Recently, Warren Thompson of Ocala, Florida wrote, “Does the IKEA effect apply to art? Is this why some artists think their work is fantastic when it isn’t?”
Thanks, Warren. The IKEA effect is a cognitive bias where time and effort enhance affection for the work. It’s named after the Swedish manufacturer whose products come in boxes with “some assembly required.” Harvard research shows that people who contribute to the construction of furniture or other products tend to overvalue their sometimes poorly made creations.
The IKEA effect also contributes to the “sunk costs” effect where managers continue to devote resources to sometimes failing projects in which they have invested labor and treasure. This includes the “not invented here” syndrome, where people who should know better tend to discount good ideas developed elsewhere in favour of their own inferior ones.
Fact is, time and effort obscure judgment.
A fellow I once knew worked on the same painting for 13 years. He kept insisting it was “darned good” but perhaps needed “just a little touch up.” Over time he had fallen in love with a mishmash. Unfortunately, every time he gave it a little touch up he made it a little worse. Then he died.
My antidote for artists stuck in IKEA is to try to work with at least the appearance of effortlessness. That way, things are not as precious and personal. Also, try timelessness. Get lost in the work and have some fun.
A recent email from a new friend included the question, “I want to sell the attached painting. It took 18 hours. How much per-hour would be fair?” I tried to point out that pricing has little to do with time and effort. Besides, the per-hour rate for painters ranges between that paid to falafel folders in Casablanca and plastic surgeons in Beverly Hills. So many factors are involved in pricing paintings that I’ll put off giving my list until another letter. This is called the “put off” syndrome. But I think you’ve had enough syndromes for today.
PS: “The deliberate expansion of means and methods does not automatically bring a new dimension of value.” (Pierre Alechinsky)
Esoterica: And then there’s Betty Crocker. When her cake mixes were first introduced, they contained powdered eggs. All the housewife had to do was put the mix in the oven. Sounds like a winner, but it didn’t sell. In 1952, just as General Mills was about to pull the product, a couple of consulting psychologists got the idea of asking the housewife to add an egg. The new product, with “Just add an egg,” was a big success. With this minor evidence of ovular domesticity, wives had a vested interest in their cakes and could present them to their families with some degree of pride.
For the record, a subscriber recently told me about a workshop she attended where the instructor announced, “Pick your favourite photo and just add paint.”
Origins of the IKEA effect
by Gins V. O. Doolittle, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Three professors wrote about the IKEA effect in Elsevier’s Journal of Consumer Psychology in July 2012, introducing the term and concept into popular culture.
In July, Elsevier’s Journal of Consumer Psychology featured an article called “The IKEA effect: When labor leads to love,” authored by Dr. Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School, Dr. Daniel Mochon of Tulane University and Dr. Dan Ariely of Duke University. Their premise: If you build it yourself, you will value it more. As they explain in the abstract:
“In four studies in which consumers assembled IKEA boxes, folded origami, and built sets of Legos, we demonstrate and investigate boundary conditions for the IKEA effect — the increase in valuation of self-made products. Participants saw their amateurish creations as similar in value to experts’ creations, and expected others to share their opinions. We show that labor leads to love only when labor results in successful completion of tasks; when participants built and then destroyed their creations, or failed to complete them, the IKEA effect dissipated. Finally, we show that labor increases valuation for both “do-it-yourselfers” and novices.”
(RG note) Thanks Gins. Several readers wrote to ask what IKEA stands for. The company was founded in Sweden in 1943 by 17-year-old Ingvar Kamprad. The company’s name is an acronym comprising the initials of Ingvar Kamprad, Elmtaryd (the farm where he grew up) and Agunnard, his home town.
Seriously compare your work
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA
I offer several things to consider. One — an artist isn’t experienced enough to achieve “perfection” in his or her work, thus believes personal efforts are the best he or she could do and will consider the work “excellent” — even though in the larger picture the work is actually mediocre or worse. Two — a wannabe artist may not understand what is necessary for creating a quality work and will fail to achieve a higher working standard. Three — not all of us have the talent or ability to create “quality” works of art on any level. Lastly, painting isn’t about cranking out work. The amount of hours devoted to creating a work of art isn’t proportional to its quality. I realize today art can be anything to many people and many are creating what is called art. But the proof is still in the pudding. Good work will always rise to the top no matter how much flotsam and jetsam it has to rise above to be noticed. Create a work and then compare it to your idols. If it doesn’t measure up, it probably isn’t what you believe it to be.
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by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada
Generally, experimentation is a very good thing although it can be frustrating and look like a waste of time. One can’t achieve quality without it. That’s why it’s so easy to get stuck in it or imitate it by IKEA and Betty Crocker with a false feeling of masterful ownership over a substandard design.
