Posted By Kathleen David on April 28, 2010
This is something that has been mulling around in my head for a while but I seem to be reading almost a perfect storm of both rants and helpful advise about worth. What one’s time is worth. What one’s work is worth. And why everyone seems to think that ephemeral worth is less than the concrete worth, or not as the case maybe.
People ask me why I don’t sell my puppets online. Honestly because between materials and time I would have to charge about 75 dollars a Phluzzie and at least 50 for a hand-puppet if not more. Anything like the Doctors is a minimum of 100 to 150 depending on materials. And that is low-balling my worth as a puppet maker to close to current minimum wage in the US. And, honestly, I think my skill is worth a little more than that. It has taken me years to get where I am today so when you buy one of my puppets, you also buy over 25 years of experience in puppet building.
There is a story about Picasso doing a drawing for a woman at her insistence and telling her it would be 20,000 francs. She said that was absurd that he had done the sketch in 5 minutes. He replied that she was not paying him for just the 5 minutes but for the lifetime he studied to come to this point to be able to do such a sketch in 5 minutes.
Artists spend a lifetime refining their craft. There is a continued learning curve that goes on for as long as you make some form of art. Each project teaches you something new or how to do something better. But that gets lost when you watch someone like Brian Froud do a quick sketch of a Goblin in a book along with his signature. Wow, he makes it look easy but consider what he did to get to the point of making it look easy. There is inane talent but refining that talent is a long road with many twists and turns.
I have been to many art shows at conventions. I have even participated in a number of them all over the US. I walk around and hear conversations that go like this.
Scene: A couple looking at a rather fine original oil painting of a Dragon
Person A: Wow! That’s incredible.
Person B (looks at the bid sheet): I can’t believe they are charging that for something like this. Artist 1 does something like this and charges ½ what this Artist is asking for the same thing.
(Note: Artist 1 is selling a Gliche of a digital painting they did not the original which would be hard since it is digital. I’m not saying that there are less hours or work in digital art but it is easier to recreate the piece than say making a whole other exact oil painting.)
Person B (continued): Besides, I could do something like that. I don’t think it is worth that.
Person A: You’re probably right.
And they walk on to the next bay.
I think the words “I could do something like that” annoy me more than anything else in those exchanges. Really, can you? Well good for you but don’t belittle the talent that when into that Dragon you are dismissing so quickly.
There has been a rash of people trying to get a deal in the Art shows. They don’t bid until the last minute and then they try to keep it at the minimum price so they can get a bargain. I know some artists that lose money in the long run because they figure a sale is better than a good sale and lowball themselves into selling things at less than they are worth. They usually don’t work this out until the end of the year when they are working through their taxes and if themselves taking a loss for something that they though they had taken a profit on.
I don’t sell a lot of pieces in art shows but my minimum bid is the lowest I will go on a piece and not lose money. It is not worth it to me to spend 4 hours on a puppet and sell it for ten dollars when there is at least five dollars worth of materials in the thing. I’d rather hold onto it and sell at a price that recoups my costs and work rather than price it just to sell. Occasionally on an older piece I do price down a bit because I need the room in the house but those are rare.
It does come down to a matter of worth. What a piece is worth to you might be different than what it is worth to me. I have a MacBook. I know I could have gotten another computer with about the same specs from another company but I am willing to pay more for what I get with a Mac and I like what I can do with a Mac.
Artists create art but they also work in the creation of art. Like writers who write books. Writing is hard work. Art is hard work. And the worth of someone’s work when you can’t quantify it, like fixing a car or a roof, can be hard to judge. So we say let the market dictate what our work is worth. The problem is that once we undervalue our work, it can be hard to bring the price up to its true worth.
I am grateful for those people who have seen the value of my work and paid me accordingly.