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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Why Art is (Sometimes) Expensive

In getting ready for an upcoming art show, I realized that many people might not know why art sometimes seems absurdly expensive. Let me walk you through some of my process for the upcoming show...

1. The entry fee for this show is $35 for 3 pieces (that's an "early registration" deal, a cut rate from the regular fee.)
2. The group holding the show will take a 25% commission on anything sold (which is piteously low, in the art world. Most galleries charge 40%.)
3. The total cost of the 3 photographic prints I'm entering; about $30.
4. The total cost for mats & frames for the prints; almost $70.

As a result, I have to charge $150/ea to make a mere $37.50/ea (roughly.) That doesn't include the $40 membership fee I had to pay to join the group to begin with, either. Sure, there's a possibility of winning an award, but I have yet to win or sell anything at a show like this.

My best hope is that perhaps I can sell them at a local market (which costs me anywhere from $10 to $75 for a spot,) in future. Even though I can price things more reasonably there, market goers don't understand the expense of art, either.

At a market I attended last fall, one couple admired a painting that was PERFECT for their living room, but thought that $55 for my framed, original, one-of-a-kind artwork was "expensive." I pointed out that I was having a 50% off sale that day. I didn't point out that the frame cost me $30. I didn't point out that the spot at the market cost me $35. I didn't point out that the canvas, paints & brushes cost me money, too, or that I hadn't charged one thin dime for the time involved in conceptualizing & painting that "expensive" piece. At the end of the day, they came back & bought it, & I went home taking a loss.

The BEST way I've sold art is through this blog, which carries no extra fees beyond the normal costs involved in a piece, itself (the cost of the canvas, etc.) + shipping (which isn't bad, so long as the piece isn't huge & the customer's domestic.) I tend to sell my art here unframed, as well, which enables me to price my work even lower & allows the customer to pick out a frame that suits their decor.

Unfortunately the recession's hitting the arts particularly hard these days. When people are losing their jobs & homes, art's nowhere NEAR a priority. As a result, I still don't charge one thin dime for the time involved in conceptualizing & painting a piece.

So please, do think about all of this the next time you consider original art "expensive."

25 comments:

spyscribbler said...

Oh man, that's depressing, Lana. I'm a little frantic. There were 5 piano stores in Cleveland 5 years ago, and now there is one: by appointment only.

Scott said...

Lana,

I think it's ridiculous what galleries charge the artist...and I understand that art agents charge a huge cut as well.

Travis said...

Having worked in inventory and cost accounting, I've got a pretty good idea of cost of goods sold. And working in supply chain, I see the constant press on vendors and suppliers to cut bleed every possible extra cent off the basic cost of materials.

All that work because the customer demands less expensive goods. It's a tough cycle.

Charles Gramlich said...

And "I" know how much time and effort you put in on your work, which you certainly don't get paid for.

debra said...

There are also the skills, both technical and artistic, that you have acquired. All the years of experience.

Laurie Powers said...

Both Charles and Debra said it - the prices don't even touch the amount of work, talent and skills that go into it. I've been working on a needlepoint project on and off for the past year; if I wanted to sell it, there's no way I could ever get the price based on the hours spent.

Michelle (artscapes) said...

I read somewhere when an artist was asked how long it took to paint a painting, he said, "20 Years"... That's how long it took him to get to the point he was in his career and therefore the paintings. Is that not worth something?

$55 for a framed painting is practically free.

Marvin said...

I can't believe someone thought $55 was expensive for a framed original. I wonder what art sells for on their home planet?

Chrissy said...

I cannot believe that anyone would think $55 was expensive for a framed original either. I guess this is one of the reason why I continue to make art for myself, I am not sure I could cope with the sales type aspect of it all, I think I would find it very disheartening :( I love the digi art btw, it is very lovely.

G said...

Thanks for the tips.

I too, can't believe that someone would think that $55 is expensive for a framed original.

These are probably the same people who wouldn't think twice about going out to dinner at a very nice restaurant and maybe taking in a movie and then a nightcap afterwards.

Ladybug said...

Ditto to the comments above. Your time and talent is worth WAY more than what many people may think.

Avery DeBow said...

Not to mention the fact you dedicated ridiculous amounts of and energy to create a one-of-a-kind piece of art--a portion of your vision, your mind and your soul.

People wanna pay twenty bucks? They get dogs playing poker.

Travis Erwin said...

What an eye-opening post.

photonz said...

I think you do a very good job of representing the monetary commitment that artists make. Personally, I would price them higher. Value your work and others will too. This is a very cool image, as are all the previous digital art pieces you showed.

Lana Gramlich said...

spyscribbler; I've heard that Cleveland's economy's pretty rough these days, unfortunately. <:(

Scott; I've come to accept it, since I have no choice. Not that I've had gallery or agent representation, but at least they do offer a go-between for the artist & the customer. Still, 40% is pretty steep.

Travis; And in a recession world where you can get a sofa-sized, mass-produced, framed print from Wal*Mart for $30, who's going to pay $1000 for an original painting? A rare breed known as "collectors," who are only interested in art by the already well-known.

Charles; You also put a lot of time & effort into supporting me, & I appreciate that so much.

debra; That doesn't tend to "count" with non-artists, unfortunately. They often see something & think (or even say,) "my kid could do that." Well, go ahead then--let your kid do it & stop wasting my time & energy, y'know?