I think that the guy who worked on one painting for 13 years was a fixer-upper type. Someone who gets his fix from fixing the “unfixables.” The motivation is to keep experimenting in a known environment, with a feel of narrowing down the best solution (which may not exist). Assuming a character of a master without actually being a master is what it is, and it probably felt better to him than the obvious alternative. But he probably spent many happy hours in the studio, and who’s to judge that.
>Another thing is that people with passion for experimentation sometimes lack passion to produce. This is even more apparent if they are not in a situation where they must produce. I am talking about an artist who keeps making changes to a painting, trying out this and that, and eventually spoiling it while it could have been just fine in some earlier stage. I think that this behavior is driven by a desire to create the best painting we possibly can. It’s about the personal mission, which may be a push and pool between producing and excelling. Everyone has to figure out for themselves how to fit their mission into their own circumstances. There is no easily applicable template for a creative life, although learning from each other, like via Painter’s Keys, is invaluable.
Incidentally, it turned out that I was able to IKEA-equip my entire studio for the price of one locally crafted dining room table. Guess which of those two options enables more creativity in my house?
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‘The Unknown Masterpiece’
by Warren Criswell, Benton, AR, USA
The story of your friend was first told by Honore de Balzac in his La Comedie Humaine, except Frenhofer, the painter in The Unknown Masterpiece, only worked on his painting for 10 years. He wouldn’t let anybody see it for all those years. Finally, he allowed the young Nicolas Poussin and his teacher Porbus into his studio. All they saw was a lot of paint with nothing recognizable except the beginnings of a foot in one corner of the canvas.
“What joys lie there on this piece of canvas!” exclaimed Porbus.
The old man, deep in his own musings, smiled at the woman he alone beheld, and did not hear.
“But sooner or later he will find out that there is nothing there!” cried Poussin.
“Nothing on my canvas!” said Frenhofer, looking in turn at either painter and at his picture.
“What have you done?” muttered Porbus, turning to Poussin.
The old man clutched the young painter’s arm and said, “Do you see nothing? …”
Porbus hesitated and said nothing, but there was such intolerable anxiety in the old man’s white face that he pointed to the easel. “Look!” he Frenhofer looked for a moment at his picture, and staggered back.
“Nothing! nothing! After ten years of work…” He sat down and wept….
Porbus, in anxiety, went again on the morrow to see Frenhofer, and learned that he had died in the night after burning his canvases.
Paris, February, 1832.
For me it’s important to get my finished work out of the studio as soon as possible or else I’ll work on it forever.
by Betty Billups, Sandpoint, ID, USA
Quality does not always require large amounts of time!
If you are a laborer, or working with a dimensional object: roads, gardens, or sculptures, then “time” does have a major part in the creation, however the more time needed does not guarantee greatness. The simplest answer sometimes can be greater than the “time consuming creation.” I have found the longer I mess with a painting, the worst it gets! Sure, there are things that might need “tweaking” …but if the entire surface of a painting requires this, then what is happening is the artist is now out of the creative mode, into the “fix it mode” which has little to do with true creativity.
To keep myself in a spiritual or creative “space” when painting, I find if I go out into nature, and attempt to capture a sunset, as it is happening, I actually create within my being, a connection to something greater than my entire being!
I believe every human being has this connectivity — this truly one-of-a-kind power of creation that results in a unique creation. What I have experienced is art that comes from an “all knowingness” which usually lacks power, energy, true beauty, because there is so much control there is no place left for “spirit” to enter!
I would rather see a creation 100% “strange” than a piece 100% “rule,” right? Why? Because, there is more chance for a “spirit” of the art to exist, which is “almost” not from the artist’s known reasoning or knowledge, perhaps allowing the greater power of Creation to have a “hand in it!”
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The problem of ‘too easy’
by Linda Dark, Camarillo, CA, USA
I am quite isolated. I have a nice family. But they are not painters. I, too, have a studio. I cannot throw them away — the pictures, not the family — or burn them. But, I do not even go in the room unless I am looking for a can of paint thinner, etc. I think those panels are jinxing my muse. I am not one of those who can go back and rework. I tell myself I will, but I don’t. It just isn’t any fun. At all. My daughter in law has asked me for one of my paintings, any one of them. I was speechless. I stared at her, then I blinked and tried to smile. “Er, uh, ahem. Yeah. Of course. I should be finished with the one of the Donut Shop pretty soon now, then you can have it.” That was three versions ago. Most are boring. None are hideous. They aren’t on my walls, why would I want them on hers?
