Recently a painting of David Hockney fetched the unbelievable amount of ninety million dollar. It was the highest amount (so far) ever paid for a work of a living artist. I must admit that I liked the painting and would not mind having it on one of the walls of our living room, but for the life of me I cannot understand what gives a work of art this kind of value. I do not know what the first owner paid for it, but it must have been just a very tiny percentage of this multi-million amount. When Hockney produced his painting “Pool with Two Figures” it may have taken him a few days or weeks of his time and no more than perhaps one hundred dollar in material (canvas, paint, etc.) And I remember reading that he made a trip to a specific location where he wanted to photograph the person who was to be portrayed on the edge of the swimming pool. That may have cost him a few thousand dollar at most. So, what brought the immense added value?
Several factors play a role. By now Hockney’s reputation as a renowned artist would add some zero’s to the price of anything he has made. And art dealers know how to get their share of what a buyer will ultimately pay. The buyer was rich enough to outbid all other interested parties. Was he/she motivated by an obsession to acquire this painting? Or was it to be an investment that could bring some extra tens of millions at some future date?
Clearly, many objects soon lose most, or not all, of their value, while some things never ldrop in value because of their intrinsic worth (being made of precious metal or containing precious stones, etc.), and some things only continue to increase in value. However, the kind of value we are referring to is conditioned by the human desire to possess something and on the human expertise of making an assessment that takes into account such aspects as fashion, culture, and rarity. In spite of all the experience of the experts the value of something may be either highly overrated or estimated far too low.
It becomes infinitely more difficult to put a value on human beings. We often reckon in terms of net worth. That means that people like Bill Gates and Soros would fall in the highest category. But would men like Einstein and Mozart, or contemporary equivalents, be of even more or of lower value? Is a well-educated person, with a good job, who lives in the Western world, of more value than a jobless person living in an African shanty-town? And is an octogenarian with a serious physical condition of enough value to warrant the prescription of a medicine with an annual price tag of some thirty thousand dollar?
Let’s take it one step further. What value do we as Christians attach to other people? Are all our “brothers” and “sisters” of the same value for us? Or do we have the tendency to somehow place more value on some groups or individuals than on others? And are fellow human beings, near and far, of enough value for us that we will do our utmost to assist them materially and spiritually? And are peopleof more valueto us than things? Is a fellow-church member of more value than even than a painting of Hockney?
This week I am reminded of the fact that in life some things are of far more real value than a healthy bank account. As I have flown to Canada to visit my two sisters who live there, and who are in dire straits health-wise, I realize perhaps more acutely than “normally”, that such things as health, family and love are the kind of values that truly count.
Moreover, when considering the concept of value, we must constantly remind ourselves of the fact that for God every human being is of equal worth. He does not only look after those who fit his mold of likable people. He gave us all the same status, “just a little lower than the angels.” Human beings are valuable enough in God’s sight that he was willing to risk everything—even the death of his Son—in order to make sure that we would retain our God-given value. Let’s never forget: The value of each of us human beings is determined by the price God was willing to pay for us.