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Price is a Shortcut

by Clint Watson on 2/28/2008 7:41:07 AM

Last week we asked Does Expensive Art Just Look Better?  And concluded that, for most people.....well, yes.   This week we ask why.

In his seminal classic book Influence, Robert Cialdini investigated the effect that price has on purchasers' psychology.

He related the story of an exasperated jewelry store owner looking to move some turquoise jewelry that wasn't selling.  She decided to slash prices by one-half.  But her employee misunderstood and double the prices instead and the next day, all the jewelry sold out!

Why would doubling the price make more jewelry sell?

The premise is something like this:  We all suffer from information overload.  We don't possibly have the time to conduct a thorough investigation of every product before we purchase it.  Imagine having to compare artworks and prices of every artist in the world before making a purchase:  it would be impossible. 

So what do we do?  We look for "shortcuts" to put things into context.

Contextual shortcuts are the reason that a world-class violinist can be ignored completely if he performs in the subway.  Our metal "shortcut" tells us that, "A man playing violin in the subway isn't very good."

Contextual shortcuts also explain society's reverence for some of the "modern" art that hangs in art museums.  People walk away muttering, "My three year old could have painted that, but what do I know?  It's a a museum so it must be good, right?"

Price is a Shortcut

We all know or have been told that, "You get what you pay for"  and that "Quality costs more."

So, it seems, according to Cialdini, that many people have developed the following shortcut:

Expensive = Good

And, conversely:

Inexpensive = Bad

Since most people feel that they "don't know much about art", they subconsciously rely on shortcuts. 

And, when it comes to art, there are really only three shortcuts we can think of . . .

fame of the artist, the venue where the art is being displayed . .. . and price of the artwork.

So if you're not famous and your work doesn't hang in a museum, guess what shortcut people are going use to judge how "good" your artwork is?  Price.


Clint Watson
Software Craftsman and Art Fanatic

PS - Take heart - not everyone in the world uses shortcuts for everything.  People who are more "experienced" in a given area, they are much less likely to be influenced by shortcuts.  For example, people who collect a lot of art and who have seen quite a lot of artwork become able to judge quality without regard to price and indeed come to relish "discovering" great new artists before their prices get too high.  That is, in fact, a great joy of mine.   It would be great if we could have more art education and art appreciation where people learned to judge art for themselves and learned to stop relying on shortcuts.

PPS - For your own copy of Robert Cialdini's fascinating book, Influence, click the book cover below:

Related Pages and Posts:

Does Expensive Art Just Look Better? (Clint Watson / FineArtViews)

Expensive Wine Just Tastes Better (Nicole Obert / Brain Blogger)

Marketing actions can modulate neural representations of experienced pleasantness (Plassman,

Masterpiece in the Subway, Trash in the Museum (Clint Watson, FineArtViews)

Is there no Limit to Man's Ability to Make a Jackass of Himself? (Bill Bonner / Daily Reckoning)

A 71 Million Dollar Fool (Clint Watson / FineArtViews)

Guidelines to Pricing Art (Clint Watson / FineArtViews)


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Topics: art marketing | Clint Watson | pricing artwork 

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