What’s it Worth to You?


Waiting, photograph

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.

6 responses to “What’s it Worth to You?

  1. This is an excellent conversation and I agree with you completely– how many times have I been asked how long did it take to paint it– we joke about saying “how long have I been painting? 30 years!”. I do not care what the medium is, what the process is– how long, how big, what techniques– just the end result– because the artist has to make decisions in making the art. I just left a comment on another blog because he thought some might look down on his collages because he made them in photo shop– he still had to choose the elements, arrange them and so on– so what if he did not use any glue like I do. good points.

  2. Donna

    Exactly! It’s really the end product that counts and, whatever method the artist uses to get there, they still must make all of the artistic choices that go into it. Therein lies the act of making art.

  3. Yeap! No doubt for me, Bob, that one’s perception (inclusivelly the emotional perception) creates one’s reality! A lot of silly criteria out there in the world! I wonder why din’t you mention also the most typical for the general public in North America: how much?

    As if some excentric payed 1 milion dollars for some silly golden cow makes the cow a work of art…just because it cost (?) 1 million…

  4. A lot of people DO think all you have to do is push the PS button…. of course they have never used PS and don’t know s_ _t about how it works …. but there is a perception out there (among some) that tech has in some way taken the human touch out of creating art … it is the almighty machine doing all the work….. Photoshop is a tool … like a brush or a lens … use it as a tool …. It is the artist that creates the art … I have never gone into a gallery and seen people staring at a Photoshop disc on the wall……..

  5. Danu

    You’re right, pricing can create perceived value – there are so many stories of artists who suddenly sold more when they doubled their prices.


    You’re so right – the people who devalue work done using Photoshop are those who have never really tried to do anything artistic with it.

  6. “Art for Art’s sake, money for God’s sake” sang 10cc.

    Well, in our businesses, be they photography, painting, or music, commercial considerations cannot be ignored, but in determining the Art’s worth, its value as a piece of work surely comes down to the reaction the piece has on the viewer/buyer/listener. If it moves them, the techniques, implements, time taken, etc. are entirely irrelevant, if it fails to move them, similarly so. The Beatles early albums, recorded on the fly with antiquated 2 track technology have a validity because of what they are, not how they came to be, and god knows, there are 1,000’s of 48 track beautifully produced turkeys that can’t hold a candle to them.

    A piece of work is worth the sum total of its appreciation.

    By the way, was this taken on your kayaking trip? A beautiful shot.

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