HOW MUCH IS OUR ART WORTH?

My latest necklace series, featuring gems, semi-precious stones, and real pearls.

A reader left a comment on a recent blog post, and raised a good point about whether our art is affordable, (including mine), and offered their conjecture on why it might not be realistically priced.

I started to reply, but four paragraphs in, I realized it was another post!

Re: Your question about whether the price of our art reflects the artist’s personal desire to be of worth at the expense of getting their work out into the world, and into the hands of a admiring owner.

Welp, yes, both of your points are valid.

ANYTHING we buy reflects the time, the materials, and the quality of the object, whether it’s a BMW, or a pair of pearl earrings from Tiffany’s, or a head of organic lettuce.

ANYTHING we make will appeal to many who can’t afford it.

And yes, sometimes a maker’s price may seem based on nothing but their own thoughts, though my experience is that’s more true of “brand” name products. (See luxury items above.) (Okay, organic lettuce isn’t really a luxury brand. But some folks are willing to pay more for it, and some aren’t.)

As for your thoughts about artists over- valuing their own self-worth, some creatives get to the point where they have to raise their prices. Which is a good thing!

Say we price a painting at $2,000, which is pretty reasonable. If it’s framed, that’s included in the price.

If we sell it through a gallery, the gallery will take up to 50% of that income. (In NYC, just before 9/11, some elite galleries took 60% commissions, with less than half going to the person who made the item.) And we pay income tax on that sale, too.

If I sell online, it takes time to take good-enough images, time to edit and upload them, time to create a listing, and time to prepare the item for shipping. An unbelieveable amount of time. I can’t tell you how much time it took to calculate shipping for various-sized packages to potential customers half a dozen countries around the world. (Thank heavens for Etsy’s new automated shipping calculator!!)

We may rent studio space (I have to, in California, and studio rent is not cheap). If we participate in art tours, I have to cover the fees for that, and I need a business license, and often liability insurance.

If we do shows, we pay those fees, and expenses for traveling to shows. I did that for years. Some of those major shows cost upwards of $2,000 or more to enter. And that doesn’t include the time to get there and back, our hotel stay, our on-the-road meals, in my case, the cost of shipping my inventory and booth since I never had the right vehicle to transport them.) In 2008, I spent over $15,000 on three major shows across the country, and sold about $2000 worth of work. That’s when I stopped doing those shows.

We do our own marketing (photography, ads, design work for postcards, business cards, ads, etc,) or pay someone to do it. We often pay for workshops to get better at our work, and/or better at our marketing.

Now let’s say we have good sales, and eventually the demand exceeds the supply. We can only produce a finite amount of work in a year (unless we hire help, which is a whole nother can of worms.) That means we can increase our income gradually over time, doing the same amount of work and time, only by gradually raising our prices.

It’s not our own sense of self worth. It’s our audience’s sense of our worth.

I’ve been told my prices are too high since I started my art biz almost 30 years ago. I charged $18 for a one-of-a-kind handmade horse artifact pin. And some people complained it was too expensive. As I raised my prices over the years, the comments continued. And yet my sales stayed relatively the same.  Which tells me I have an audience, a small one, who will see its worth, and there will always be people who won’t pay my prices. I have to be okay with that.

Here’s the thing: I believe we simply can’t afford everything we like, and when we find something we like, we either recognize how unique it is–if we don’t buy that one piece, there will never be another exactly like it–and jump. (Which is why I offer layaway.)

Or we unconsciously look for reasons why we shouldn’t get it, such as price. This helps assuage our conscious about saying no. (I’ve done it myself.) There have been things I’ve jumped on, though I didn’t need another one, and the price was high. There have been lower-priced things that weren’t quite enough….and walked away.

I’ve had people with little income who find ways to collect my work, through trades, layaway, or buying a smaller piece.

I’ve had people who live in grand homes and drive pricey cars who say they can’t afford my work. (A lot of my work is still well below $100.) Of course, maybe that’s why they’re so rich! 😀

These aren’t inexpensive. Sterling silver, my handmade horse (tiny!), real pearls and gems and semi-precious stones, and a great deal of time getting the design just right.

Frankly, my work isn’t that expensive relative to the “real art world”. Very few of my major pieces barely even compete with the lowest prices of local painters.

The day a good friend sold a $10,000 piece the first day of an open studio tour but complained sales were flat the rest of the weekend, I had to clutch my coffee mug. I was so envious! And yet, it only took a few seconds to get my heart in the right place to congratulate them. They have skills, they have a terrific reputation for great work, and I love their work. They have found their audience, an audience that truly values their work, and I’m still building mine here in California. That’s all.

Knowing our worth is not a bad thing. And though some artists will over-charge for their work, it’s still up to each of us to determine if it’s worth it for ourselves. 

