Well at least it doesn’t leak

 cost more than

Adrian agonises over buying a useless tiling that is not a boat

I use bought a picture that cost as much as a boat; more, in tact. It depicts what the artist cans a ’. I reckon ita short shift, what Burns called a sark’in his narrative poem Tam o’Shanter, but there is nothing nautical about it. Just a flying shirt really.

There is a Folkboat for sale in an Essex boatyard for ?4,950 and from the particulars I gather she is pretty much ready for sea. Very tidy and about the same price as our picture, except that our picture will not float. As a boat, therefore, our picture would be regarded by serious sailors as worse than useless. It is so big you could not even fit it inside a Folkboat, or a superyacht for that matter.

I am willing to bet that it took the builders of the Folkboat three times at least as long to make the boat. The materials would have cost many times more than the paint and board used to make this useless thing, which cost more than a very useful thing, the boat.

Moreover this useless thing will become more valuable (though no less useless) over time whereas the useful thing, despite remaining no less useful, will become worthless with the years. How come? And more to the point, what made us buy such a useless object for more than it would have cost to buy something useful (like 20 years’supply of firewood, for example)?

It is the old difference between art and craft; the reason why a pickled cow costs more than a Fife schooner; why anything with the label ’made by an artist is likely to cost more than something made by a craftsman. Why my 12ft clinker dinghies cost less than a painting. Is it just snobbery that elevates art above craft? Can you put a price on inspiration? Must everything be valued by the time it takes to make it, the materials rather than the genius behind the idea?

Now I am not suggesting that artists do not go through a rigorous training, or that artworks do not take a great deal of time and effort. Ours has a wonderful texture, built up using what looks like scraped wax, and even the frame is a work of art; the work of a true craftsman, in fact. Artists require talent, and an eye to the market (which is where poor old Van Gogh fell down). An artist cannot expect to sell anything he or she makes straight away, whereas a canny craftsman will always have a market, albeit at a more modest price level. He can rely on a steadier income with which to bring up his family, feed them and, if heflush, buy a piece of art. That, in turn, will keep the artist fed through the lean times, or while being inspired, or simply waiting for someone to buy something, and that can be a pretty hit or miss business.

It does make you question the meaning of the word useful.

If a painting lifts the spirit and adds to lifeenjoyment, even span, then it is arguably more useful than a chair which simply keeps your bottom off the floor. Or a yacht which sits on a mooring out of sight, is used for 200 hours a season, and costs ?2,000 to keep and maintain —pretty useless in fact compared to a painting that quickens the heart every day, will never need maintenance, docs not leak and may well appreciate in value.

It is nevertheless the single most expensive thing we have ever bought. Wequibble about the electricity bill, and how much we spend on the necessities of life, but we will never question the decision to buy a useless piece of art. Weird.

Readers may well have guessed by now that this is less a column, more an attempt at self-therapy. I think itworked. As for the painting, please yourself: itall in the eye of the beholder, like the Cutty Sark…