The Perception of Value

by mjkmercer

We ascribe value to artworks by a far more complex system that their simple worth. (i.e. what somebody will pay for them)


1)             Tape found in an old art student’s locker – 10 minutes of traffic noise  – somewhat edited and organised.

2)             Same tape found in John Cages’ study, carefully preserved and labelled opus 56.

3)             Same tape in the Hollywood special effect department

4)             Same tape  preserved at the Ministry of Transport to measure traffic noise levels.

I have to wonder if it is actually just the ideas that we pay for. If I hold the idea that the T-shirt I bought that ‘belonged’ to John Lennon is a real artefact, should I be disappointed if I see that 500 similar items were sold by a fraudster? Until the moment that the fraud was revealed I was very happy with my purchase.

Here is an economics scenario  given to me many years ago by a guy who advised Government Economists:

A man arrives at a farm in the morning and the farmer puts him to work picking the harvest at an agreed £50 for the day’s labour.

At lunch-time another person arrives asking for work and again the farmer (realising he needs more help to finish in time) takes him on also for £50 for the day.

Does the first person have any genuine complaint?


How much should I pay for a tape of traffic noise?