The Thermodynamic Value of Art

[ Republished: 3rd edit – 14th March, 2017 – from original article April 2015 ]

author’s note:

This is one of my favourite articles in terms of the topic, so in this rewrite I’ll do my best to do justice to the creative needs of people, and the value to society of properly serving those needs.

The image above the article is doggy-art … a muddy paw print from a very happy and playful puppy ( on my shirt ).

additional note:

I am assuming as you read this article, that you have enough understanding of the general principle of a non-property/trade/currency-based economic paradigm, to understand the context of the hypothetical scenario proposed.

this particular hypothetical describes a future scenarios beyond the transition between economic paradigms, so it doesn’t deal with the intervening scenario of profit sharing via the Ethical Investment Hedge Fund ( interface to the status quo of capitalism ), but we will cover that towards the end.


Many creatives struggle with negotiation, getting paid ( fairly or at all ), getting the time and resources to practice their art, and getting gigs.

Everyone wants the pleasure from appreciation of art, but not everyone can afford ( and are interested ) to pay enough, often enough, to support the arts community; so doing commercial work is their bread and butter ( which many of them actually hate ), or they have to do some unrelated job to pay the rent.

The same is true for technical creatives, it’s just that their equipment and resources are more expensive, and the end product isn’t necessarily about aesthetics ( more likely about function than form ).

Part of the aim of creating the Project Collaboration Development & Resource Allocation Framework of the Open Empire Foundation, is to help creative people express their ideas, skills, and vision. Another motivation is to ensure people are able to enjoy ALL the creative works that their heart desires.

If you like a painting someone else made, and you want to put that painting in your home or your workplace, and the artist that made it wants someone like you to enjoy their art, and to have it exhibited where people will see it when they come to your business or your home … why should their capacity to develop that art, or your capacity to enjoy it, be limited by some arbitrary economic system? It doesn’t make sense.

In the hypothetical future proposed by the Open Empire Foundation, creative people get to maximise their creative expression without such arbitrary limits, and everyone gets to enjoy the creative output without arbitrary limits also.

This is not just restricted to “works of art”, it is a new economic principle that applies to ALL creative works – a technically creative person will be making their “art” also, in the form of engineering or whatever.


Imagine a world where – if you have a creative idea ( of any kind ):

  • you don’t need any money to begin work on it
  • you don’t need to worry about paying the rent
  • you don’t need to worry about your next meal
  • you don’t need to know whether it’s feasible
  • you don’t need to know how it is feasible

All you need to do in this hypothetical world, is to have an idea, and insert it into a process. If the idea has serious merit, it will go forward whether you want to take it forward or not, whether you know how to or not, and without you ever having to necessarily negotiate a thing. You’ll be credited with part responsibility for every single productive output that can be traced back to your original idea, even if you took no further part in the process, and even if you didn’t even know about some of the other projects that came about because of your original idea.

In this hypothetical world, the only thing that matters is that you have an idea, and that the idea has potential value – not “value” in monetary terms ( as money has ceased to exist ), but value in terms of nett positive ecological & social consequences.

imagine also that:

  • anyone can enjoy as much creative output as can be supplied
  • anyone can copy, forge, mimic, and supply your artistic work
  • the whole notion of piracy and intellectual property is gone

In this hypothetical future, if a “consumer” is happy to have a different version of your work produced by someone else, that’s fine … because you’re still proportionally credited with the origination of the root idea.

Thus creative ideas are exponentially spread throughout the world, instead of hoarded by intellectual property owners, and restricted by artificial scarcity to bump up the price.


So imagine you’re an painter, musician, inventor, or whatever it is your heart desires to pursue as a creative endeavour … and you’ve decided what level of productive work you need to do, in order to justify whatever access to scare resources you require for your lifestyle and work.

Any abundant resources you need, you can just have ( because the new economic paradigm doesn’t restrict access to or commodify abundant resources – see other pages and posts for an explanation of this ).

So your art is easy to produce, you go get any abundant resources required to support yourself and your art, and you also go get whatever scarce resources you require, or someone on your project team goes to get them ( if they’re a better negotiator and can argue the case for why your project is a great use of those resources ).

In the case you don’t have a strong enough argument for access to those scarce resources required, you then either:

  1. go learn to make those scarce resources – because someone who already knows will teach you, because they’ll be partially credited for the resulting reduction in scarcity … or;
  2. go do something else to:
    • reduce scarcity of a resource
    • increase abundance of a resource
    • reduce deleterious ecological &/or social consequences
    • increase beneficial ecological &/or social consequences

Since the above is now everyone’s motivation in life, and since so many things need getting done, it won’t be hard for you to find something to do … and when you go back to a supplier of the resource you needed, you can also find out if there’s particular things they care about, and which contributing to would influence their decision … because they’re not bound to follow the guidance given by the data from the new economic paradigm, they can always ignore it because of something they value more, and for which they’re willing to take whatever slight hit to their statistics, as might arise from such an interaction with you.

