CAN 5 Exercise 2.1

Nicky Bird’s Question for Seller re-situates images in a different context and in so doing allows for a new dialogue to take place. Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status? Where does their meaning derive from? When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increased by the fact that they’re now “art”?

Barrett (1997) argues that a photograph’s external context is one of three sources that are available for examination in “formulating interpretations or in adjudicating among implicit or explicit interpretations”. These are “information evident within the picture, information surrounding the picture in its presentation, and information about the picture’s making”, which Barrett describes respectively as the image’s internal context, external context and original context. When an image’s external context is a gallery wall, its status is elevated to artwork, and viewers understand that they are being asked to engage with the image on this basis and ask questions of it that might not arise in, say, its original context as part of a private family archive.

The elevated status attributed to the photograph as an artwork does in theory increase its value, but this will not necessarily be reflected in the resale price, because a considerable number of additional factors will contribute to determining the actual outcome of the auction, amongst them the seller’s reputation if it’s an eBay sale, the extent to which the pre-sale marketing has succeeded in reaching its target audience, and the fact that (as Nicky Bird’s own purchases demonstrate) the actual “market price” of any item is determined by two people – the successful bidder and the underbidder.

References and resources

Barrett, T. (1997) “Photographs and contexts”. An excerpt from Goldblatt, D. and Brown, L. (eds) Aesthetics: A Reader in Philosophy of the Arts. USA: Prentice-Hall. Available at [accessed 03.11.18]