I wrote yesterday about participating in this years Meet the Makers challenge on Instagram. Yesterdays prompt was ‘Time’. Time seems to be something I always feel in short supply of as an artist. I feel extremely fortunate to not suffer from artist block. Time for me is short, but I have more ideas than I can possibly create in my head and in my sketch and notebooks.
I mentioned in my Instagram post that I have been told “You have a lot of time on your hands!” in the past by some people looking at, or experiencing my artwork for the first time. I said that I kind of smile and shrug it off in my post, but it goes deeper than that. I smile and shrug it off to the face of the person or people who are saying this to me because I don’t think that they have any kind of ill intent towards me or my artwork. I don’t think they are trying to demean me in any way, as if by saying the aforementioned phrase, the true meaning is, “Wow. You have nothing real or worthwhile in your life. No husband. No kids. No real job. No house to take care of. No one and no thing that demands your immediate attention all of the time. Oh. And cats don’t count. They just make you sadder and more pathetic.” Yes. I know. I kind of go off on a bit of a tangent with the reading between the lines. There are reasons why I do this, even if it is just internally: I’m a woman and I’ve been ‘Queen Bee’d’ since I was a kid; I had a caregiver that is the absolute monarch of passive-aggressiveness, meaning, I learned from The Master of the craft from an early age, and I’m weirdly sensitive, even though I seem like I just smile and shrug it off, while at the same time I’m screaming like a banshee in my head.
That all being said, last year, I wondered how much time I was actually spending creating my artwork. How much time did it actually take to create one of the Creative Experiment dolls? I decided to gather some data and crunch some numbers and see what I could learn.
I recorded my start and end times during periods of work, as well as what exactly I was doing during that specific time. I conducted five separate tests; four with completely original doll designs, and one in which I duplicated a doll form, but created different appliqué and embroidery work on. Upon completion of each doll, I went through my recorded data and came up with how many hours it took me to complete the piece.
I then gave myself three separate hourly wages; $20, $10 and $7.25 per hour. As a public school art teacher, I was earning around $22.50 per hour. I chose $20 (17.98€) per hour as my top-end, because of the length of time I have been a practicing artist, as well as my possessing a bachelors degree in art. The $10 (8.99€) per hour, was a kind of middle of the road kind of hourly wage that I have been paid in past employment situations. $7.25 (6.52€) per hour is the US minimum wage. I also used an arbitrary set price for the given doll of $100 (89.90€), and then worked out how much I would be earning per hour, if the doll sold at that price.
I did not figure the price of materials and tools in the creative process. Nor did I include utility usage (water and electricity), or the square footage of my workspace within the residential apartment in which I live. The element of time was my sole concern for this experiment.
I knew that the $20 per hour wage would make my artwork completely unmarketable. No one would buy one of my dolls for $431.60 (21 hours, 58 minutes to complete doll).Perhaps if I were a better known artist, or had the stamp of approval from a gallery, museum or show space, there could be a possibility of selling my work for that price, but the gallery, museum or show space is going to take a chunk of that money. Many artists like myself have difficulty even getting a foot in the door for spaces like this, because we are (as one gallery owner told me years ago), “You are not a proven seller. I can’t risk the floor space on you.” I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing (that’s a topic for another blog post entirely!) but it’s the way that it is for many artists.
The $10 per hour wage was not an attainable price point either. That $431.60 doll, goes down to $251.80 (226.36€) at the aforementioned hourly wage. Still, much too high for many, many people to readily afford. There have been times in the past in which I have broken down the price of a doll into payments for a buyer who really wanted a piece, but that is few and far between. To be honest, I do that for people that are past customers or who I really trust, because I’ve gotten burned on propositions like this in the past. Really, really burned.
The $7.25 minimum wage in the US brings the price further down to $156.45 (140.64€). For a set few people, perhaps the types of people who regularly buy artwork from local or regional artists at galleries and shows could purchase them. But if they don’t like style of my work, or are part of the ‘niche’ that gets my work, likes my work and wants to own my work, the chances of them putting money down for my work, even at this lowest price, is relatively slim.
When I set an arbitrary price of $100 on this piece, my hourly wage is $4.63 (4.16€) per hour. And remember, I’ve not even factored in the tools, materials, rent and utilities involved in creating the piece of artwork. There is also the personal and professional efficacy (knowledge, experience and ability) involved in the creation of the piece. Nor is there any accounting for the creativity and personal artistic expression accounted for in this calculation.
Now, all of this being said, I do not feel that the world owes me. That the world must buy my artwork. No. Not at all. Nothing is guaranteed like that in life. It would be super-nice if I could occasionally sell my artwork at prices that better reflect my personal investment of time, efficacy, energy, creativity and craftsmanship into the artwork itself. For those reading this, I would hope that the next time you look at the price tag of a piece of artwork in a gallery, or at an arts sale, that you stop and think before rolling your eyes at the high price. Know that there is a lot of furious, dedicated work going on prior to you setting eyes on it. When you buy that artwork, you are buying a part of a persons life. A specific length of time, a period in the evolution of their own unique creative vision, that has come and gone and left the artwork as a mile-marker. If you love the work and can afford it, buy it! If you can’t buy it, but still love it, please tell the artist how much you love it and appreciate their time and energy being spent in the pursuit of making the world more unique and beautiful. Please do not say, “Wow. You have a lot of time on your hands!“