Harriet Parsons

Independent researcher

Harriet ParsonsHarriet Parsons completed her Masters degree (research) at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2011. She has been exhibiting since 1996, including Gallery 4A in Sydney, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces in Melbourne, the National Gallery of Victoria and Eastlink Gallery in Shanghai. She has received a number of State and Federal Government Grants. Her research is an investigation into how social values are created in artistic practice and how they can be expressed as a language of cultural values.

Critical accounts of forms of cultural measurement – the emergence of new cultural measures

Since the world fell into the so-called Global Financial Crisis of 2008, the meaning of money and value has come into question, but it is a debate as old as economics itself which began even as Adam Smith was writing The Wealth of Nations. The candid brutality of his contemporary Jeremy Bentham’s response to Coleridge and the Romantics, ‘quantity of pleasure being equal, push-pin is as good as poetry’, has never been adequately countered and 300 years on, the nature of ‘real value’ and how it can be measured remains at the heart of economic debate.

Smith was a moral philosopher as well as an economist and his works are united in a single inquiry into the nature of value and how it is circulated. Numeric values are meaningless without the social values they represent and this relationship is reflected in the language of finance which relies on words such as risk, interest, reconciliation and redemption.

In the recent discussion paper for a national cultural policy Simon Crean called the arts an ‘intrinsic value’:  a value exempt from rational argument. But he also contended that Government investment nevertheless requires a rationale and he proposed that artistic innovation could be connected to economic growth. But Smith’s seminal work is not an enquiry into the productivity but the ‘wealth of nations’. He calls theories ‘imaginary machines’, systems that satisfy curiosity or ‘soothe the imagination’ according to the culture of their times.  Ideas that seem indelible truths, like the value of the American dollar or the sun orbiting the Earth, regularly become no more than the naive fantasies of our forebears. Wealth is a social value, only as ‘real’ as the concept of value itself.  Smith does not dispute the existence of a single, ultimate reality, just the possibility of human knowledge outside the social imagination; and it is in his social language of economics that the ‘real value’ of the arts – and the nation – can be measured.

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