Value of Nothing

IMG_3665 (2)It seems so odd to me that the price of everything in shops these days is very cheap.

I mean generally, on the whole if you go to the high street, or shop online, we as consumers usually make our decisions on purchases based solely on price. But this approach to consuming is a bit of a black hole. The people at the top are making their money by “commissioning” (for want of a better word) rather shoddily made things in places, lets face it, third world places where they pay the workers pennies in buildings that are unsafe and in conditions that are unacceptable.

But we close our eyes and our hearts when we see that bargain, that overly under priced item that we actually need or want.

Don’t get me wrong, there is the side of the argument that says these people need a job they need the money etc etc. Sure of course they do. But our greed alongside our reluctance to pay the price of what something is worth in our consumer society is what is causing these people to suffer.

We have become accustomed to think that we can”find it cheaper online” find it cheaper in another store find it cheaper somewhere.

Aside from those in the developing world making our stuff for money so little we cant even imagine, the concept actually impacts on the artist or artisan as well.

If an individual potter makes a bowl, the time, effort and material costs are higher than those of a bowl made in bulk in a factory in China (for example) even if the bowl looked the same. Because bulk ordering reduces costs and the mechanisation of the process reduces time the shop can sell at a much lower price. But problems arise when the consumer encounters products in retail that are made to look as if they are hand made. Indeed there is quite the trend of having the artisan feel about an item, but the average consumer expects to pay a retail price. The retailer is in such a position where they can produce an item that looks handmade, but can sell it on much more cheaply.

When that same consumer encounters an item made by a professional potter, they might be surprised at the cost difference between retail and the artist. Its hard as an artist to explain to the average consumer why this costs x amount and why we can’t compete with big name brands.

What I think this comes down to is a need for re-education and a revaluation in the price of goods. Ultimately we need to remember that something that is made to a high standard and costs more money is likely to last much longer than the item made as a cheap fashionable item.

Its extremely hard to think of high art being made as throw away, these are things that people invest in. But the craft side lies somewhere strangely between retail and the high art ends of the market.

People want to be able to buy beautiful things and make their homes beautiful. People on varying incomes should all have this same opportunity, and I can see the appeal of cheap products in big stores. But what if the norm wasn’t to buy lots and lots of things cheaply, and instead spent the same amount of money on one or two things you really loved and valued. This approach would mean a shift in the mindset of today’s consumerism. It would mean not following the fast changes in fashion and it would mean not buying as much stuff.

Not an impossible task, but a very difficult one. A change in the understanding of what something is worth means understanding the lives of those people who make the products we use. Whether its an underpaid worker in the third world, or a crafts person nearer to home. We should have some basic knowledge about the things we buy in order to fully appreciate their real value and their impact on the lives of others.


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