Masterpiece in the Subway, Trash in the Museum

Janice K. Johnson


Here is how they tested it: First, they went out to thrift stores, flea markets, and yard sales and bought a bunch of “insignificant” objects for an average of $1.25 an object. Then, they hired a bunch of writers, both famous and not-so-famous, to invent a story “that attributed significance” to each object. Finally, they listed each object on eBay, using the invented stories as the object’s description, and whatever they had originally paid for the object as the auction’s starting price. By the end of the experiment, they had sold $128.74 worth of trinkets for $3,612.51. They made a profit of over 2,700% of their investment simply by crafting the right stories.


Learn to Look Past the Context and the Story


First, if you can, in your own mind, move beyond context, you can learn to see reality as it is.

So next time you see a panhandler, listen carefully – picture him playing with a symphony. And next time you see the latest “masterpiece” in a museum – picture it hanging in your garage or even imagine that YOU had painted it. Ask yourself, would you be happy letting it out of your studio? Take the artwork OUT of context for a moment and judge on the merits of the work itself. This is a great skill to develop for finding “diamonds in the rough.”

Secondly, and more importantly from from a marketing perspective, think carefully about the stories, both verbal and non-verbal, you’re telling the world about your own art.


Paraphrasing professor Bloom’s observation: people’s assessment of your art, how much they like it, how valuable they think it is – will be deeply affected by what you tell them about it.


In what context are you presenting your work? What stories are you telling people about your art?

Think through those questions carefully. As you’ve seen, they’re important.


Until next time,


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