Meditation: On Values

For Cure-takers, a meditation or riff or rant on values, after the jump.

We Americans take a funny attitude toward introspection: we question our children incessantly about who they are, what they like, who they might want to become, but as soon as the answers start to get interesting, we say that all that sort of stuff is navel-gazing. We talk about values on our soapboxes, or criticize our neighbors’ lack thereof, but it seems rare for us to question and codify our own values. A manifesto, okay, maybe that’s a bit much, but how about a checklist?

Whether your crib ends up Feng Shui’ed or mid-century’d or otherwise pimped, to my mind one of the prinicpal aims of the Cure is to give you a chance to think about who you are, what you want, what your values are. Then you get to see the places where you lack integrity, where your reality doesn’t match your values.

In my house, for example, the teeming hall closet with its bags of things-I-don’t-actually-want-but-keep-anyway belies my faith in the value of giving back, the value of letting go, the value of getting the damn thing done. So every time I open that closet door, I get a tiny little stab of unease or even shame, too small to notice, but enough to make me start to hang my coat on the hook outside instead. And then the next coat, and the next, and before I know it I have two problems instead of one.

So I put on a coat or two and head down to the museum, that exalted place where all the choices about value and order have already been made for me. But then the art critic Dave Hickey nixes that fantasy:

‘In truth, I don’t think there’s any serious discourse of art that doesn’t begin with the discourse of value, with a preferential choice. .. In my view, when we talk about quality in art, we are, invariably, displacing some quantity of our own response, so that when we say a work of art is good or that it has quality, what we mean is that some quantitative measure in our own response invests it with value. What we are saying, really, is: wow, I can look at this for a long time; wow, this makes me really excited; wow, I can write a whole lot of words about this (my favorite); or, wow, this is really expensive; or, wow, I want to take this home and look at it for a long time; or, wow, this work is so memorable that I can go home without having bought it and think about it for a long time. These are all quantitative measures that invest art with its perpetuity. They all measure one thing: the extent to which a work of art presents itself to us as the incarnation of values that we value. … People come to the museum to figure out for themselves what they think is good – to engage in a general discourse of value – to ascertain or discover in works of art values that they value.’

Adulthood means we’re on the hook for the quality of our own lives. So whether we’re gazing at Rothkos or sconces or, yes, our own navels, we’re never finished with the questions: Who are you? What do you want? Who do you want to be?

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