Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cheap Art or Thrifty Treasure? Does Cost Really Equal Value Anyway?


Joerg posted a few musings on the affordable print trend (especially, and understandably, among emerging artists). Paddy posted a response, and Joerg replied in another post. I have no interest in continuing the clothing style metaphor, as obviously black is always the new black in any NYC based industry, but I posted some thoughts in comments over at AFC, but I’m bringing it here as well.

The discussion revolves around lower priced prints, “value,” the artistic experience, the “original” experience, and a plethora of problematic concepts that make me want to run back to The Mechanical Age. I’ve picked out the photobook related discussion as applying to my work and the majority of photographic work that I enjoy.

Personally, no one seems to think that a 50 dollar photo book is exceedingly cheap, but there’s an average of 40-60 images in any of mine. So, they’re non-darkroom prints, and are a bit more than half the size of my exhibition prints, and come out to less than a dollar each.

People would think that I’m insane if I was selling prints that size for less than a dollar, and I would be, I think, but the book is still my original “work” – that’s the art to me. So it does have a special status, not just viewing the work in a different manner. It’s the actual art object and the sequence is extremely important. In fact, I am constantly on the verge of telling people that I really hate photography, I just like books and sequences of ideas, I just happen to work in pictures made with cameras. Who cares about “photography?” Anyway, thoughts for another time.

A book, at least any good book, is always a lot more than a collection of cheap prints. So like the comment above, while I’d never even think of buying a Frank print, I love having an old battered copy of his book.


I don’t know. I hardly even care about prints. But I grew up with computers, so maybe I’m used to the art coming to me.

I still like looking at a nice painting though, for some reason.

Also about treating cheaper objects with greater disregard – do people really do this?

I have always thought that if I mistreat something it is because it is easily replaceable. That has nothing to do with how much money you paid for it. Just because you were able to get an 8×10 print of an amazing photograph for 25 dollars once does not mean you ever will be able to again. Anyone who has tried to find a copy of Suikoden II for the Sony Playstation understands this concept – a game that was in bargain bins almost the week it was released now goes for upwards of 180 dollars on ebay. It’s because it’s rare and it’s rumored to be quite good.

We tend to associate value with price, since we routinely pay very little money for say, a toothbrush or a paper cup, but I’m sure a huge amount of people are bargain finders and tag sale treasure hunters. The price/value concept only really applies to true commodities, consumable goods, mass manufactured products. So while some art is certainly editioned, good stuff still feels like something to be treasured – spill coffee on that polaroid you bought from the amusement park vendor, and you’ve still lost the only copy of something important to you. Who cares about the price, that was your record of a first date! Or, alternatively, your Stradivarius you happened to find at a rummage sale.

Some of my most prized materiel possessions I only got for a couple bucks. Almost all of my artistic treasures I got for free or trade. My favorite copy of a book is often one I found at the town dump.


You get my point.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has rarely equated original purchase value with emotional or aesthetic value. Why would I start with art?

It certainly seems that the commercial art world applies “value” in a weighted manner, with monetary interest driving much of the action. If someone’s prints are selling for a million dollars, they must be good right?


posted by Ian Aleksander Adams at 8:02 pm