Over time, less resources are scarce as a result of these changed motivational foundations of human activity, and thus there’s less and less issue with getting the things you need.

In this world everyone works for themselves, even if they work in very large teams … there’s no such thing as “employers”, only projects. People who work in teams on a project either agree with the direction they’re going together, or elect a “leader”, or in some other way work it out amongst themselves as to how they will collaborate on their project.

If at any stage anyone doesn’t like the arrangement, they can branch off a new project based on all the exact same work, they can even continue to take ideas from the branch they left if that branch is ok with allowing them to do so ( in return for crediting the source ), and there could be dozens of branches of basically the same work, but different visions of where it is headed.

Some of these may merge back together at some stage, and maybe several will reach completion as finished “products”.

Those whom are familiar with the open source distributed development and version control system called Git ( developed by Linus Torvalds – the creator of the Linux operating system ), will be familiar with this idea of decentralised project development with Git … and so in a sense, what I am talking about doing is scaling this up to the size of an entire economic paradigm, and integrating it with a bunch of other systems and principles.

the rewards to society

Now … the audience for the creative output of all these projects don’t need to “pay” for anything, they just go take and enjoy it ( if it is abundantly available – such as digital content, which has no limits aside from the power and resources to run the systems on which it is hosted and presented ).

In the case that a project has scarce output ( supply ) relative to demand, then people still don’t have to pay for it, but those responsible for the distribution of the output will ( most likely – due to their own motivations within the framework ) look to what the data from the system tells them about the relative merit of all those applying for access to the resource.

Either way – once distributed – the value for the creators of the resource produced by the creative project ( art, music, poetry, film, inventions, or whatever ), is ongoing for the life of that output resource.

So if you produce a painting, and that painting is hung in the conference room of an organisation, then your painting has “influence” on every activity and event conducted in that conference room, which is proportionally traced back to all the people who got that piece of art to be there, and indeed also to the person who comes in and dusts it off from time to time, or whatever else … and if the painting is later moved to a new venue, then it registered location is changed, and the value of its influence on that location now begins to flow back to all the people who proportionally contributed to it being there.

intellectual property

In this hypothetical future, there’s no longer any such thing as theft of intellectual property, because there’s no such thing as property ( at all ).

Rather than restricting access to your idea to get the best monetary benefit from it ( because capitalism values scarcity ), instead as many people who want to create new things based on other ideas, may do so … and so long as those things have a nett positive ecological / social outcome, there’s incentive for them to do it.

No matter who produces what, and no matter from what original starting ideas ( by themselves or someone else ), the creators of ideas are recognised for their contributions – even if the contribution is only one of many indirect influences – because all consequences of production, proportionally trace back causation to every action that brought about their manifestation.

back to “reality” ( the present day )

In the world today, a great many creative (& technical) people, who love nothing more than the free expression of their creative vision, and to enjoy watching others experience it, struggle for such opportunity.

instead they are struggling:

  • at some job they hate
  • with stress & depression
  • getting time to be creative
  • to acquire arts/technical supplies
  • to acquire other required equipment
  • to eat healthy and stay positive
  • to keep a roof over their heads

… and facing obstacles that – for whatever reason – are depriving the rest of us from seeing and enjoying what they can do.

Many people in life have forgotten their creative talents from childhood, which were ignored, discouraged, or just lacked adequate support – and thus stifled & atrophied. Yet capitalism delusionally believes that arbitrarily stifling human potential, is somehow “profitable” ( as if that wasn’t an oxymoron ).

How does any of this benefit anyone or anything?

It doesn’t.

Artists, inventors, and other creatives, need the time & resources to practice their art, skills, knowledge, and to experiment. They need time to make mistakes, to learn & evolve as a creative artist, inventor or other innovator.


We can be pretty sure civilisation sees only a tiny fraction of human potential ever expressed … through no fault at all of the people being exploited and oppressed by the economic system.

the loss to society

There’s a great talk by Sir Kenneth Robinson on the industrialisation of education, in which he mentions a study showing how school kills the inherited capacity of all human beings, for genius level creative & lateral thinking.

Not only is this loss quite tragic for the individual, but – given the extraordinary capacity of this organic super computer in our skulls – it is a crime to waste billions of times this potential through war, poverty, & exploitation.

imagine for a minute what we could achieve if:

  1. No persons were ever brainwashed
  2. No persons were ever enslaved or exploited
  3. No persons were denied any opportunity to learn or create
  4. No persons were ever tortured, imprisoned, or killed

… we wouldn’t even recognise our world.

the problem

In a capitalist economic sense, the meaning of the word “value” is entirely subjective and arbitrary, which means that it is actually meaningless; but in a scientific sense, it is supposed to be entirely objective.

money can’t value anything, because money doesn’t even understand the real meaning of value

think about that for a moment:

  • How many joules, metres, kilograms, newtons, watts – or any other unit of scientifically valid quantification of any natural phenomenon – is directly represented, translatable, or even just indirectly related to a dollar, yen, pound, lira, peso, Bit-Coin or any other currency ( fiat, crypto or otherwise )?
  • Whatever reasoning you might think you can come up with, remember that all someone has to do in order to debunk that reasoning, is show one single circumstance, in which such a valuation changes due to influences that have little or nothing to do with quantification of natural phenomenon.

the problem gets worse:

  • the artist is desperate for survival needs
  • doesn’t know how to quantify the value of their work
  • isn’t great a negotiator at the best of times, and
  • the stress of commercialisation is killing their artistic passion
  • therefore: what they accept as payment, has little if anything to do with the true value, and mostly just represents their desperation, bargaining power, and negotiation skills

in other words:

There exists – quite simply – no such connection at all, between the use of the word “value” in economics, and any real natural principles; there isn’t even a connection to any personal sense of “value”, unless you have a strong negotiating position, and the power to get things on your terms ( all of which is irrelevant in a discussion of justice and sustainability anyway ).

within capitalism the only things that get made are:

  1. That which is already known & understood ( stagnation )
  2. That which extends something known & understood ( minor advancement )
  3. That which someone is willing to take a risk on ( possible major advancement )
  4. That which can be self, family, or community funded ( limited opportunity )

We get less of category 3, as it’s the hardest one to get funding for.

While crowdfunding has helped a little, it doesn’t typically deliver much to those who desperately need it, and is more likely to support those who already have other avenues of funding … since it takes a fair bit of a resource base to produce a highly successful crowdfunding campaign.

The delusion of monetary value, causes the loss of real opportunity and value

where are we without funding for art, culture, and invention?

  • our lives become pale & homogenous
  • our lives become needlessly harsher

the questions

  • How do we free people to create & invent?
  • How do we determine the value of such works?
  • How do we properly reward creation & invention?
  • How do we support creatives through their process?

the challenge

Even if a person manages to make it through family life and the schooling system unscathed, then all the other challenges of growing up into early adulthood … unless they’re born wealthy, or are extremely fortunate, and coincidentally excel at something which is already well-known and highly popular in the marketplace – they’ve got to find a way to generate an income for their art / invention, but which also spares them the extra time they need.

This is a real dilemma for many people, because their jobs ( if they’re lucky enough to have one ) are boring, soul killing, and emotionally / mentally / physically exhausting – plus they only pay enough to scrape by week to week, a significant chunk of which is spent on the additional costs of getting to and from work. The remainder being taken up to pay rent and basic expenses, because they can’t afford to buy their own home even if they could save the money for a deposit ( and assuming the bank would finance them ).

… and that’s the lucky ones who didn’t have their creative streak killed.


So in the status quo of the world today, most potential art and invention never gets made in the first place … but for that which does, you’ve still got to find a buyer, and face the challenge of negotiating perceived versus production value ( in dollar terms ).

Your painting, sculpture, or invention – assuming you’ve actually managed to scrape together the time and resources to do it – may have taken months or years ( plus material investment ), instead of just hours days or weeks.

Which means the production value ( from your perspective ) is not just the entire cost of living for you over that time, but also the additional cost of your sacrifice, risk, and delayed gratification … but the buyer might not see this as their problem to pay for all that, nor care, nor perhaps be able to afford it.

Currency based valuation is pretty much 100% based on subjective viewpoints & bargaining position, capacity to pay, etc. … and by which stage of the process, the artist is likely so desperate for some cash, they take anything.

Capitalist economic “value” has nothing to do with real natural value.

the open empire foundation alternative

The Open Empire Foundation’s “project collaboration development & resource allocation framework” is designed to handle both the transitional arrangements – as we gradually move away from capitalism, but are still tied to it – and also the future scenario beyond that, where the very notions of property trade and currency have become redundant.

transition versus future:

During transition we need to interface with the status quo, but without letting it undermine what we’re trying to achieve.

