I prefer the mutt, beagles aside of course, to the pure breed. They have so much to offer than the lily white hands of the preferred.] These must of course be heard if only to get another good head shaking in.

But in truth there is no one way of discerning beauty. In the eye of the beholder? What about in the ear and the lips, the tongue, the nose of the beholder? So many senses, so many ways to create value. But who’s to say that my value is a better one than yours, besides me of course. This is the problem with assigning value. Who is to say?

I know when I studied literature in college that my professors had a sure test for value: longevity. If a piece stood the test of time, it had value. If it could speak to people throughout the years, it had a universality that made it more potent, more valuable, more real. Never mind that Wordsworth was as bad read aloud as quietly, grieving, to oneself. If the work lasted for centuries it had value. Nowadays value is assigned largely upon dollars spent. A piece has value if it grosses so much at the box office. A book has value if its on a top ten list somewhere. Your work has value if you get a grant. But what about next year? Will it still have value then? Or has value become as ephemeral as newsworthy?

But what about value itself? Value I fear comes from within. It’s where we feel it and from where it is assigned. If I do 20 hours of work and I hate every minute of it what’s the value of that? But I spend two hours working on a delicate piece of inlay and I enjoy every minute of it, lost in that tiny little world, how much more value is there for me? And to put a price tag on it almost besmirches it although we must.

I fear this value from within because the inside arbiter can be so capricious. At times loving my work, at others thinking I made another mistake. So we look for validation from others.

I had a student in class once. A big guy, biker type. Sweetheart guy though and we were having a beer one day after class and talking about writing. I like to talk about writing. Here he was telling how important it was to get his book published. And my response was something along the lines of well, it doesn’t really matter if your book gets published does it? The important thing is that you like writing it. If someone else gets to read it and likes it too, well that’s gravy. Just good gravy. His feeling was that you needed to get published, your work has to see the light of day to be worth anything. Who’s right? I don’t know. I have raised more questions. But remember that you’re the one setting the table and eating the meal. Might as well enjoy the making of it too. That’s real value.

Gary Rogowski is the Director of The Northwest Woodworking Studio. Visit us at www.northwestwoodworking.com.

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Published in: on November 19, 2008 at 8:59 am  Comments (7)  
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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I am a remodeler and I can honestly say that I love what I do. I spend far too much time fretting over the smallest details in my projects for clients. Yet it is those details that form the tiny little world you speak about. More than occasionally, I pause to think about the payment to be received for my services at the end of the tunnel, only to realize that I have probably earned less than minimum wage for the time I put in. Yet, I do it again and again, because I love the process. The projects have value to me because of the journey to create them. When the client is happy with the end result, that is the icing on the cake. I may not always be financially rewarded for my efforts, but it doesn’t matter. I’d do the work for free. (Just don’t tell my clients).

  2. Gary,

    Excellent piece. Value goes way beyond monetary means. Value is indeed a personal measurement. As the old saying goes: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
    But, as you mentioned, time is the biggest measurement of value. The most valuable things are the ones that survive the test of time and remain meaningful even years after its creation.

  3. Robert Persig pointed out that considerations of value (although he called it “quality”) lead to madness.

  4. In contrast to your professor, I like to (perhaps cynically) suggest that when it comes to assessments of value, or matters of public opinion, the majority is always wrong, by definition. The corollary being that we get the government we deserve. And the movies.

  5. Hi Gary … Nice post … I read it last week when you put it up and then revisitied it again today. It made me think of an article I read last weekend in the New York Times magazine called “What is Art For?” It was about a book by Lewis Hyde called “The Gift: Creativitiy and the Artist in the Modern World” … Here’s a link to the article on line http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/16/magazine/16hyde-t.html?_r=1&scp=4&sq=the%20gift:%20creativity&st=cse&oref=slogin
    It’s kind of a long one but if you scroll down a ways and zip through it you’ll get his drift. I tried to get a copy of The Gift locally but had to order it …. It looks interesting and along the lines of your thoughts and writing …I’ll send you an update after I read it … Best regardsv … I enjoy your blog … dan mosheim .. dorset custom furniture

    • Dan,
      Read that article. Great stuff. Thanks very much for the link and for your comments. Very interesting stuff. I’m off to find a copy of that book. Gary

  6. Very much enjoyed reading your thoughts on value and how we value ‘stuff’. Most times for me I probably don’t recognize the value or worth of someone or something in my life until it’s gone. Know what I mean? That may or may not be right, but it seems pretty typical for me. I will look up after a couple hours of doing something that was so involving,I didn’t notice the time and I realize that I’m getting better or need more practice or that I’ve learned some really cool new way to approach a task… These moments are moments of clarity and they are priceless and immeasurably valuable. Thanks, Gary L Hamm


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