Thursday, 6 June 2013

How Much Is That Artwork?

One of the biggest complaints artists have about some of the patrons at art shows is the one comment we hear constantly, and often rudely; "How can you charge so much for that?" Or my personal favorite from one man, heard loudly grumbling the same sentence through the entire venue; "Who do these artists think they ARE, charging these prices?"  

Who am I? Well, I am not "just an artist". I think some people have this perception that artists are sitting at home doing something fun and not really working so they should be putting lower prices on their art. I am an average joe, but I am also the sole owner and operator of a small business. Of course I love what I do, or I wouldn't do it, but it is still a job and requires hard work. 

So for those who were wondering (or grumbling )... when you buy an original work of art, here's a small sampling of what it pays for:
  •  My wage for the artwork itself If it takes me 4 weeks to complete a piece, then the price reflects what I would expect to earn at any other job with a moderate wage in a month. Compare that to your own monthly salary...
  •  My expenses in creating the artwork. This includes all materials used in the creation of the artwork itself, camera gear for reference photography, framing and shipping fees ( for the materials)
  •  My show/exhibition expenses.   Includes, but not limited to; membership fees, booth fees, shipping fees, gas, hotel charges, meal expenses, parking, all banking fees related to processing credit/debit transactions, and vendor permits.
  • The materials for my booth display - lighting, backdrops (usually custom), tents, tables, chairs, rugs, fabric, easels, labels, hardware, tools
  • Commissions.   This is all the money the show/gallery gets - anywhere from 20-50% of  my total sales. Keep this in mind when pondering my first point about wage. If a show is taking 40% of my wage, I may have to increase the price of the art by 40% to make sure I get paid.
  •  Promotional materials - professional photography (required for juried shows - at least a hundred bucks an artwork), brochures, business cards, website hosting fees, signage, any renovations to my home in order to house a studio/gallery , also includes donations of artworks to fundraising events.
  • Advertising.  Social media ads, magazine ads (huge $$$), ads in other publications
  • Banking/Accounting/Taxes. Small business fees are ridiculous. I don't think I need to say more....also the fee for the accountant when dropping off a giant box of receipts for them at tax time and whatever I have to pay the government if I actually sell anything.
  • Transportation.  Investment in large storage vehicles to haul booth display, equipment and artwork to shows, plus all the expenses that come with owning said huge gas guzzling machine.
  •  Time. The years spent in classes/workshops/schools honing and developing my skill, the 5 to 10 years it took to grow the business without earning a penny, the countless hours spent working on artworks and the business even when working other jobs and still trying to maintain a home and, with luck, a relationship.  The endless days and nights and stolen moments spent doing accounting, building a website, building a social media following, writing articles and/or blogs to promote myself, making labels, editing photos, travelling to shipping outlets, galleries, framers, photographers and other business related places and countless weekends away from family and friends to attend shows/exhibitions.
  • Cultural, emotional and monetary value for you. Historians studying past cultures use several ways to come up with a theory of how a particular civilization existed. Written text, archaeological evidence, stories passed down through generations, and the artwork of that time are often indicators. Artists have, over thousands of years, provided a lasting record of events, beliefs, sights, and emotions. We continue to do so and the work you buy has cultural significance as a result. As well, when you buy an original piece of art, you are not just buying any old object like a shoe. Granted, one could argue, a shoe has a purpose - I need it to protect my foot. But once that shoe is worn out and tossed, there is nothing left - no personal connection at all. The opposite is true of original art. Before you buy a piece there is an emotional connection to it - maybe you have been to that location and had a great time there,  or you love elephants, or that bike looks like one you owned as a kid etc. Some people find emotion in simply connecting with the artist themselves and consider the work made by that persons hands a token of that connection. Hard to put a price on that. In any case, an original work of art has something that many costly items do not - lasting value. As a society we spend millions on extracurricular vehicles, electronics, computers, clothing etc. - none of which will be there when you have grandchildren. Original art increases in value over time, and especially so if the artist is successful in their career. It can be a lucrative investment if you are a collector, or simply a treasure that you wish to pass down to someone in your will.  


