Andy Warhol's Electrical Chairs

The difference between art and accounting

There isn't any

This past weekend I spent my entire Sunday reading up on accounting. Yes, accounting. Please read on. This post is not really about accounting.

My sole motivation for studying this somewhat tedious part of business life was the fact that I am starting up a new activity and hate to be completely at the mercy of my accountant. He’s a nice chap and all, but he costs money and he often forgets to fill in a few pedagogical blanks when explaining things to me. So basically, I sat down to learn some more myself.

The hours between lunch and late afternoon, when my 5-year old offered me hot chocolate with marshmallows, were spent figuring out, stay with me here, how: One, depreciation is made part of the profit loss statement. Two, how it’s then then made part of accumulated depreciation on the balance sheet. And then, three, the thing that really got me, how to still keep the balance sheet at 0 after all this.

All of this is really besides the point but, anyway, I figured it out. To save you some agony, should you ever: The ‘cash’ part of the assets chart is credited with the depreciation so they cancel each other out.

Still reading? Hang on.

What this means is that the stuff that got partly depreciated, say the furniture in your office, slightly shifted its status in this world from being 100% fixed asset to being part cash. In accounting terms, anyway.

This sounds weird doesn’t it? That’s because I still don’t understand it well enough to explain it in a way that would make it in any way rationally comprehensible.

But the more I sat there staring at the balance sheet, the more I sort of “got it”. I still couldn’t explain it to myself for dear life, but I sort of “saw it”. Grasped it on some pre-linguistic level. Like a mental image of a logical structure. A bit like when I smoked pot in my student days and clearly “saw” mesmerising logics that I then attempted to write down only to find myself struggling hard to not make it all sound like utter drivel … I wish I still had those notebooks.

It makes you see
So where does art come into the picture?

Well, while showering before dinner, it dawned on me that “seeing” how accumulated depreciation becomes cash compares exactly to how good visual art works. No, really.

Some people will question the purpose of visual art beyond its aesthetics. Others will analyse it and attempt to put its meaning into words.

But visual art is at its best when it makes you “see” things – those things that can’t really be turned into linguistic representations, can’t be turned into words and sentences.

An accountant could have explained the concept of accumulated depreciation in balance sheets to me for hours, and I might have understood it in a rational sense. But the foundation for my understanding really came by “seeing” it. It somehow felt as if words could never really contain the fullness of the logic. Or the meaning, if you will.

And this is what art does. We can talk about pop society, endless reproduction, loss of identity and hyperreality till kingdom come. But a collection of Andy Warhol screen prints somehow seem to better contain the fullness of these concepts.

We can talk about solitude, despair, of feeling removed and remote. But looking at Alberto Giacometti’s stick men just somehow seem to carry so much more meaning than hours of conversation ever could.

Or we can look at photographs – capturing a moment in time otherwise impossible to grasp, and from them decipher and “see” feelings and emotions that no one who was there when the photograph was taken would be able to truly put into words.

Or, of course, we can appreciate “seeing” the logic of accumulated depreciation turning into cash. Same thing. Sort of.