Shop Notes: Value Masks Materiality

What is my object worth?

I can’t help but feel as though I’ve shot myself in the foot a little bit by answering a similar question last week in my attempt to understand how my tablet compares to other tablet models. Great going there, Laura. Because I’ve listed some plain price comparisons as well as model comparisons over in said post, I’ll recap a bit here before moving on to a different approach: discerning my tablet’s value when it was gifted to me, and its value shift when I started using it for commissions.

I spent some more time trying to find a rating of drawing tablets in ConsumerReports, only to come up blank. I looked for more art tablet rankings in art supply magazines, such as Dick Blick. Again, nada. So, I’m left to expand on the ranking sites I uncovered last week, including The World’s Video Wiki, Buyer’s Guide, Lifewire, the NY Times, Fix the Photo, and Creative Bloq. TWVW shows a wide range of tablets with an equally wide range of prices, from $48 to $949. Largely, the cheaper models are screenless tablets, whereas the more expensive are tablets with a built-in screen. BG features many of the same tablets, including Huion, Wacom, Apple, and XP-Pen models also listed on TWVW, but centers around cheaper models, with its most expensive being a Wacom for about $650. Lifewire‘s ranking system is different than the other two; rather than overall rank 10 different models, like TWVW and BG do, it labels a number of models as the best for certain uses. Within this ranking system, again the prices vary from about $25 (for the child’s drawing tablet) all the way up to $1,200 (the professional splurge Wacom Cintiq 22). The NY Times, FtP, and CB all use combined-type rankings, and again we see the same big names (Wacom, Huion, Apple, and even a few XP-Pen), and the same sort of price range, from about $30/$40 to that whopper $1,200.

When it comes to economic value, there are some general pricing statements to be made that can help class my XP-Pen Deco Pro Medium. First, XP-Pen is, by average, a less expensive alternative to brands like Wacom and Huion (I’ve left out Apple in this comparison because, while it’s still true, Apple produces wider product ranges). So my tablet is less expensive. Second, screenless tablets are less expensive than screened tablets, due both to the materials required and to the extra processing power needed for the screen. So, again, my tablet is less expensive. Third, beginner tablets are much cheaper than tablets for experienced artists. In this case, my tablet is more expensive–though not much. These generalizations based on the rankings of other drawing tablets give a pretty good indication of where my tablet’s economic value would be: lower than comparable Wacom and Huion (check, those run about $150-200), lower than an XP-Pen with a screen (check, those are about $200+), and higher than specifically beginner tablets (Wacom and Huion beginners run around $40-60 so, again, check). And, of course, it’s lower cost than the luxury tablets that far outstrip it. At a price that ranges between $120-135, my tablet is solidly lower (though at the top end of lower!) in the standard economic value of a drawing tablet.

But what about my two ‘flashpoints’: the moment when the tablet was given to me as a gift, and the moment I started using it to work on paid commissions? Those are, necessarily, harder to trace. As a gift, I’m tempted to say that the economic value of the tablet was, if not negligible or simply its retail value, unimportant. It was a birthday present, and the sentimental value was greater and of more importance there. However, one could also say that the tablet’s economic value was simply doubled over, as it acted not just as an investment in my art hobby on the part of my parents, but as a monetary show of support for that hobby, within an object. Here, the economic value of the tablet is nebulous and unclear.

But, then again, one can say the same for the tablet’s value once I started using it for the purpose of making money. I opened monthly commissions near the end of February, taking five slots. My pricing was set up in direct connection to how complex the art piece being commissioned was. By the time all five commissions are delivered, my first month of commissions will have paid back more than double the tablet’s market value. So, does this change the value of the tablet? Is the tablet’s value connected to the art that I produce from it? For me, the tablet has indeed changed. It has become something with which I make money, but it is unclear whether that money which is earned from it should also accrue to the value of the object. Though, to think of it in another way, the tablet has more than paid for itself, and, if it was seen as an investment when it was given as a gift, then it has succeeded (to put it mildly).

So, what is my object worth?

If I’m honest, I don’t truly know. I’d likely have to insure it at market value, if I were to insure it. But that $120-135 insurance value would contain none of the qualities of the tablet as investment, as gift, as object of support, as tool with which to make money. What is my object worth? Well, my parents paid about $125 for it, but it seems to be worth a lot more.

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