The practicality of artwork has long been debated, usually seen as a marker of civilization but virtually useless. What about the artwork we’ve been so accustomed to that it escapes our notice, passed off as common normalcy and quickly disregarded, the art on one of the most practical products of society? The artistic designs printed on money-small change specifically- have been brought to the forefront through the ‘boom’ in a fad called “coin cutting.” Coin cutting is the act of taking the coinage of a country and either cutting away the excess background to have the ‘main picture’ suspended for emphasis, or redesigning the piece entirely.
A Symbolic/Interpretive Anthropologist would see this as an assertation of one’s independence. With the understanding that meaning is public and money is nationally symbolic of government, the altered image of the coin can be interpreted as a political stance, a small disobedient act that can be argued as anarchist. Coin cutters dispute that while ‘defacing’ government property is illegal, embellishing that property is not. They have re-defined law in their own terms, terms that are contradictory to the societally long established. Or at the very least Interpretivists might see this redesign as a visual representation of the political and societal change that has been subtly brewing.
A Functionalist would explain this phenomenon a bit differently. Today’s culture has a growing consciousness of its waste output. The messages of ‘up cycling’ ‘recycling’ and ‘thriftiness’ printed on posters and shouted from ‘PSA’s have become normative. At the same time the influx in the popularity of credit cards and electronic swipes have taken precedence as the most common way purchases are made, and brought with it an abundance of dusty coins. The rounded presidential profiles have become virtually obsolete in the trading process. What better way for an artist to meet “the specific societal need” of enforcing a cultural ideal than to “waste not, want not” and string a re-purposed pendant around their neck?
Coin cutting is a fascinating trend growing in popularity. A Symbolic/ Interpretive Anthropologist would draw a vastly different conclusion to explain the phenomenon than that of a Functionalist. While a Symbolic Anthropologist might argue that this art is a way to further a political agenda (a desecration of the old to become something new) a Functionalist might argue that a social agenda is driving the popularity of this re-purposed art.
– Sam E.