Scenario: I see the picture in my mind. I start. It’s working. It’s too easy. There must be something wrong, because it’s too easy. It’s too colorful now, it looks gaudy; after awhile it’s too drab, then it’s too colory again. Aghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
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The problem with ego
by Jeanne Long, Minneapolis, MN, USA
Real beauty is never created by you but only through you. Existence flows; you become only a passage. You allow it to happen, that’s all; you don’t hinder it, that’s all. But if you are too interested in the result, the ultimate result — that you have to become famous, that you have to be the best painter in the world, that you have to defeat all other painters hitherto — then your interest is not in painting; painting is secondary. And of course, with a secondary interest in painting you can’t paint something original; it will be ordinary.
“Ego cannot bring anything extraordinary into the world; the extraordinary comes only through egolessness. And so is the case with the musician and the poet and the dancer. So is the case with everybody.” (Osho, from the book Joy: The Happiness That Comes from Within)
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Final finish on paintings
by Glen Shear, Ra’anana, Israel
To shellac or not to shellac? That is the question. A number of my acrylics on canvas will be on display at the NY Art Expo in a few weeks time. The first works I sold were shellacked. My most recent sales were not. What do you consider most professional? Which provides greater quality to the collector?
(RG note) Thanks, Glen. Most professional painters don’t believe in shellacking any more. Modern acrylic mediums are more advanced and longer lasting. When your acrylic painting is dry I recommend taking a lintless rag and putting on a couple of thin coats of acrylic medium cut 50/50 with water with drying between. Laying the work flat gets a bit of medium down between the strokes, thus strengthening the whole surface. After this is thoroughly dry (cured)about five days in a warm environment — put on a final varnish with UVLS (Ultra Violet Light Stabilizers). I use a Golden product called “Final Varnish with UVLS.” This too can be cut with water and put on with a rag. You can choose final varnish in either matt or glossy to your taste. At the glossy end you can really shine it up with several coats.
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Gallery neglects opening artist’s shipment
A big city gallery that represented me for over fifteen years returned “old” work and requested new pieces about every two years or so. After shipment, any request by me for feedback on reaction or group show comment was vague but optimistic. The occasional work was sold but I decided to withdraw from this gallery. When the work arrived in my studio, I quickly realized that two large crates of chosen and requested paintings, one sent over five years ago, had never been opened or shown. I believe they were put in storage, depending on online requests and never ever shown on its gallery walls. I find this practice very disturbing and since I live very far from this gallery, not something that easily came to light or my attention. How common is this? Perhaps other artists have had this experience. How can you gauge reaction if the work never sees the light of day? Should you answer this in an online letter, please do not use my name.
(RG note) While lots of sales are made in gallery back rooms and from shipping boxes when work first comes in, a dealer who doesn’t respect your work enough to open your deliveries needs to be given the heave ho.
A millionaire’s dream
by Glen Hargrove
We are so often told not to “never give up” that we somehow have come to believe there isn’t a time when giving up isn’t the appropriate thing. I’ve been guilty of this myself on occasion, but fortunately my friends usually step in and remind me when I’m making a fool of myself over something that should be abandoned.
This reminds me of a guy I once met who dreamed of building a sailing yacht. Back in the ’70s, I took a summer job as a nail pounder in a boat building yard. This N. Florida outfit built specifically wooden hulled shrimp fishing boats in the range of 80 to 100 feet. The company was approached by a then-millionaire who wanted a custom 85 foot motor-sailing yacht built to his specifications. The management promptly (and curtly) dismissed him: “We don’t build yachts …we build shrimp boats!” The fellow was not to be dissuaded however. It was his lifelong romantic fantasy, to build this yacht and “sail it around the world,” …as folks tend to dream… The area had a reputation for craftsmanship and, for whatever reason, he was set on building it there anyway, so he simply bought the company! Upon arriving to assume personal control he told the same guys who had dismissed him, who were then his management team, “We now build yachts!”
The keel was laid, the yard was stocked with teak, cypress and oak befitting such a craft. A veritable parade of specialists were hired, consulted, fired or replaced, and always at considerable cost (from Marine Engineers, electronics gurus, plankers, and riggers, to a Jamaican caulker, who was in the country illegally). Several years later and at an unimaginable expense, the mighty vessel at last slid off the rails into the river. To no one’s surprise however, it looked a great deal like a shrimp boat with masts and, from what I heard, was taken to Miami where it was never completely finished in the dreaming millionaire’s lifetime. I suppose the world has been circumnavigated enough anyway.
Featured Workshop: Nancy Lynn Hughes
acrylic painting 24 x 30 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Betty Jane Covington of St George, UT, USA, who wrote, “Oh the poor artist who kept touching up his painting — and made it worse — and then he died.”
And also Howard of Teaneck, NJ, USA, who wrote, “Not only do I find your letters insightful and entertaining but filled with the humor of our all-too-human condition.”
Enjoy the past comments below for The IKEA effect…