Why Does Art Cost Money? Part 2.
If I was a truly tech-savvy or word-savvy individual, I would 1) figure out a better interface for my annual blog posts & 2) a better title. But nevertheless, here we are.
I re-read the post below this, “Why Does Art Cost Money?,” a few times over the course of the past year. Each time I did, it made me chuckle. Sometimes in good ways & sometimes in cringe-y ways. I’ve always been an external processor. My hope is that over the years I’ve gotten a little wiser about how & where & to whom I externally process my thoughts & feelings. I would imagine that to most people the biggest drawback to growing a business and growing as an artist through a mostly public format (shoutout to social media) would be being able to look back at those “cringe-y” moments. And knowing that if anyone was curious enough, anybody & everybody could see those “awkward years” too. But to me, the cringe moments of business development are endearing— and ultimately, quite humbling. And it’s my belief that humility leads to growth. So here’s to growing, cringing, and hopefully more chuckling…
Why does art cost money? Quite simply, because it’s worth something. And I don’t think you’d be reading this if you didn’t agree with that point. That point being that art brings beauty, joy, color, questions, uniqueness, memory, and ultimately, just a breath of fresh air to our lives. So that said, I’m not going to list all of the factors that go into how I price art like I did last year. Instead, I’m going to talk about the oxymoron that is business & art.
I love (read LOVE) running a business. I love making my own hours & choosing my own workload. I love that what I get out of it is directly correlated to what I put into it. I love building relationships with clients & other artists & businesses. I love meeting a creative need & creating clear channels of communication. I also love being underestimated. And in some ways, I even love failing because I get to learn so much and actively build from those failures. It’s great. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But it’s very much mine.
I also love being an artist. I love creating. I love tinkering & exploring & envisioning. I love getting smacked with an idea and jumping right in to making it come to life. I love thinking & feeling and getting to visually share something that hopefully makes others think & feel too. I love getting so deeply engrossed in a color or texture or subject matter for hours that I lose track of time. One of my favorite quotes is by G.K. Chesterton and it goes as such:
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
To me, that’s my prayer for what being an artist looks like too: aspiring to never get tired of being inspired– like my Father who is younger than me.
The thing is I love both of these things, business and art. But sometimes they’re at odds with each other. The business side is fast-paced and achievement-driven. And I love it. There’s a very explicit & quantitative metric for success. The art side is often the opposite. It has to do with soul and passion. It’s introspective and spiritual and can’t really be rushed. And if I’m being honest with myself, I think oftentimes I pick being a better businessperson than being a better artist. And some of that is natural and human and part of growing and learning. But my hope is to pick being a better artist more often this year. Not to the cost of being a better businessperson, but in addition to it.
Why Does Art Cost Money?
See, when you buy a vacuum, you go online and you’re given a bullet point list of features that is meant to add up to equal the monetary value of the product. This is true of vacuums, of furniture, of shoes– pretty much any consumer item. But most of the time with art, it’s just a price. That’s it.
I used to think this was because creatives are just pretentious. And don’t get me wrong, we are. I can say this because my worst creative self can be very pretentious… There’s some old adage about the thing that bothers you the most in others is the thing you are. I’ve found this to be true… and humbling.
But beyond the esoteric, elitist stereotype, I think the thing that is more true about why there’s very little explanation as to why art costs what it costs is because often times, creatives don’t know how to explain the cost. I’ve been doing this (part-time mostly, then full-time) for the past two years (so I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination). But in the early days of the past two years, I’d give a price for a project thinking I charged way too much. However, I’d get to the end of the project feeling so burnt out by the amount of work I’d put in and I’d wish I had charged more.
Now, hot take, I think this is actually really healthy. Contrary to most memes you’ll see on the internet about sticking up for yourself as a small business, I look back at those days of mis-priced projects and am thankful. I am NOT saying you should do work for free. Even if it’s day one of being a creative professional, you have still gotten to a place where you can do it professionally, so you should charge. But in my early days, and honestly, I’m still very much in my early days, I didn’t have the skill, the experience, or the achievement level to charge big bucks. I had to grow and learn and “earn my stripes.” Earning your stripes isn’t fun or sexy or very Instagram-worthy, but it’s how you get good at what you do.
So what exactly went in to those projects that I did and felt like I undercharged for? Well, I tended to assume that things took way less time than was actually the reality.
When you see a piece of art that looks super simple, often times, HOURS and HOURS of work has gone in. Sometimes on the canvas itself– even if it looks simple, you can bet there’s a zillion and five frantic layers of paint underneath that led up to that really simple point. But not always. Sometimes it really is that simple. But then there’s time that goes into thinking about the artwork– the prepping and brainstorming. There’s the time taken in between sessions of painting. There’s the time taken to get to the place where you believe a painting is actually complete. Time isn’t something you see, but that’s probably first on our vacuum-furniture-shoe product bullet point list.
Then, there’s market value. This is tricky to explain, but there is rhyme and reason to it. It’s not based on the amount of Instagram followers you have or how many galleries you’re showing in. It’s not based on what you simply believe your work should cost. Although, truth be told, those things are considered. But ultimately, it comes down to supply & demand. I know, what artist knows anything about supply & demand? (I got a C in Rita Balaban’s ECON 101 class at UNC, so I’m definitely not one to talk, but I’ll try my best.)
But an artist or creative is one person, so there truly is a limit to the supply. As more people demand the supply, the price goes up 1) to make more supply, 2) to make sure it “stays on the shelves” for the right amount of time, & 3) so the supplier can earn a living. So sure, if you follow somebody on Instagram, you’re for sure a factor in their demand, which is why Instagram artists are always so very thankful for those that follow them, but that isn’t the sum of the demand.
There’s a lot more I could add to our product bullet point list. There’s experience, education, materials cost, programs & software costs, shipping costs– but I am not an expert, so I think I’ll leave it here. In my experience, I’ve found it’s not a perfect science for why art costs what it costs. But it’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about. Art is a joy to make and consume. My hope is that my work would bring you great joy and that you would feel like you’re getting as much bang for your buck as possible. Thanks for reading. -Maggie