In Advanced Studio class, we recently had a discussion about value and the perception of value. Does raising the price of your art affect the viewer’s perception of its worth? It seems to; a piece marked for $2,500 has a very different impact than a similar piece marked for $25. A higher price seems to correlate with a higher status in the mind of the viewer; if it is expensive, it must be important. Later on I was discussing this with another member of the class, and we were both reminded of a perfect example, which I thought might be of interest: an experiment arranged by the Washington Post in 2007, in which Joshua Bell (one of the world’s leading violinists) appeared in the L’Enfant Plaza Station in Washington D.C. disguised as a street busker and played classical pieces on his Stradivarius for 45 minutes during rush hour. Over 1,000 people passed him by; only seven stopped to listen to his performance, and only one person fully recognized him. The perception of his worth was next to nothing. Under normal circumstances, Bell is critically acclaimed and it is difficult to see him perform due to high demand and ticket pricing.
Here’s a time-lapse video of the event:
And a very interesting article about it by Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post, which won him the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, here.