Laurie; And yet, in art, we're supposed to factor in time spent--AND give ourselves a good rate for it, too. If I did that, I'd never sell a single thing.

Michelle (artscapes); That's become my answer, as well (although it's more like 25 years.) I think that answer makes some people angry, though, because it out-does their argument that the physical work probably didn't take that long...as if that's all that goes into it!

Marvin; *LOL @ home planet!*

Chrissy; Thanks for the kind comments. The digital art's been a fun bit of a departure for me. I'm on the verge of quitting art altogether...again...for the 3rd & last time. I didn't want to end up with a room full of paintings collecting dust & alas, that's exactly what I have (minus the thousand+ dollars I've blown in the past year for a pittance in return.)

G; Good point...I'd never even considered that!

Ladybug; Thanks for the support. I'm not the only one in this boat, of course. All visual artists (& probably many others,) are all struggling against this kind of tide.

Avery; It's hard to thrive in a Wal*Mart world.

Travis E.; Thanks for confirming that I achieved my purpose in this post. Feel free to share the info with others who complain about "expensive art," too. Too many people just don't understand.

Paul; Thanks. I started out much higher, actually. It nearly broke my back. We have a LOT of competition in my area & that may be the biggest factor, to be honest.

JR's Thumbprints said...

You really can't put a price on art, but I certainly can sympathize with trying to cover your expenses. In Detroit they have a starving artists market and I truly believe a better name couldn't be picked. As a writer, I've spent countless hours trying to create that "perfect" story - and for what? to get published? to get a free lit mag subscription? nah! for the sake of the art.

I like that last fractal pic in your last post btw.

Doson said...

Now I see why they are so costly...
BUT they are worth at higher prices.

IVAN@CREATIVEWRITING.CA said...

Unfortunately,
artists (in the Toronto area anyway) are a dime a dozen. I have met more easel painters since I took up work as a framer in a photographic studio.
One of those people, years ago, was a framer at the Isaacs Gallery in Toronto; William Kurelek. Broke too. But he managed, between the mattes, to offer something to his employer Av Isaacs.
Became the most important primitive painter since Grandma Moses.
My story is probably apochryphal, but it was said that at one time, iconic painter, the late Ken Danby and Kurelek had put up $3,000 each just to be in a New York art show.

I don't know if this mattered, but both Mssrs. Danby and
Kurelek seemed to become famous, really famous, almost overnight.
Gotta lose money to make money?
I don't know. I have both lost and gained.

Michelle's Spell said...

Hey beautiful,

I think your art is amazing and certainly not overpriced! I do hate how people nitpick about that stuff -- I want to say, are you fucking kidding me? Writing isn't as bad with upfront costs, but sometimes it falls into the same trap (send-outs, paper, stamps, computer costs, etc) and you have to sell tons of books to make money. And not to mention all the time and blood and energy both take. A friend of mine bought his boyfriend a hugely expensive painting for his 40th birthday (it was around the range of 30,000 dollars) and didn't blink an eye or haggle with the artist. The gallery owner said, BEST CUSTOMER EVER! I know most people don't have that kind of money (or anywhere near it), but I do agree with the idea -- if you like it, buy it and appreciate the artist's efforts!

jodi said...

Dear Lana, I have paid 300.00 and up just to get a poster properly framed and matted! When I do hair, people think 35.00 is alot for a haircut. Well, half goes to the salon, I have hours of expensive advanced training, and expensive scissors, etc. And then there is a matter of my time. C'mon! Profit is not a dirty word. NEVER put your work on more than a 10% sale. People also like exclucivity. BE exclusive, Lana, cuz you are!

Lana Gramlich said...

JR; Yes, you make a good point. Artists must be in it purely for the drive to create. Glad you like the fractals--that last one was made from a photo of yellow pitcher plants I took last Spring. :)

Skippy; I agree & I'm glad to have opened your eyes a bit on the subject. Most people just don't realize the expenses, y'know?

Ivan; I think that paying for that kind of exposure doesn't work as well as it once did, either. I think we live in a different & greedier world now. I know people who have to pay $1000 or more for a show & it's no guarantee that they'll get anything for it. I can't afford to fall into that trap.

Michelle; Thanks for the support. Of course the gallery owner's going to praise that customer, though--they just made $12K off of them for doing little more than hanging a painting on a wall (okay, okay--they have rent to pay & such, too, but STILL!)

Jodi; I had a major sale last fall to lighten my inventory load a bit, but the main point of the post was to educate others, since many people just don't realize the costs involved. You've paid for custom framing, so I know you already "get" me. ;)

letspaintnature.com said...

I hear ya girlfriend! It sucks! It's getting real hard even to buy art supplies! Your art is worth it and not too expensive :) Once this stupid recession ends we'll get back on our feet!

earthtoholly said...

Holy crap! Those fees are outrageous! And added to your costs...geesh... I imagine that only the most dedicated artists continue. I'm glad that you do because your artwork is beautiful. And I agree with Chrissy on the $55art piece...a steal!

Steve Malley said...

Hear hear!!

Selling prints of your paintings might be another way to go...

Lana Gramlich said...

Chris; Thanks for the support!

holly; You're very kind. In a very real sense, the art world is geared toward the artist making as little as possible in the whole process, unfortunately (unless you hit the "big" time, of course, which is infinitely rare.)

Steve; I used to sell prints years ago (made a decent buck at it, too.) I haven't yet found a good place to work with for that down here yet (& my funds have grown fairly lean, unfortunately.)

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