Not everyone is in a position to be able to afford an original work of fine art, but  please know that artists are not offended by that!  In fact, we welcome those who want to just look at our work - we are proud of what we have done and want to show it off! We LOVE, and feed off of, your favorable comments - it boosts our confidence and keeps us motivated!! We love talking to you about anything, even if it isn't art!


So, next time you are at an art show, take a moment to appreciate all of the time, money and emotion that went into that artists work. Perhaps one day you will be the proud owner of an original and your love of the piece will be only be heightened by the awareness of the sacrifices that went into its creation.

61 comments:

  1. Wonderfully PUT! No Nonsense, this is how it is, so chaw on that! Love it!! You ROCK!

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  2. When someone raises an eyebrow at the prices of my work I remark, to myself if not to that person, "Fine art is not for everybody". The problem is that those people who complain about prices think that art just "flows" out of us. They don't consider years of training and sometimes the years of gestation that goes into the idea for a given piece. They look and think, "I could do that." Well, sure, a lot of people could paint a Picasso, after the fact, by copying. But could we paint a Picasso if no Picassos existed for us to copy?

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    1. Many people will pay hundreds of dollars for a piece of art bought from Stienhafels or Michael's, but complain about an original piece at an art show. I think there is a disconnect in people's minds about art in general. I think people say, "I could have done that." Picasso had a lot of copiers. He said, " I can copy a Picasso as well as anybody." We have to educate people that art is not just something to hang on a wall, but is an experience worth living with.

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    2. They also need to take into account the "failures". For every piece I sell...there can be anywhere between 2-10 pieces that never see the light of day or never make it past the sketch pad!

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  3. Hi. Feel free to delete this immediately after reading. I'm not writing it to blast my opinion, just share it with you , the writer. I'm a professional artist myself. I also do a lot of marketing and professional writing. I understand why you wrote this and it would be something I might share with my group of over 2900 artists, but I hesitate. One of the most important things in writing something like this is to consider your readers, your market. Who are you writing this for? Other artists, to commiserate with you on why you feel no one understands you? Or to your clientele, the people who might actually learn something about artists reading this and come to a better understanding of you, and may actually purchase your art? If it's to the latter, you really might want to consider changing the tone. The large bold white type on black is very IN YOUR FACE. The tone even more so. It doesn't take a tone of educating. It comes off as complaining and harsh. There would be a way, with editing, to write this better so that it might encourage a person to understand and support artists rather than trying to put them in their place as the fools they are. I hope you take this comment in the spirit it is given, just to help. Sometimes, it takes a second pair of eyes to see something clearly, from another perspective, like standing back to look at a painting from a distance. Best of luck, Sarah

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    1. I agree. The white on back leaves a painful after=image, and the words are gruff. Edit for non-atrists, they know not what they do.

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    2. I can't agree enough. Even if the purpose of the scheme is to emulate the exacto's crisp features, the effect of white text on black is incredibly hard on the eyes. I feel like an artist would intuitively understand this from a design standpoint. The tone is also, as mentioned, quite abrasive. That doesn't do much to remedy the "artist with a temper" cliche and has a superiority complex vibe. There are many, many ways to explain this same thing in a less abrasive manner. The words here are true, but to someone who isn't an artist that won't matter if all they see is "You don't understand how hard we have it uuuuugh."

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    3. While some very good points are made, the tone is indeed quite harsh.

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    4. Are the points valid or not? You are arguing style over substance, which is fallacious.

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    5. Are the points valid or not? You are arguing style over substance, which is fallacious.

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    6. Thank you for sharing Sarah, there is no reason anyone should/would delete this comment. You make excellent points that should be considered. As a buyer, I see many artists over-reaching in regards to pricing. This does come off as a "commiseration" piece, not an educational one. An artist should sometimes consider "raised eyebrows" as a cue to check their own expectations as well. An experienced buyer may be telling an artist something they don't want to hear, but that does not mean the potential buyer is automatically the fool in the situation.

