How to measure value

The painting of a huge, burgundy rose was stunning.  It was hanging on the dusty back wall in a resale shop.  As I stood and appreciated the beauty and craftsmanship, I couldn’t help but wonder about the artist and how that lovely work ended up here.

When I asked the shop owner about it, she sheepishly admitted it was her work.  She had started the resale shop years ago because her art wasn’t selling.  The piece I was admiring was from before; she had stopped making art consistently because the shop now demanded so much of her time.

Now, I realize everyone chooses their own path and my opinion on their choices is irrelevant, but when she told me that, I felt sad.  I wondered what other beautiful works she might have made had she not created a diversion.   

The world lost a beautiful stream of creativity when she closed the door to her artmaking.

In Economics, that’s called “opportunity cost.”  Billy Joel described opportunity cost in his rocking hit Only the Good Die Young when he wrote “They never told you the price that you pay for things that you might have done.”  Sometimes we only see it looking backward.

What’s it worth?

That interaction got me thinking more about economics and how we value our work.  I suspect, had she placed a higher value on her art earlier on, she might have made different choices.  Underpricing is a chronic issue among so many. 

We are our own harshest critics.  The Perfectionism Dreamkiller drives do-overs and endless detail-tweaking.  It’s a double whammy:  the creator’s standards are high, and a technical or artistic challenge engages and pulls you deeper into your creativity. 

By remembering the mistakes and do-overs, we unconsciously devalue the end product.  The value of the work is collapsed with the amount of work it took to create it, or even collapsed with the value of the creator.

We are blind to its true value in the marketplace.

Another way to measure value

How do you assign a dollar value when so much more than just money went into its creation? When the receiver benefits more than the price suggests?

As a young student in my first Economics class, I was smitten by the concept that there might be another way to measure, a measurement that takes in the totality of the value, and not just how much money it took to create it as accountants like to track.   It somehow felt fair.

That unit of measure is the “util,” a measure of usefulness, including the amount of pleasure it brings.  With more utils, the monetary value rises.

Think of utils in terms of your first cup of coffee or tea in the morning.  The first sip …mmmmmm… it brings a high level of pleasure, comfort and eventually alertness.  The util value is very high for that first sip; it’s very useful and you really appreciate it.  The last sip of the second cup doesn’t have that level of pleasure, so the util value is lower.

It can be helpful to remember how your work is useful and include utils in your calculations when pricing your work.  It’s not a measurement of “pretty,” it’s a measure of usefulness.  Remember:

  • Admiring beauty is useful to the spirit
  • A provoking line of dialogue is useful to stimulate new directions in thought. 
  • Listening to music is useful to the spirit and brain
  • Cooking a new exotic dish is useful to the senses and increases enjoyment

These useful attributes, utils, are often the very thing that attracts someone to your work in the first place.  Accommodate for it in the price and you’ll see a difference in your value in the marketplace.

What’s your secret sauce? How will you measure it?

4 Replies to "How to measure value"

  • Anne Marie
    January 23, 2019 (10:53 pm)

    Love it, and I appreciate your thoughts on the “util”. The word so succinctly describes the common phenomenon of value and price not equating; a nuance that’s been left out of much of the conversation on “creating value” as championed by thought leaders in entrepreneurship – and one that’s frustrated me personally, as you know from our talks.

    Value is so much more than an exchange of money and product, and the pricing of art is an ideal ground to explore this. If we price for util we’re still faced with the issues of getting the artwork in front of collectors: people who resonate with the work, recognize the utils, have the actual dollars to spend on art, are willing to prioritize that purchase, and value themselves enough to let themselves have nice things… its a pretty special combo of traits when and if you can find it. We haven’t even touched supply & demand, and competition.

    I agree, most artists could stand to raise their prices by basing it on utils… however without a monetary response from the marketplace does it really matter? Will the market respond?

    Could there be more to the story of the woman in the flower shop beyond her being blind to the value of her work? There’s likely an entire matrix of decision making that includes very real bills and mouths to feed that needs to be included before grieving all the paintings she didn’t paint because she was busy earning money in different ways. I’m happy you chose to address it in your blog though. Indeed many artists should raise their prices…

    • Debra
      January 23, 2019 (11:24 pm)

      Such a thoughtful response. Thank you. Yes, there are so many complexities surrounding value and what drives such a pivotal choice. Each person can ultimately choose only for themselves, as did the woman in the shop.

      I and many others I know have made many decisions based on duty to others rather than self-development or self-worth, so I do understand sometimes choices must be made the way they are made. Economic realities are the real deal and must be handled. You must have something to live on.

      And you must have something to live for. This is my way to offer a perspective that might help a creative person value themselves and their work more.

  • Suzanne
    January 24, 2019 (12:08 am)

    Ohhhhh, hit home!

    I am so good at creating diversions! Grin! 🌼

    • Debra
      January 24, 2019 (4:13 am)

      Aren’t we all, Suzanne… aren’t we all! LOL

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