Symbolic Value

“Beauty is vanishing from our world because we live as though it did not matter.”  – Sir Roger Scruton

Over the last 50 years, there has seemingly existed an almost complete lack of symbolic value within contemporary art and architecture within the United States.  With that said, we know that there is a value to symbolic works of art and architecture (for we once produced them en masse in the past), but we can’t seem to figure out what that value is today. Because of that, today, we no longer seem to be able (or willing) to produce these symbolic works, at least within the public sphere.

Perhaps moreover, our modern, materialist economic lens does not equip us with the fundamentals needed in order to ascertain this symbolic value.  Maybe it is a sign that, as a society, we have shifted away from the symbolic values of old and into the material values of new; of course, this is true.  Yet, one doesn’t have to go so far back, or travel too far to find symbolic, even transcendent works in this country.  They are found in this country’s great train stations of the early 20th century, and public works projects like the Hoover Dam that was built only less than a century ago in the 1930’s. 

Ascertaining “economic” value is the modus operandi for us economists, but sometimes (and probably much to our collective chagrin), it is not the only definition of something’s worth.  Perhaps we economists should ponder, if only for a few minutes on a Friday afternoon, the true cost of leaving those symbolically valuable works behind, in favor of a simply more materially efficient cultural landscape.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *