Brain Pickings

The Art of Money

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Gangsta Abe, Russian plagiarism, and how to pay for food with your art.

Previously, we’ve looked at how artists use ordinary materials to transform them into incredible art creations — from paper to cardboard to toilet paper rolls to whole books. Today, we turn to the one “material” that makes the world go ’round: Money. Here are five of our favorites.

SCOTT CAMPBELL

After our recent obsession with surgical book sculptures, we’re turning to tattoo artist Scott Campbell‘s incredible carved currency sculptures. Beyond the indisputable aesthetic merit of his work, there also seems to be a subtle undercurrent of political commentary, which we quite enjoy.

There’s an excellent recent New York Times story about Campbell and his work — worth the read.

MONEYGAMI

You may recall these Japanese moneygami from pickings past — the delightfully irreverent origami portraits of world leaders gracing various bank notes, outfitted with entertainingly incongruous hats and head attire.

Explore the rest of these bad boys for some comic relief at the expense of expenses.

ART MONEY

Art Money is a curious project that seeks to offer a global alternative currency — a barter object to use instead of money that is both an exposure vehicle for participating artists worldwide and a financial crutch that allows them to support themselves while focusing on their art.

The idea is simple — artists create an original art money “bank note” measuring 12x18cm, which becomes the equivalent of 200 Danish Kroner (roughly $34), growing in value by five Euro per year for seven years. This money can be used as currency within the Art Money ecosystem, which includes various registered shops and businesses, as well as Art Money hosts who accept this payment for accommodation for traveling artists.

We love the idea of “paying” for necessities with original art — we’ve seen it before with Wants For Sale, and this recent news of the world’s biggest taxi tip offers another delightful example of art as a transactional alternative. Intrigued? Join the project and create your own art money or register your business to accept it.

Thanks, @haverholm

THE ART OF MONEY

For his senior thesis project, Cuban design student Yordan Silvera embarked upon an ambitious exploration of the aesthetic qualities of money. The result was The Art of Money — a design analysis of the typography, iconography, color and techniques used on different currencies from around the world.

The resulting book is absolutely stunning — we just wish Silvera would make the content available online and/or offer physical copies of the book for sale.

MARK WAGNER

Brooklyn-based artist Mark Wagner is a master of the X-acto knife. His intricate currency collages look laser-cut but are all meticulously hand-carved to a remarkable effect.

The one dollar bill is the most ubiquitous piece of paper in America. Collage asks the question: what might be done to make it something else? It is a ripe material: intaglio printed on sturdy linen stock, covered in decorative filigree, and steeped in symbolism and concept. Blade and glue transform it — reproducing the effects of tapestries, paints, engravings, mosaics, and computers-striving for something bizarre, beautiful, or unbelievable… the foreign in the familiar.” ~ Mark Wagner

So brilliant are his collages that they’ve incited the highest form of flattery — shameless plagiarism by Russian design getup Art Money. Case in point.

BONUS

If you find yourself fascinated by the design and art direction of currency, we highly recommend checking out Currency Museum — an incredibly rich, albeit tedious to navigate, collection of banknote designs from 155 countries, which is just 40 short of all the world’s recognized political states.

*** UPDATE 04.29 ***

Thanks to commenter C.K. Wilde, who pointed us to some of his incredible money art on Alternating Currency — arguably the most ambitious and, we imagine, painstakingly crafted of the bunch.

See more of Wilde’s work here — it’s absolutely amazing.

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