Now, as for getting our work out into the world:

I do that every day.

My art is hosted at my website, my Etsy shop, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linked in, and sometimes Tumblr. Also in galleries in New Hampshire and here in California. I have open studios, and guests are always welcome in my studio. My work is often purchased and given as gifts, which I love, because someone sees something in my work they know someone they care about will truly appreciate.

And every single time I’ve felt desperate for sales, every single time I’ve broken my own rules and offered “a deal”, it’s felt awful. Like I’m selling myself short. And almost every time, the purchaser admits they could actually afford it, they just thought they’d try to dicker to see what happened. And I fell for it.

And every single time I’ve stuck to my guns, politely and with integrity, I’ve been rewarded with a sale, maybe down the road a ways, maybe with another buyer, but still worth it.

And yes, I’ve already had my work found at estate sales and yard sales for a very low price. At first that was a little daunting. But again, every time that happens, the person has loved it so much, they’ve tracked me down to find out more about me, written to tell me how much they love it, and sometimes even purchased another piece.

Some people do literally give away their work, to support causes they believe in, or to simply bring joy to others. I’ve given away work, though never to people who dicker or complain about the price, but to those who I know have been through hell and back, who need the gift of my work to help heal.

I give back in the ways I’ve mentioned, and also through my writing. Through this blog, and I’m a columnist for Fine Art Views. I share what I’ve learned as an artist with others for free. Here’s an interesting fact: When I first started writing a column for a fine craft magazine and other platforms, I made $350-$500 an article. Today I get $45 an article, if anything, and a free website (valued at $35/month. You do the math.

But I still write, because I have to. I have to get my art-and-life lessons out, to get clarity in my head and love in my heart. Also because every single time I publish, I get at least one person who said it was just what they needed to hear that day. So my writing is my (free or almost-free) labor of love.

The last way I get my art out into the world is also powerful.

When I have visitors, especially younger people and millennials (whose buying habits inspired this series of articles), I don’t twist arms to make sales. I let them explore my space, examine my work, hold my work, and read my signs about my inspiration, my insights, my hopes and dreams.

Most can’t afford my work. But for them, the conversation turns into something else.

I ask them about their own creative work. They share what makes them happy, and I encourage them to make room in their life for it, whether they can earn a living with it or not.

It can be painting, cooking, gardening, teaching, construction, singing, any activity that, when shared with the world, makes other people happy, and makes the world a better place. (I tell them my advice is worth every penny they paid for it.)

So it’s okay with me if someone can’t afford my work (in a nice way, I mean.) I get it. It’s okay if they believe my work is overpriced, too. It just may not be worth it to them. It’s okay if they believe I’ve inflated my prices because I have no idea of its real (less-expensive) value. (Well….kind of okay….!)

In the end, I do what I can, I do what I have to, and I do what I love. That’s the best we can do, and that has to be okay.

I “just” make “plastic” horses. It’s more than that, isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

18 thoughts on “HOW MUCH IS OUR ART WORTH?”

  1. Luann, you are so right on. I have an accountant friend who joins me when I go to an Open Studios event every year. She loves good art and her home reflects that. One day, we were coming back and she complained about how much art costs. She had bought a fabulous basket that was, in my opinion, appropriately priced. I asked her how much accountants make an hour. She paused – and grimaced – and got the point. Why should we as artists charge minimum wage, if that, just because someone wants “cheap” art?

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I love your newest work. Because it is more monochrome, the necklaces lend themselves to become signature necklaces, worn every single day. With everything. The “cost per wearing” becomes very low. A $350 necklace like the sage green one above, worn every day to the office and with jeans, has a one year cost-per-wearing of $1. Of course, such a necklace will be worn for years and years and years, so maybe, over ten years, the cost per wearing is ten cents. One of your new necklaces is a true investment, and an instant heirloom to be passed on to the next generation.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ooooh, LOVE how you think, Susan, I’m going to update my listings with that observation. Oddly, I’ve begun to label my new jewelry supplies with their source and the cost-per-unit, so I can keep an eye on costs. NEVER thought to do that with my work. THANK YOU!!!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Luann! I am obsessed with these three necklaces. I notice only the green one is on your Etsy shop. I am loving the blue one- can you email me about it? Thank you!
    Kara O

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’d always noted my materials with their unit costs, but I’ve recently stopped doing that with the silver I buy, because here in the UK, the price is fluctuating and increasing dramatically – not just with the general stock market but because of the pound/dollar/Brexit fiasco. Now I’ve learned to cost the pieces at the replacement price of the silver, before factoring the time (including photography, listing etc.
    And, every time someone (to be honest, this is mostly my mother) makes a derogatory comment about the ‘exorbitant price’* something is, I ask them if they mind paying a proper price for their boiler being serviced, or if they are happy to pay someone who isn’t insured, or appropriately trained. I try to do so with good grace, but I sometimes get a tad snappy!
    *many of my pieces are under £20, which is about the cost of 3 pints in a pub here.