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    7. Wow, the tone-policing really adds to this discussion.

      By the way, white text on black is a lot better for your eyes than black text on white. Do you also go around fussing at news sites for employing the latter?

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    8. "the tone" ? LOL, too funny. You sound like all the other people that are "offended" by something. I hear Lori venting about something that actually IS offensive.
      My 63yr old eye's had no problem reading white on black and if it's too "in your face" perhaps her point is made.

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    9. "Over-reaching" LOL
      "I can't afford it" is not the same things as "it's not worth that much." If the market will bear the price - and keep in mind YOU are not the whole market - then it's not an overreach.
      This comes off sounding like you think you are entitled to a piece just because you want it, and if it's priced out of your range, the artist has done something wrong.

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  4. I'm not an artist nor am I someone who can currently buy fine art--but I am someone who might be a future client. I found this to be enlightening, honest, and helpful. In fact, I might add one more thing to the list--the cost of not getting paid a regular salary. You could take months creating a piece only to have it not sell. For years. Hopefully your investment in that piece will in fact pay off, and hopefully sooner than later, but you need to keep living and keep doing art even when your pieces are not selling. So a piece of art hopefully has something in the sale price to carry you through a dry spell as well. I am mesmerized by your work and hope to see it someday in person.

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    1. That was very sweet. I agree that there are many pieces made that don't make the cut of what I would sell. They wait in the storage room to be reworked or burned. All of that time spent creating, and learning from mistakes made.... of course if we had a "real job", that would not cost us anything, but as self employed artists, we have to "eat that" mistake. So, just to add to the costs, we also have to pay self-employment taxes, the whole 15%, plus income taxes, plus our health insurance. Yes, it's a real job, no, we don't do it for fun.

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  5. I am an artist often faced with the statement that my art is to expensive. However, I am below my competition and often get not so subtle encouragement to raise my prices. Artists priced too low are as much a harm to the market as those priced too high.

    With my printer for my photographic prints I am told nicely what he feels I should charge. I have heard of printers not handling a photographer because they are not charging enough. I am on surer grounds with my paintings because I am represented by galleries and know it is not ethical to undercut the price there at my own studio.

    As a founding member of an artists' guild I have had this discussing with many of our members. I appreciate you laying it out so clearly. Much of what you list as considerations on pricing I know many beginning artists do not consider. I told them it is easier from the very beginning to factor in a gallery commission. And until you are in a gallery you pay yourself that commission because it is far easier than suddenly doubling your prices. Besides until you are in a gallery you are doing everything a gallery would do so you deserve that commission.

    J. Binford-Bell
    Binford-Bell Studio
    Black Lake, NM

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  6. Good article but incredibly hard to read white text on black.

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  7. Hi lori, go girl, tell it as it is, let off steam turn your back on it rise up and press on. Rikki

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  8. I once had someone who felt that 'anyone could do that' go buy large roll of canvas and enough acrylic paint brushes etc for three people and myself. We would see how easy it was to make a good painting.
    We met on a weekend in a large basement and each person set out to do a large painting - I was the only artist though the other folks were an architect, an engineer, and a biologist. Their paintings were awful in every possible way - muddy color, no coherent composition, no unified mark or technique. It was as if they had never really looked at a painting. They all professed to admire mine and wished they'd spent the time watching how I went about it. I took it along with me to work on for a couple more weeks.
    The architect, who had initiated through her comments, has mine hanging in her dining room. They learned in a concrete way what it costs, how difficult it is, and what makes a bad painting as compared to a good one. I like your list as an easier way to enlightenment.

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  10. I am an artist, 55 years old. I have finally achieved the place in my career where no one bats an eye at my price. I don't get more sales but they accept that it is a good deal for the work. I sell enough, small pieces, cards, prints, to cover costs of all of the above. Just about. And I am hoping with a little more recognition to actually start selling more and making a profit. Get that - I am 55. I have spent my LIFE not making a regular salary, raising my kids below the poverty level, teaching other people's kids and beginner adults wherever I could to make ends meet (not all classes are the great workshops with talented semi-professionals) and still be there as a single-Mom. This piece you have written is WAY NOT TOO HARSH. LOL!

