May 6th, 2012
07:23 AM ET

Letters to the President #1203: 'The scream'

Reporter's Note: Each day I write a letter to President Obama. As you can see, this has now gone on for more than 1200 days. I’m not sure who might want to scream more at this point. Ha!.

Dear Mr. President,

Strange to say, but I was depressed to hear that one of the original versions of Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream sold for $120,000,000 this past week; the most ever for a piece of art at auction.

This troubles me, because I really love art, and when it sells for that much money I start feeling as if it has become something else entirely; as if the market has transformed it from an expression of imagination, talent, and technique, into…well, just a product. Not to be nasty about it, but sort of like what’s happened to Bruce Springsteen.

I’ll grant that art can be many different things to many different people. Warhol famously played around with the ideas of art as a product and a reflection of our consumer driven culture. Fair enough. But I think it is different when an artist commits him or herself to an expression of something else and time turns that commitment into mere dollars and cents.

Maybe I’m crazy or old fashioned, but art means more to me than that. I think art that speaks to our souls, awakens our minds, and raises our dreams is truly beyond any price tag. And when anyone shows up to buy that, and take it into the private recesses of their estate, I can’t help but feel sad.

I’m not against art being sold. Of course, it should be. I have bought many paintings, and I encourage friends and colleagues to do the same. Bringing art into your home is a great and wonderful thing; it rewards the efforts and encourages the talents of artists, and it expands your own personal world.

But as much as I love the pieces I have purchased, I have not robbed the planet of a piece that is considered so critical, so valuable, so impactful, that it would fetch a price tag of $120,000,000. You see my point? The very fact that this painting went for so much suggests it is more of a national, or world, treasure beyond personal ownership.

I am sure we could get a fortune for the Lincoln Memorial, or the rights to the Grand Canyon, or Mt. Rushmore. But we don’t allow them to be sold, because they rightfully belong to the family of man. And when great art is taken from us…into the personal recesses of the uber-wealthy…I bear them no grudge, but it makes me want to scream.