Small money for a great piece of art may not feel great: why pay so little to an artist so visibly living on the cheap? Piketty’s recent book on the rich versus the poor leaps to mind here. What do we really earn ourselves, what do we really deserve?

What to write about, again, and again? Blogs galore … Sitting at one’s desk and staring at Buddha’s head in bronze one wonders. How much has been published already, what vanishingly small part of it is read by more than a handful of people. Buddha does not even stare at all this scribbling, in solemn silence forever.

The wandering eye was caught by a visiting card cluttering the desk, depicting a sculpture. Buddha is no longer alone. “The Kiss” is now adoring another part of the house. This time the statue is in stone, beautifully crafted by José Samson – the artist on the card.

This poignantly petrified kiss, two people embracing each other forever, was part of an exhibition in the old church of Oosthuizen, north of Amsterdam. Church services survive there on the Sundays of today, though the flock is dwindling. So the church turns from God’s eternity to timeless aesthetics, in art shows and other cultural events. This time The Kiss stood out.

And it was not expensive at all – unlike some real kisses of course. The artist even offered a substantial price reduction, wrongly sensing some hesitation or other or even a tendency to haggle with the buyer. So even less money was paid, at the cost of a bad conscience: why squeeze presumably more or less penniless artists if you’ve got the money?

Piketty leaps to mind here. At least his recent writing is widely read or at least referred to. In part he repeats the age-old story of distributive justice: what about the rich on behalf of the poor? More than is done now, Piketty contends, thus attracting probably well-expected criticism. The Financial Times tried to undo his work by sorting out its supposed inaccuracies or even outright mistakes. For sure one would think, given the interested readership of such printed matter.

Or is this imputation of mala fides a kind of ad hominem? Maybe so. Still there must be bad faith in the unqualified defence of the financial status quo. “We inherited and earned it ourselves, so why give it to the poor?” Or: taxation for any redistribution of income and wealth is conceived as organized theft.

But then what is the justice, distributive, retributive or otherwise, in inheritance? Why such enrichment for which nothing is done? A not so silly issue, still not to be further pursued here. Really nonsensical is the mockery of retributive justice in “We earned it ourselves so we may keep it”. Without so many institutional structures kept going by so many less well-off fellow human beings nothing can be earned at all.

Why is The Kiss so cheap? Why is its creator so visibly living by rather modest means? Does she not deserve so much more money? What is a just price for art? Inherent desert or the desert of the free market? So many issues here of value and worth, still ethics and aesthetics are not one yet … Buddha keeps on staring at us.


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