I was in a photography gallery last weekend when I overheard the salesperson tell some customers that the pieces they were looking at had no Photoshop work performed on them. I wondered at this.
Admittedly the pieces were of the sort that looked as if Photoshop must have been used extensively (in fact, I actually am not sure the salesperson was telling the truth!). But I got the distinct feeling that the unstated message was that the work was more valuable because Photoshop was not used.
I wondered what the equivalent point would be in the painting world – maybe “this piece was painted using only #2 brushes” or “I used only red, blue and yellow paint”. Maybe there are people out there who would care. Maybe they would take some added satisfaction when looking at the piece hanging on their wall knowing that certain constraints were enforced in the creation of the work.
But, seriously, do you think that much about what tools the artist used or do you care more about how the piece looks, how it makes you feel, what mood or emotion it evokes? It’s not as if all one has to do is buy Photoshop, install it and push a button and out pops the final piece any more than a painting paints itself if the artist buys a palette full of different colors.
OK, I’ll dismount my “what’s wrong with Photoshop” soapbox and pose the more general, and probably more interesting question – what criteria should be applied to establishing the value of a piece of art?
Here are some common metrics that seem a little problematic to me…
How much time did the artist spend making it? Some artists work more slowly – should they be paid more?
Is it new work or old? Maybe the older work is better…
How big is it? Well, maybe… more materials costs more, but big isn’t always better.
How unique is the work? Hmmm… perhaps there is a good reason other artists aren’t doing this.
It’s a favorite of the artist. But the artist isn’t the one buying it so who cares?
Made with antique tools vs modern tools – means it probably could have been better.
In the end, I believe everyone has to determine if a piece of art is worth the money being asked because of how much they like it – big/small, old/new, common/unique, regardless of how it was made, it boils down to the emotional reaction. How will you feel everyday looking at that piece of art?
If someone loves a piece of art, why spoil it for them by applying an arbitrary metric of value to it that undercuts their own emotional valuation? What it’s worth is up to them.