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    1. People who think they are entitled to free *luxury* services deserve all the harshness they get. Art that someone else makes is a luxury. We need food, we need shelter, we need healthcare, but we do not need someone else's art. This fact is reflected in how many fewer art pieces than bags of apples are sold every year. Artists are not going to magically never need food or shelter or healthcare just because a prospective art buyer is feeling stingy. Doesn't work that way.

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  11. I'm a buyer of art. And I want to respond to Sarah's comment. Nope, not too harsh at all. If you want to play with the big dogs, you want to collect art, you better be informed about what it is exactly that you are paying for. If you're not ready to hear the reality of how the artists you are buying from are making a living, then you are not ready to buy art. I actually think the tone was quite friendly as you welcome people who just want to see your art for free. Not all artists are as kind to people who can't help pay their bills.

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  12. While I believe that each one of us has inside an artist, not all people are willing to demonstrate their creative abilities. Those that do are courageous and open to scorn, invalidation, evaluation and, at times, admiration (only when we do our jobs right).

    An artist has to have something more, too: Affinity, affinity for the medium they work in, and for people. Because Art is all about communication and how well something is communicated.

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  13. Thank you. Thank you for all of us that have had to endure the insults to us and our work. It is hard to write something so concise and direct which is a talent in it's own right.

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  14. Great writing! Thanks! Write more, please. Most people who are not artists do not understand or value what we artists do.

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  15. Great writing! Thanks! Write more, please. Most people who are not artists do not understand or value what we artists do.

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  16. Love it! I make ceramics and have only started out in my later part of life .... it is so hard and we have to multi task beyond belief. I sell direct, through exhibitions and teach classes - to teach people how hard to process is and how time consuming the art of making takes and it is only then they understand the pricing. I also explain your lovely comments keeps me motivated and inspires me to keep moving and creating ... thanks for this honest and true .... putting it on my page also. !! :-) Good luck and enjoy creating it is so good for the soul! :-) Ellen - Cula Ceramics

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  17. So very true ! I couldn't have said it better. You addressed most of the things I do on a daily basis for my business. It can be enjoyable, of course , but I believe that is why I've kept at it for years and finally went more public with it. I like the way you addressed each point so succinctly. Well done. You told it as it is !

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  18. Thank you for putting into words so eloquently and so gently what really needed to be said aloud. I don't paint on canvas. Beads and wires are my medium. Still it is art. Each piece is original and takes hours to make. I have been told numerous times that I should raise my prices but it tears me up inside when I see people walk away after admiring a piece without buying it for themselves. The only thing that breaks my heart more is when some people come up and try to haggle my already-too-low-to-pay-myself-a-minimum-wage prices down even more. If artists didn't thoroughly enjoy what they do, they would not choose be artists. That doesn't mean our time, talent and other expenses should not be taken into consideration in what we charge for our pieces. If anything, you have encouraged me to raise my prices to reflect my work. I will be sharing this on my page too. A well informed public breeds a better understanding and a better appreciation for our labours of love.

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  19. I loved reading this. I sometimes take an unfinished sculpture to an exhibition. It is a perfect way to interact with the public on how many work is involved in making a bronze sculpture with the molds etc etc. People just do not realise the hours that go into it, the amount of money to finish it. but if they do they walk away and I can hear them mumble to each other: now I get why bronze sculptures are so expensive and it teaches me that I should not be insulted when they turn away cuz I charge "outrages amounts of money", they are just uninformed. So every thing we do to inform them will help. Thanks for this clear explanation. Hope loads will read it.

