19 May 2010

New! Content with actual content!

OK, last post, total cop out. Fortunately, I don't think anyone looked at it too closely! :)

On the topic of making a living as a gallery artist, versus not:

As I gather my application materials for this studio space thing, I have been meeting with some surprising internal resistance. I DO want the space, that is not an issue. My issue is what I do with my art. For a long time, I've been frustrated by the gallery art world. There are things about it that make me very uncomfortable.

A big issue - prices. It pisses me off to see a scribbled cocktail napkin going for $10000. Even though I think, well, good for them, that someone can make a living at art. In *any* way. But it's irritating. Because I know that if *I* scribble on a cocktail napkin, I'd be lucky if no one charged ME for the privilege of throwing it away. This is NOTHING to do with talent or skill. It's all about place / time / connections. That $10k napkin is a $10k napkin because that artist was in some particular situation to make it that way. Maybe it won't last forever, that situation, but the artist sure as hell will want to sell as many $10k napkins as possible in the meanwhile.

But I don't want that. Watch closely, because here's where it gets very squadgy indeed.

The thing I don't want is something I regard as crap going for a lot of money. Maybe I could make an infinitely superior scribble on a cocktail napkin, but if *I* think it is crap, I would die of shame before selling it to someone, much less displaying it publicly.

But the work I do, the work that meets my standards ... doesn't seem to be in much demand. There are only so many options in this situation. Create demand, change the work, or do something else altogether. (These options all assume I want to make some money with my work, which I do. Not so much for the money-have, but simply not to be a continued financial drain on my world.)

And that's where I get stuck. I know this studio space is a step in the direction of being that gallery artist. Fundamentally, I think it would be great to make money off my work, and that is an avenue that I could pursue. But I don't want to be the cocktail napkin artist, producing crap and selling it for mad money. It was pointed out to me that, in that context, the price is part of the piece. I don't like that. I don't feel comfortable with the meshing of value and aesthetic. Because I don't value money much at all. It is useful, but it's not interesting.

So... whether I get this studio space or no, I am going to need to figure out what I DO want. What IS a good exchange for my effort? How can I recover expenses without losing self-respect, which I can't afford? Knowing what I *don't* want only gets me so far.

Oh, and that picture is the beginning piece of the first complete object I will have made with my scroll saw. It's not very exciting, but I admit it tickles me that removing 18 tiny strips of wood makes 9 flat pieces of wood into a little shelf-esque thing.


Regan said...

This is where Etsy helps me a little and also hinders me a little. What I do is clearly in the craft realm, but I like the validation that people will pay for it. And also, I get frustrated when I see people selling similar things for less. And then I think, "Screw them," and leave my prices the same, and I still sell some.

Also, I am totally failing to make a lap right now. Gotta go do that.

224215152 said...

I know exactly fuck all about pricing and valuing art. I do know when I like a piece and how much I'll consider paying for it (which isn't much, my budget tops out at around $150). This being said, I always assumed you could fairly price art like other things - a base cost covering materials expended plus a labor charge reflecting the hours you put into it.

Holly said...

Regan - Good point, about Etsy, and the pricing. I have thought about just going more toward crafting, and in many ways, that's relevant to what I do, but since all my stuff is one-off, that's less craft / more art. One of my stained glass pieces sold immediately when I doubled the price (one a whim, I was crabby and didn't want to dick around), so it's not always right to use the Amazon style next-lowest-price theory.

224215152 - There are serious limits to that pricing philosophy. For instance, the wooden thing in the picture will, all told, probably cost me €20 in materials, but well over 100 hours in labor. Even if I figure my labor at €5/hour, that's €520 just to cover expenses, without any markup at all. If I sold one of those a month (which of course I don't) I would not begin to keep my bills covered, AND the time it takes to get them sold would also need to be figured. And it is simply NOT a €520 item. (You'll see it when it's done, sorry for the non-specific on that now, it's a surprise thing.)

This is one reason artists generally do not calculate labor time directly into pricing. It is *never* proportionate. Some pieces take no time, some take all the time in the world, and the artist never can break even on that basis. It is more common to see this kind of pricing based on [arbitrary base price for that type of item + (materials x 1.5)] or something of that kind, because doing a little better than replacing the materials used is often the best any artist can hope for.

Regan said...

Yeah about the doubling the price. The boss doesn't get that about jewelry, which also works that way. He's always trying to make me put it on sale to move it, which is the opposite of what it needs.