Occasionally I will have a Maud Lewis painting displayed for sale in my shop, and it is sometimes interesting to get people’s reactions to a $6,000 painting that at first glance looks like their 12 year old niece painted it. A “my goodness will you look at that”, and some covered up snickering pretty well expresses their complete disbelief that something so simple could possibly be worth so much money. I occasionally will give a brief description of the circumstances of her simple Nova Scotia life, and add fuel to the fire by informing them that in her lifetime she sold them for twelve to fifteen dollars from her tiny little house by the side of the road. I then suggest that it is probably simplest to think in terms of supply and demand. The supply of these paintings has stopped since her death in 1970, and there are many more people wanting them than there are paintings available. This of course skirts the main issue of their confusion as to how anything like this could be desirable in the first place. To answer this you have to go a lot farther.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and for some people, and I include myself in this group, great value is placed in anything that is produced by man or woman that manages to capture, or in some way manifest beauty. I do not mean “pretty picture” beauty here. I mean beauty as in creations that manage to be a celebration of existence, or a connection to the greater truth. Something that has energy. This energy can be found occasionally in the works of trained and untrained artists alike. The real value in truly great works of art is in experiencing them, and in doing so to be educated and transformed by them. Understanding beauty is our salvation. Money really just confuses the issue. So in relative terms, $4 million for a Tom Thompson and $6,000 for a Maude Lewis: the Lewis is still cheap.