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  20. GReat! I think that this is really good waking up :)

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  21. As both an Artist and Gallerist I too have faced this many a time over the years with customers bawking at the mere suggestion of charging more than a quivering handshake.
    Unfortunately there are quite a few artists lurking about with a similar view of wanting it all for next to nothing, I once remember someone using the phrase "What?? Pay to play?" :(
    Admittedly and thankfully very few artists I would include in the above dynamic, the more experienced and professional typically means less issues - except for the occasional primadonna lurking about of course. As a Gallerist the costs and time of marketing, staffing, managing the Gallery, social media feeds, website and looking for new talent itself is relentless, a week or month without enough sales through the till, the landlord still requires the rent to be paid on time. In my view - as a former High School and College Lecturer it stems from the way the Arts is viewed and structured in education, no business or entrepreneurship modules attached....

    Dear customers we do not live off grass and air.

    Excellent read. Cheers!

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  22. As a software developer, author and great admirer of art, I wanted to say two things. First is that creating software (at least when you own your own business) is remarkably like art both in the amount of time and effort hidden in the final work and in the occasional grumblings about cost, so I completely agree with both the tone and substance of this post. Second is a request to be patient and understanding of authors, as they also put in huge amounts of time and effort both honing their craft and then creating their own works of art (whether novel or whatever), but are routinely told that no matter how good it is, they are greedy if they try to charge as much as a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

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  23. Kind of lost the point of being an artist with this posting...Truth, not everyone is talented that is an artist, some are good and some are bad... so by crying about peoples critiques as lowball or childish they may seem, you've missed the point of art...not everyone is a Picasso, that is up for yes your Audience to decide and hey if you can't sell it and they don't want to buy, the only person who is sol is the artist for not capturing the audience...cheers though for white on black...

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    1. You and Sarah both make important points! As a buyer of fine art, I have seen many artists over the years that over-charge simply because they have over-estimated their talent!

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  24. I was at SCOPE and at the end of the show, was cute, went to the dealer and sad I'd take it. She said "you want to buy it', I said "yes", she asked three times, in the end, I said "'stop, it's easy to understand, I want to give you money", always with a friendly smile. OK, now from the other side, folks who view your art! If you charge what you consider a "fair" price, don't post complaints about "the rich".It takes a fair amount of disposable income to plunk down 1, 2 or 10 grand for a piece of art. You are in fact dealing, in many cases, with those one considers rich, "disposable income for art", tha's reality. The rest of my story... So, I started talking with the artist, remember, I bought on the last day of the weeks event. He started complaining to me that, people kept saying how great it was, how they liked it, how talented he was, "but then, why didn't these talkers buy it"? I told him, he should feel complimented, people liked his art enough to compliment him, to maybe ask the price, that was very cool, it's just that they may not have 6 grand to plunk down on a painting! Remember, folks go to these show to see your fantastic creations, that's a compliment, they just might not have the bucks? A "show", can be art for the masses, visually and for a limited few, a cool, permanent addition to their lives. They "raise an eyebrow", maybe because they reaaaalllyyyy liked it and did not know it was so unaffordable for them and just don't know what to say? They just might not have an idea on pricing? That's OK....!!!

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    1. You're exactly right, it is ok! Sometimes "raised eyebrows" are a sign the artist is way off-base in pricing, not a sign the buyer is ignorant to the plight of starving artists... Buyer and seller negotiate because each side needs valid concerns addressed.

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  25. Lindsey-
    I understand to some degree, but most people are limited in what is considered "artistic talent". Do they raise their eyebrows because they consider "talent" as something that is artistically rendered in a traditional representational style as opposed to a less representational one? I feel that art should speak to the viewer's emotionally on some level-hence ,a sale. Otherwise it is rater subjective depending on the viewer and their perspective on the subject at hand.

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  26. Lori, Thank you for sharing this comprehensive overview guide for pricing original artwork as factual as possible without euphemistic terms. For those who have difficulty with the white type on black background, they could simply save the article as a pdf. It automatically converts to black type on white background through the magic of Abode Reader software.

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  27. Excellent excellent excellent read and so very true.

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  28. Excellent excellent excellent read and so very true.

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  29. I am an artist who also studies art and enjoys buying art. This is a very informative article and I take no offense in the way anything was said or written. Thank you for great insights.