Also – from the artist or inventor’s perspective – you don’t want to have to learn some insanely complex system, just to get the things you need in life … so the system has a simple user interface, and aims to automate more and more of the process as time goes on.

how would it work:

  1. Start: you have an idea, or want to contribute resources / skills
  2. Account: download software & / or go online to create an account
  3. Profile: setup your profile and register any resources ( including personal skills and knowledge ) which may be available to others’ projects
  4. Create: setup your first project
  5. Next: log the activities of your project
    • Process: follow the flexible project management process
    • Assistance: invite ( or accept assistance request ) from specialists
    • Logging: log your project activities on the fly &/or retrospectively
    • Resources: search for, offer, and send / receive resource requests
    • Automation: as the framework evolves, automation increases
  6. Completion: when your project finishes, one of two things happens:
    • The cash economy still exists: so project output is sold into the cash economy – profits are distributed proportionally to all involved ( including money for repairing damage done, or ‘investment’ otherwise by nature )
    • The cash economy no longer exists: so you find a place ( or places ) where your art or invention will achieve the greatest beneficial consequences – or where you want to put it otherwise for your own personal reasons – and you are credited with providing that art or item, thus its ongoing benefits contribute to your merit for access to scarce resources.
  7. Mobility: if an art or technical installation is no longer needed or wanted in its present location, you can reinstall it elsewhere & thus continue to benefit from its influence ( for its lifetime or yours, whichever ends first ).

the thermodynamic value of art

So finally we arrive at this bottom line question:

what exactly is the “value” of art?

Well, the value of art is the same as the value of anything else:

Value is a measure of the quantifiable consequences attributable to the subject of valuation. Value can be internal ( value to oneself ), external ( value to others ), or systemic ( total value ).


Stress has a detrimental effect on human health, and catharsis has the effect of purging the biochemical, environmental, physiological, psychological, & sociological causes of stress.


  • the value of art can be quantified via reduction of stress

Such things can be measured by changes in heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and other bio-information.

Stress can also constitute a distracting influence on a person, thus resulting in reduced focus, productivity, and safety.

This value can be assumed to be a proportional value of the activities of the location in which the art is displayed.

education & inspiration:

Art informs people & can depict an explanation of an otherwise complex idea.

Extremely important information can be ignored completely by society – despite its importance – yet the same information retold by someone else ( with flair ), and the intended impact of the original author is realised.


  • art conveys and explains ideas
  • art enables comprehension
  • art thus instigates action
  • art can be the catalyst for massive change


This benefit could also be termed “relating”, and is effectively one of the key elements of successful education ( as per the previous point ).

A person may benefit from a particular piece of information, but may only identify or understand one particular telling of it ( perhaps via art ). So the potential value of the information never changed, however the realised value changed dramatically, simply as a consequence of communication format and style.


I’ve divided this category in two parts, though others may exist.


What happens when we experience pleasure? Endorphins are released, making happy squeaky sounds inside hearts & minds, bringing joy – thus a positive physiological, psychological, and psychosocial health impact.

Pleasure and happiness can impact every single association & interaction that a person has.

  • art contributes to some degree to every success experienced by a person who enjoyed the art, positively impacting their state of mind & performance
  • the consequences of this initial impact reduces in significance over time ( as do all influences ), as a result of the principle of diminishing returns ( aka entropy ), but the total influence may also increase in significance over time, if the art and its influence is repeatedly remembered by the viewer

Although – as with pain ( below ) – pleasure can also do the opposite, for example by making someone complacent about the need for change.


Pain is a tricky one because it can impact both positively & negatively as above – even both simultaneously – and sometimes the nature of that impact is linked to human perspective, including psychological delusion or dysfunction.

So let’s just consider the easier bits for now:
  • pain can motivate
  • pain can help with catharsis
  • pain can help with identification

There may be other aspects, but for now just to demonstrate, your art can deliver a positive yet painful experience for someone, and which has a positive ongoing impact. This is why people find such things hard to quantify.

This can be especially true where art causes discomfort that results in motivation for positive personal change.


This is perhaps one of the easiest to imagine.

  • art creates atmosphere & a sense of place
  • art instigates conversations & friendships

So within any functional space – whether that be a garden, a gallery, an office, or a public bar – art contributes to the quantifiable outputs of the various interactions occurring in that environment.

Therefore art is partially responsible for not only making such interactions possible, but also for the ongoing effects and influence long afterwards.

who does the quantification?

As we tally all these things, we find a multidimensional network of ongoing interactions between actors, events, transactions, and consequences.

Your art is ( like yourself ) constantly evolving its influence, which both it and you deserve to be rewarded for – but most ( if not all ) of which, the present economic paradigm ignores completely – ie: you get paid once, if you’re lucky, and if you’re really lucky you might get some royalties.

None of this actually matters unless there’s a scarce resource you want or need – otherwise, the quantification is just going on in the background. You don’t need to understand how it works, or even to think about it at all … you just do your art, share it, and enjoy life.

The quantification itself is an automatic by-product of other things that are occurring. In short: computers do the work, you just give it the working data.


Your art, creativity, expression, ideas, and inventions are all extremely valuable, and the Open Empire Foundation vision is a pathway towards unblocking the creative potential of our species, while providing a different motivational framework for what we do & why we do it – therefore changing the consequences of having done it.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this article & it gave you some food for thought.

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