    And, I expect I have asked this before, but I just took at look at your blog page, rather than merely reading in WP Reader, and I can’t see a link to anything like Kofi. If you have an account, please do flag it up if you reply, and make it super obvious on your page, then those of us who appreciate your insights and tips, and at the very least bung you a little something 😉
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dawn, I get on the silver market. I’ve noticed that although prices have dropped since the skyrocketing prices in 2011, the PRICE of sterling silver findings and beads never really dropped. Argh! So your strategy of pricing at “replacement cost” is very wise. I’m going to write another article soon about “scripts” to memorize when people complain about cost (although yours is fine), but being prepared is better than being caught off-guard. OK, now your comment about Kofi, I have no idea what that is! (I just realized I could look it up….Google, here I come!) :^)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I’ve been subscribed / following your blog for AGES 😉 And now I found you on Ko-fi. Thank you for allowing me to. Have you discovered Linktree? You can use it to store all your hyperlinks, and when someone clicks, it takes them to a holding page, with all your media, so that they can click and progress throguh to whichever works best for them. I would think a good place for your kofi link would be in the ‘ about / intro’ part of your blog, or depending on how much you want to push it, in the first bit of every post, like where you say you make the mistakes so we don’t have to exactly my reason for blogging!). I think you are exactly right in this – people are people, they either like / appreciate our work, or they don’t. I think the way to go is to accept that, smile and chat and remember that difference is what makes life interesting. I have often gained a sale from the person who overheard a member of the public being critical of my jewellery, and decided that they liked my style – personal and silver! Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I laughed at the caption about your “just” making “plastic” horses. It falls in line with something I recently shared with another of my fave illustrators who’s now in large art museums. In college my 20th century art history prof’s response to my question about the absence of Norman Rockwell in the course was that he was “just an illustrator hired by a magazine.” On a rare focused moment, I came back with. Yeah. and Michelangelo was “just” a church painter hired to paint a ceiling by a pope. The prof’s comment was probably the most important lesson I learned from that class.

    Bless you my child! Keep up the good work.
    You may now kiss my ring.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL, oh Michael, I ALWAYS enjoy your comments! I used “just” because years ago, before I found my niche, I bought a box of Bic pens and covered them with patterned sheets of polymer clay. I tried to sell them at a craft show. A couple came up and the woman loved them but the guy said, “They’re just cheap pens covered with cheap plastic” and walked away. I was crushed. (Such a tender soul!) But at least it stopped me from going down the pen route. :^D And OMG yes the “just an illustrator” thing, I HATE THAT. It’s at the heart of my entire battle against “who is a real artist?” and “what is real art?” Love YOUR response, what did the prof say? I keep telling people, an illustrator is an artist who knows they’re going to get paid.

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  6. Excellent, excellent article. The whole ” worth” thing is so subjective. I too have seen people on lower incomes really appreciate and value the work involved in creating something unique and save up to get it and I love those customers. When someone has had to save and wait for my art I feel so honoured that they love it enough to do that and on the flip side I have had people try to insult and denigrate the work to get a reduction in price. I bent over backwards to please a buyer some years ago even allowing her to hang the piece in her home for a couple of weeks while she made up her mind. She was so aggressive and intimidating while trying to get me to lower the price. I was I tears and shaking but thankfully I found my voice to say I would prefer to have the piece back as others would appreciate and I did not want my art in a house where they thought so little of it. I had an awful job to get the painting back, but it was a very valuable lesson for the future!
    I realised that not everyone really values art and not to let my own self- worth be knocked by that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Asiling, wise words and great insights! I’ve had the same experiences, they are very hard, as you said, but the clarity is worth it. Also, YES, not everyone values art, and not everyone values OUR art. But it means so much to US, thinking about it, making it, sharing it with the world (visually, etc.) and when it sells, it’s the icing on the cake!

      Like

  7. Several thoughts about pricing. I am an artist who frequently works in textiles -so the general assumption is that anything I make should be sold at school fete prices! Valuation is always a vexed question. My work was accepted into an open and highly regarded art prize a few years back. I priced my work at $A1500 and then discovered that it was the second least expensive work in the show. $5000 was an average price and the top prices for gallery represented artists was $A30-35,000. My piece sold but I certainly reviewed my pricing after that. Of course there is a peril for pricing for context, but I didn’t want to undersell my work either.

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    1. First, congratulations on your success! Second, good on your for adjusting your prices upward. Not everyone can afford our work, but that doesn’t mean it’s not well worth what we charge for it. The trick is to find the audience who CAN afford it, and knows its value, without us turning ourselves inside out. Keep me posted!

      Liked by 1 person

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