Buying Affiliation

We care about the origins of art. Comparing two physically identical artworks, we pay more for an original than a duplicate, and not because we think originals have better quality, rarity, resources, or effort. Instead it seems we pay for a more direct physical connection to the artist:

Duplicate artworks are judged to be less valuable than duplicate artifacts. We observed this effect even when both the original artwork and the original artifact were one of a kind and were equivalent in value. Experiment 2 helped to further rule out the potentially confounding inferences based on the relative quality of a duplicate artwork versus a duplicate artifact, as well as on the belief that duplicate artifacts are simply more common than duplicate artworks. Finally, the results of Experiment 3 address the alternative explanation that original artworks are valued because they are perceived as requiring more effort and resources to produce. …

The [importance of] degree of physical contact with the original artist (contagion). … was supported in Experiment 1 and more directly in Experiment 5, where artworks made with a hands-on process were judged to be more valuable than those made with a hands-off process. In addition, contagion had a larger impact for artworks than for artifacts. Support for uniqueness of performance as an important dimension came primarily from Experiment 4, where the act of intentionally duplicating a painting (as opposed to accidentally making a similar looking painting) had a twofold impact on judgments of value in driving down the value of a duplicate, while driving up the value of the original. …

[The idea] that people value original artworks solely because they observe that other people value originals more than duplicates—cannot be entirely correct. … Previous research has documented how … mere proximity between two items in a shopping cart or on a table may be sufficient to trigger inferences about contamination, which can raise or lower value. … Similarly, everyday artifacts can gain value through contact with certain special individuals, such as celebrities. Finally, assessments of a performance as effortful or unique may apply to wide array of objects and events, such as evaluations of sports or scholastic achievement. (more)

This lends some support to the suggestion that customers of academia, such as students, funders, and readers, pay in part for a more direct affiliation with certified-as-impressive academics.

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  • botogol

    on the other hand – experts discussing the recent record-busting sale of a photogragh for £4.3m on the BBC opined that photographs that exist in very small limited editions (Gursky does just six prints) actually sell BETTER than photographs printed just once.
    why is that?
    it seems to be because the owners of the other copies reinforce each other’s judgement. VIX inthe case of this print, identical ones hang in the MOMA in NY and the Tate Modern in London — so it MUST be good, right?

    If there was just one of them, you’d be relying more on your own judgement..

  • John

    Philip K. Dick explores this topic quite a bit in Man in the High Castle. He calls it “historicity”.

  • Vaniver

    Originals don’t have more rarity than duplicates?

    The claim “duplicate artworks are judged less valuable than duplicate artifacts” suggests to me that artifacts are perceived as harder to duplicate than artwork, and thus rarer. (Rarity isn’t just how many exist, but also the cost of making more.) I would look long and hard at experiments 2 and 3 (I don’t have access to the paper at present) before taking this as strong evidence that rarity isn’t a significant factor in the value of originals over duplicates.

    I think a test that would be relevant for the conclusions you’re interested in is whether it makes a difference whether or not the artist (i.e. original designer) did the duplicating. (This is related to experiment 5, but subtly different.) If knowing that the artist was the one running some hands-off process that produced the duplicate makes the duplicate more valuable than an identical duplicate made by a faced person who isn’t the artist, then that looks like about as pure an affiliation effect as you can get.

  • outsider

    It’s just you! Comparing two pieces of artwork ordinary people don’t give a shit and buy an iPhone ;P What a bias

  • Michael Vassar

    This is a very solid point IMHO.

  • Nate

    Or…we have a sense of value for the time and energy put into a piece of art. Not just the physical labor, but the time and energy it takes to create it in the mind, or the time it takes to acquire the life experience that makes the art piece more valuable.

    An original masterpiece doesn’t just represent the time and energy it took the artist to physically create it, but includes any of the time and energy it took to gain the experiences that the piece reflects. A duplicate only reflects the time and energy needed to copy the physical final product.

    This would explain why if an artist stares at a canvas for weeks, months or even years, ultimately putting nothing more than a few brush strokes on it, the painting can become worth a fortune (so long as the back story of its creation was well-known). If someone duplicated such a painting, it would be practically worthless, because it would reflect no more than a few minutes of work.

    Art acquisition is probably one of the more blatant forms of signaling, and much of it has to do with showing off a particular type of education as well as (obviously) excessive wealth. But maybe it is more fundamentally a signal of your ability to gain other people’s time, skills and energy. In that case, we should be naturally drawn to originals, which inherently represent much more time, skill and energy than any duplicate.

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