value and function

Value is sometimes conflated with function. This is not the same as saying that an activity, event, practice or utterance can be valued because of its functionality but all things of value are not necessarily functional. Rather, value refers to the potential for something in an art object or experience, but this still has to be realised by something happening – this realisation  is when the art object or experience has a function. We can see the ease of the conflation of value and function, and the temptation to do so, in our project.

Some of our participants have been pleased to be able to put on their cvs that they have not only participated in a Tate workshop, but also that their films have been exhibited at Tate Britain. Some have also spoken at events, and all could also claim to be ‘consultants’ in this research. For those who are considering a career in the arts or the creative industries more generally, this project is another accomplishment to add to their portfolio. And this potential contribution to employability was clearly valued by some participants who mentioned it on several occasions, and particularly in relation to the exhibition of films.

However, the value of the project was not that it produced employability. Rather it is an affordance through which the function of employability might be realised at some point – or not. Employability and the workshop and the films were not the same things. Nor is there a cause and effect relationship between them. Instead there is a messy and unpredictable relationship. But while value and function may not the same thing, they are not a disconnect either, there isn’t a peculiar kind of binary with a chasm in the middle. It is perhaps the inbetween-ness of value and function that is of as much interest in thinking about “cultural value”, as trying to define the difference between the two. Will our participants value the workshop and their films more because of the employability potential they offer? And will they value them more or differently when that potential has been realised?


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