How Would Art Be, If We Optimised on Cost?

I saw something interesting today in a blog by one of my favourite bloggers:

In this brief post, Seth makes the argument that although putting sea salt on the fries you sell (as opposed to regular table salt – “dirt salt”) might cost twice as much (for the salt), the end-product will be so much more attractive to consumers, so much higher in quality and compared to the overall costs of production, barely affects the profit margin.  In fact, it lets you charge more for these higher quality fries, even though the only thing you have changed is the salt.  However, this rarely happens in business, because purchasing officers are charged with getting everything at the lowest price, even if in so doing you aren’t able to make as much profit from the finished article as you would if you had chosen a higher quality, but higher cost, ingredient or component.

There’s an amazing indictment of the stupidity of choosing the lowest price everything.  If the finished product is perceived as a lower quality thing and therefore cannot command the same price and profit margin, is the purchasing department actually adding any value at all?  Wouldn’t the company do better by firing all of those guys and optimising on quality instead?

That got me to thinking about art.  What if you were forced to record an album of songs in an afternoon to save on recording costs?  What it you selected the cheapest and most limited range of colours of paint, which might not have the qualities of longevity or colour fastness?  What if you were paid by the hour to crank out written work?  What if you found yourself in a song factory where what mattered was not how good your songs were, but how many you produced?  What it your epic Hollywood movie was nickel and dimed down so that you had to film the whole thing in an illogical location, using people that weren’t that good at acting?  What if you were making a television series, but didn’t want to spend any money on writers and talent, instead putting people into a big, fake house to live in isolation from the real world for a few weeks and just letting the cameras roll, capturing whatever happened?  Wait a second.  That is what happens, very often.

Compare and contrast that with an album like Sgt Peppers, where they spent an unprecedented amount of money on studio time, making a quality product such as the world had never heard before.  Consider the oil painting that lasts five hundred years because the paint, pigments and canvas were of high enough quality to permit the colours to remain true and the paint not to dry and flake away.  Consider epic films like “Gone with the Wind”, where they constructed a set and consumed it in flames, with only one take possible.  Consider a work of fiction that has taken the author years of their lives to conceive, plot, plan, structure, craft, write and edit.  Do such books as War and Peace still get read?  Of course they do.

Quality is actually a more worthwhile characteristic to optimise upon than cost.

About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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2 Responses to How Would Art Be, If We Optimised on Cost?

  1. My background gave me the perspective to be aware that the effect of the own being on earth leaves traces over century’s. A very different view on life to politicians or other nouveaux riches careerists who think only in therms of fast profit.and thrill. I see them behaving like in a spiral who goes faster and faster downwards, dragging everybody with them into an illusory concept of time.
    It is possible to step to the side and suddenly everything calms down, and no,…the newest gimmick who is not much different than the last, is not a sign of creativity but of thoughtless agitation, and yes,… this dandelion leave is splendid, and I take my time to inspire a smile.

  2. Taking the long view is a good perspective. It raises questions like if, as a species, you are conditioned, over centuries, to see beauty around you and to sleep in patterns that naturally form, can it be long before something goes wrong if you cut people off from beauty and their evolutionary sleep patterns? There are many more questions like this. They all require the long view to answer.

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