money into art

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money into art

daya dissanayake

Dr. Sanjay Garg (author of Sikka and the Raj: A History of Currency Legislations of the East India Company, 1772-1835) delivered the monthly lecture organized by the RAS on November 25th. It was titled, 'Power of Money: Money of Power. Probing Money as Mass Media'. As I listened the thought came to me that there is Art in Money and Money is also a form of art, besides the monetary value of art. Then I watched Mark Wagner on Vimeo use dollar bills as material to create works of art, cutting them into pieces and putting them together in new designs, disregarding the legal restrictions. (Defacement of currency is a violation of Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code.)

There is also the 'art of folding money', without damaging or disfiguring the notes, like Dan Tague in New Orleans, who creates messages by folding the dollar bills. When currency notes are used for the Japanese paper folding, it is called Moneygami, which is becoming very popular.

'The Art of Money: The History and Design of Paper Currency from Around the World' was published by David Standish in 2000. Standish claims that in a poll conducted among the staff of a currency service, the 50 guilder bill from the Netherlands was voted the prettiest. It shows "a glowing design of a bee on a sunflower". The British Museum comments, "the netherlands has deliberately moved away from patriotic themes, focusing rather on dramatic and colourful designs that can easily be recognized...more recent Dutch notes are dominated by geometric patterns, with naturalistic images of birds or animals hidden in security features.."

Art is used in producing money, or currency, as a value addition, to boost the image of rulers, who want to show their faces everywhere, and most often the artwork is just to increase its aesthetic value.

Art of money, also include the art of making money. making money has always been an art, even when we use science and technology. There is our old saying, 'hamba karanava and hari-hamba karanava', because our people differentiated between 'earning' and 'rightful earning'. There is a term 'Lucre' which is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as "money, especially when regarded as sordid or distasteful or gained in a dishonest way." "Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake" (Titus 1:11). This too may be the reason that Buddhist monks were prohibited from touching money in the old days.

Some people try to pretend they have no respect for money. There was a doormat I saw in Singapore, some years ago, which had an image of a dollar bill on it, while many people in Singapore really worship money. The Bible also says "Ye cannot serve God and mammon". Mammon is the false god of riches and avarice, and the pursuit of wealth as an evil. Mammon is also considered as Lucifer, Ahriman, the Sun Demon, Mara and all their evil manifestations in human individuals and the world. Then Mammon worship could also be called Moneytheism.

The 'Prince of Humbugs', P. T. Barnum wrote 'The Art of Money Getting or Golden Rules For Making Money' in 1880, where he had written "the public is wiser than many imagine" and the customer should be treated right. That is what the visual artist Andy Warhol also said. "Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art."

The Sri Lanka currency notes too depict our heritage and our own fauna and flora, on the prints and also on the security features. These security features mean the artistic skills of the forger too have to keep pace with the developments, even though forging money probably has been with us ever since money had been coined, and sometimes considered the world's 'second oldest profession'. As counterfeiting keeps up, the governments too have to keep pushing the designers to exert their artistic and creative talents to meet the challenge. The standard punishment was death, for counterfeiting, as it was an act against the state. Anne Rogers was burnt alive, and her husband Thomas was hanged, drawn and quartered. But Justinian decided to employ the forger Alexander the Barber to exploit his skills "in their finance department". Germany and Austria during WWII had forced artists in concentration camps to forge British and French currency. There is also the high quality forgeries, called 'Superdollar' by the U.S. Secret Services, alleged to be produced by North Korea.

Bahamas could be the only country to have a three dollar note as legal currency. But In America a 'Three Dollar Bill' could mean a queer person.

Virtual currency could be the future. Dr. Garg in his speech touched on the 'Bitcoin', "the new peer-to-peer cryptocurrency". Others call it digital-gold, and is trading around US$ one thousand for One bitcoin (BBC 06/11/2013). Though it is called a coin, it does not exist physically, but had been created by someone using the name Satoshi Nakemoto. A Bitcoin cannot be forged. There is also no opportunity for anyone to show their artistic skills on a Bitcoin. Not yet anyway. In a world with only virtual money, would art still have a place? It is too early to speculate.

There is always filthy money, which created the term 'money laundering'. If money is filthy, then could all the artwork found in printed notes also be considered as filthy? And there is of course King Wangchuk of Bhutan, who believes that "Gross National Happiness is more important than the Gross National Product". We cannot buy Happiness with money.

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