[Viewpoint]In support of creationWe live to consume. We consume goods and time. We also spend time and effort to produce things. Consuming means existing. When the American painter Barbara Kruger created a piece of art, saying, “I shop, therefore I am,” she did not mean to needle modern people with shopping addiction. What she wanted to do was express her deep interest in consumption, visualized in shopping, and the consumption-dominated way of living.
Consumption has always been a crucial factor in people’s everyday lives. These days, it has become a powerful means, wielding control over every aspect of human life. In a world where the foundation of people’s happiness is based on consumption, people harbor a stronger desire to possess more things than ever before. If we want to keep consuming, we need goods to consume.
To this end, we make endless efforts to secure both goods and time. The desire to possess things with no limitations is instinctive, but that tendency gets more and more inflated when stimulated by rapidly expanding consumption.
What happens when the desire to possess things grows but the number of possessions does not increase? That perceived gap is behind the frequent occurrence of corruption and crime. In the long run, given the inherent limitations of a person’s possessions, we have to entirely change our pattern of consumption for the sake of our happiness. If we make the consumption of goods that are hard to possess our ultimate goal, that will inevitably lead to discontent and unhappiness.
Of course, we are destined to spend both goods and time. Those things can’t be deleted from our list of consumption, either. However, our lists of consumption cannot be filled entirely with such things. We consume many other things besides goods and time. We consume fictional stories, images, dreams and romances. We also consume our relationsip including blood ties, school ties and regional ties.
Above all, we are a consumer of values. The value of the same object can be seen in many different ways. Some grown-ups say jajangmyeon, noodles stir-fried with bean paste, should be grouped in the lowest category for eating out for families. Some children, however, think the opposite.
Two people can watch the same play. One may shed tears and be deeply moved, while the other may sleep through it. The best form of value consumption is one in which the consumer judges the values of something on his own accord. Rather than make a fetish of others’ value judgments, we should make our own rational judgments based on our clear beliefs and criteria. If we spend money on luxury goods and private tutoring to keep up appearances, with nothing to fall back on because we are afraid of others’ attention, that turns us into a worthless consumer.
Impulse purchases can drive a person to spend more money than he or she should. However, that also makes him a slave to society, unable to fairly judge the item. Consuming values independently leads to the creation of values. Values can be re-shaped by the subject and scope of their meaning and expanded much further. Value creation is one of the catchphrases advocated by companies and politicians. However, the truly valuable creation of values is done by the consumers themselves.
No matter how innovative the product a company develops, and no matter how revolutionary the policies politicians push, if consumers and voters cannot become the true consumers, then no meaningful values are created. Therefore, we can say that consumption is art. The intrinsic substance of art is to create value. The genuine consumer pursues creation rather than mere possessions.
Bertrand Russell said: “There are two kinds of impulses, corresponding to two kinds of goods. There are possessive impulses, which are aimed at acquiring or retaining private goods that cannot be shared. And there are creative or constructive impulses, which aim to bring into the world or make available for use the kind of goods in which there is no privacy and no possession. Among these two, human happiness truly lies in developing and strengthening the creative impulse. It is the key to opening a new life.
To be a creator or not? That is Hamlet’s question and it is the dilemma that lies ahead for modern consumers.
*The writer is an art critic. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Joo-heon