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  30. Thank you for an excellent article. I'd like to add that not everything we create is salable. My response to "how long did it take to make this painting?" is not reliable because I may have made 3-4 duds before this masterpiece came about. I respond with the amount of time it took to create all 3-4 pieces. Not to mention the canvases and paint for all that. As I get older, I do paint faster but not always better!

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  31. It seems a touch of reality is needed here, few of us (who are many) will ever make the big bucks with our art. I pride myself on my work, it takes more than passion, it takes obsession, bloody mindedness and the ability to admit we sometimes get it wrong! I can not talk for other artists, but one of the most difficult things for me to do is put a price to my work. Is my work as good as I think it is? Can I really charge for the hours I put into it? Am I on totally the wrong track with what I paint and the marketability of it? I my ego bigger than my talent? These are all questions I ask myself time and time again. The one thing I do know is that the work I do today has not come from nowhere. It is the accumulation of many years of hard work, repetition with technique, learning over time to open my mind and learn from my peers. At the end of the day reward for this thing which is passion, compulsion, frustration, despair and doing the ground work even drudgery at times is the feeling only I can experience when I put my brush down for the final time on a painting and feel pride and sometimes even a little bit of awe at what I have just taken ten, twenty or two hundred hours to complete. As for price the truest value is the value placed on a piece of work by the buyer. The pleasure someone else gains by owning a piece of my work has to be considered in the reward scale. True this will not always pay the bills but it is there. We paint for others or for a perceived market yes, but at the end of the day we paint for ourselves. No matter the frustration at times and the stress of making ends meet, this is who I am and what I do!


















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  32. Thank you for saying this. I encounter this quite often. but I think you can add one more to the list when they say, "how long did this take to make, a few hours?". I tell them it took me years to make. Years of lessons, practicing, painting, failure, workshops, years of learning my craft. They may not buy but it gives them a true perspective about art.

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  34. I make horror dolls and I've had people tell me to my face that I charge too much for them. I sculpt their faces, spend a month or more painting them and often sew clothes for them along with making props, make custom eyes, etc... Here is what I say to people who complain: "Ok..So, I worked over a month on this doll and I'm charging $100. The materials cost me about $30, which means I'm actually making $70. So, your point of view is that you are ok with working for more than a month at your job and getting only $100 or less on your paycheck."...hmmm...somehow I doubt that..haha! I don't think you're being too harsh here at all. I think people who assume that artists just fart something out and charge too much- THOSE are the harsh people. I'm sharing your post.

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  35. None of "You"...not one..has the slightest clue as to the Art of Selling and the Profession of Selling. You address a perceived luxury as though it is a commodity and you are workers being paid to construct a commercial product like a bag of rice, a car, a pair of shoes or some other tangible item....the exact opposite of what Art is all about. No doubt not many buy much from poor starving ignorant you. None of you deserve to make ten cents for your work in that you measure it's value in terms of economic principles that apply to store bought hard goods. As a Sales Professional who has knocked down five to the middle six figures annually I simply have to laugh at you and congratulate myself at my well deserved compensation for my talents in selling. And yes, the paintings I've sold are ALL priced at well over ten thousand dollars. Most are over fifty-thousand. You don't deserve a dime.

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    1. WOW! Way to sound like a rude, self-absorbed, conceited vulture. I'm so happy that you are so much more knowledgeable, successful and deserving than all of us poor, undeserving peasants.

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  36. I gave in an decided to get a day job because of these issues...I spent 13 years making it on my art...I am older and tired and like food and shelter. Now I paint more and my work is getting better, I still don't make a lot but it's changing too...I dunno I wasn't offended, because like it's true. I just got so worn out and my work suffered, I love my work, I love making at, I will do it no matter what. I will also keep trying to make a living from my art, I will not give up. I thought it was a good article. Good job. :)

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  37. Well I think Alfred Stieglitz had a great idea ...when someone wanted to buy one of Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings or drawings , he wouldn't sell it to them unless they were in a position to support her for a couple of months... or even several months....and they actually had to prove to him that they had an appreciation for what the painting was communicating.

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