Do we overvalue the difficult?

Experimental subjects consistently value a poem or artwork more highly when they are told it took a long time to produce. See this study by four psychologists. The increase in perceived value is strongest when quality is difficult to judge by other means. Furthermore other research suggests that we value artworks more highly, the more time and trouble it took us to understand them.

What does this mean for the arts? We will tend to overvalue difficult works of high culture, most likely. We also will undervalue that which is accessible. In other words, Seinfeld is better than you think.

The authors note that Jackson Pollock, in his lifetime, was attacked for producing paintings that “anyone could have done.” In reality Pollock’s paintings were the result of a painstaking process, difficult for anyone else to mimic. He often was defended on these grounds. A single painting could require months of hard work. So if you don’t like Pollock, perhaps now you will think more of it.

And this blog, well, this blog just takes forever to write…


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