Saturday, August 21, 2010

How Much is an Artist's Time Worth?

I've been contemplating this a lot lately. Ever since I made the decision to not do the fused glass this weekend, I've been thinking about the prices I put on my beadwoven and bead embroidered pieces.

Back when I owned a fine craft and bead shop, I wanted to try selling my finished beadwork. When one of my business partners saw the price that I had put on one piece, I was told:

"You can't put that price on your work because you don't have any name recognition."

Huh? So, just because no one knows my name, my beadwork isn't worth anything?

I hate to admit it, but that's a comment that still stings when I think about it. It implies that my time is worthless because I am, for all intents and purposes, a nobody.

When I was set up at the Jay Day festival a few weeks ago, there was a goldsmith set up across the green from me who was selling her handmade gemstone jewelry. She came up to my booth and looked at my prices and then asked me if I had sold anything and if anyone was complaining about my prices.

I told her that I hadn't sold anything, and that I didn't let the complaints about my prices bother me anymore. If someone complains about my prices at a show, then they aren't going to buy from me, anyway.

She told me that she had people who were complaining about her prices so badly that she was beginning to feel like she was trying to steal money from them.

I've probably said this on here before, and I'll probably say it again, but this is how I feel about including a charge for my time in my work:

If I worked in an office or in a place like a hospital, I wouldn't work a 40 hour week and then tell my supervisor, "Hey, that's okay - just pay for the gas I used to drive here and my lunches this week and I'll be okay with that." But by not including a charge for my time in my work, this is exactly what I would be doing.

My time is precious. If I sit and put in the 10 hours it takes to make a handmade piece of beadwork, why shouldn't I be compensated for it? Is the time of an artist worthless when compared to the time of a secretary or a nurse?

Maybe you can't compare beading for a living to being a doctor or an attorney or working to save the rainforest. But I feel like I am still doing something worthwhile with my time when I sit down to bead. I'm creating a piece of art, something of beauty. In some cases, I'm designing a project that may appear in a magazine or as a pattern in my Etsy store - and in those cases, maybe I'm helping someone who uses beadwork as a way to relax. I'm making someone feel special and unique when they wear my one-of-a-kind pieces. Maybe I'm even teaching someone about the significance and history of beads and how they make the human species very unique. (We're the only species on the planet that creates and uses objects purely for self-adornment.)

Whatever the case, I am tired of the stereotype of the "starving artist". Artists shouldn't have to be poor if they choose to pursue their craft - they should be encouraged to create and compensated fairly for their time, just like anyone else who holds down a job.

I hate when I go on Etsy and see someone selling a peyote-stitched bracelet or a hugely intricate beadwoven necklace for a pittance. I understand that some people consider themselves hobbyists, and they "don't care" if they make any money selling their work. I don't think they are doing anyone any favors, least of all those of us who are trying to earn a living with our craft.

My advice to them? If you "don't care" about making any money from your work, then don't sell it at all.

I know that my feelings on that matter are hardly going to win me any friends, but it's how I feel about the whole thing. I ask for what I feel is a fair price for my work, and that includes a charge for my time.

What I really hope for is that more artists will follow suit and start to treat their work like it's the precious commodity that it is.


Carol Dean said...

You know I agree 100% with you, my friend!

Bead well and prosper!

3 Peeps Designs said...

Some days I feel as strongly as you do about being paid for my time. Other days, I guess I'm feeling insecure, and I question whether my pieces are worth the charge. Ugh. I am sure with more experience, I will have fewer days of doubt.

LLJones said...

This is so dead-to-rights. But the consumer culture, which began with the likes of five-and-dimes and Henry Ford's five dollar work day - has made us all expect that if it isn't cheap, we're being cheated. In the shuffle to find a bargain, as a society, we're bleeding artisans...and losing our abilities to make. It's really important to ask a fair wage for our time, so good for you! If everyone upheld their fair asking price, it would make it easier for all of us. Great post. I just linked to your blog on Wild Wicked Beads.

Lisa Peters Russ said...

-- it all depends on the venue and the perspective of buyer.

At some shows people say " OMGosh this button is $8.00 - WOW too much!" and at other shows they will say " OMGosh this button is ONLY $8.00, why so little"?

As artists we expect the world to believe as we do, every buyer to know that it took us 10 hours to create something and exactly the cost of the materials used to make it. Which is not always the case.

I do not think its a matter of people not thinking our time is precious.. I truly believe (some of them) just don't know, because maybe no one has taken the time to tell them or they have not been raised in an environment that included artisan made anything and they really don't know the difference.

When someone approaches me with the "WHY on earth is this button a whopping $8?" instead of getting frustrated and ignoring them I use the time to enlighten them.

As an artist, as frustrating as it may be it is MY responsibility to educate people who JUST DONT KNOW and if they still feel its too much then they were not destined to ever be my customer or may be having problems feeding their family or paying the bills and maybe disguising that frustration under the question.. Hey Why so much?

If we are not represented by a gallery and we are Self representing artists then we have to Sell our work - and that includes the dreaded "why is this so much conversation"

Maybe on your display or on your details about the could include how many hours it took to complete..then the person might say.. "WOW, this took you all that time to make"

This discussion about "what is an artist's time worth" is probably older than any other discussion in the world... lol.. It was the total demise of the photography world back in the day when I had my own killed that world..

I saw a set of paintings in one of the chelsea galleries last year.. 4 cheaply mounted 11 x 14 canvas's (staples on the sides-not gallery mounted with staples in the back) with 3 brush strokes of red paint and each had a different Islamic symbol on them.. The set was $10,500.00 by an unknown artist.
How much is that artist's time worth?

Venue and perspective..

(and I do believe that our time is worth alot... ;)

Beverly Herman said...

Well put, I agree about charging for for the time you put into your bead work.