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?