There are some things that I’ve been thinking a lot about, entrepreneurially, over the past week or so. The entire planet is having to deal with a new type of semi-permanent ‘normal’ due to the concerns over the spread of Covid-19. It’s still very early in this pandemic, so individual and national situations are fluid, and prone to change almost daily depending upon where you live. For those of us who work from home (my husband) and those of us who have been working on our own entrepreneurial endeavors, little may have changed regarding where we work, but a lot has changed for those who buy our work.
I noticed several weeks ago that some of the artists and makers that I follow had instituted sales in their online shops. Some offered a percentage discount on specific items, others on the final purchase total. There are many artists, creative, and performing artists who support themselves (and family) through gig-work. It seems like the term ‘gig’ has replaced ‘freelance’ in the world today. How many people do you know who have a full-time job and then a side gig? As a full-time employed public school art teacher, I had a side-gig all the time. I created art and sold it at various arts and craft shows in the city I lived in. I did artwork on commission. I took on additional teaching during the summer, to both children and adults. All so I could make ends meet. These gigs allowed me to have some breathing room within my budget. I know that this is not at all uncommon for educators to have gig work. At least in the US where I was living and working.
Covid-19 and the mandatory isolation orders, bans on gatherings of over ten people at a time, as well as other restrictions on travel inside and outside of different countries, have really hit artists, creatives and performing artists hard. A cartoonist that I follow, Adam Ellis (Instagram @adamtots) wrote a little about this. As a cartoonist, he’s had all the gigs he’s had lined up for the next year practically vanish in two weeks. Cons and book signings. Meet and greets. Talks. Meetings. POOF! All gone. He’s asking those who like his work and who want to help support him during this time to head to his merch store where he has a sale going on, or over to Patreon.
I’ve read some negative reactions to posts from artists asking for people to buy their merch or maybe become a patron on Patreon. These reactions give me ‘DeForest Kelley Face’.
Some of the negative reactions are centered around the fact that there are thousands and thousands of people who have been laid-off or let go from their jobs because of the closure of many types of businesses due to social distancing and isolation in place because of the spread of Covid-19. These people are justifiably scared about what is happening right now. They may have no money coming in and no savings to rely on. They may feel that it’s in poor taste or just rude for an artist to be asking for a ‘hand-out’ when they don’t know how they are going to pay their rent and buy food for the next month. (Interesting side note: artists do have to pay rent, eat, and pay bills too.)
But I’m getting a little off-track. Back to my point.
As much as the global pandemic is punching a big, fat hole in Adam Ellis’s ability to create, sell and promote his work, he’s in a better situation than I am by comparison. I’m a one-horse operation. I make the art. I sell the art. I create the workshop. I teach the workshop. My profits are infinitesimal by comparison. My range of products and the appeal of those products are a fraction of a fraction of a fraction when looked at in the larger Etsy-sized picture of artists, makers and creators working in the same vein or with the same themes as I do. There are doll artists who sell their work steadily and well, but still are not making enough money to live on. I’m much, much, much smaller than they are.
Full disclosure: I’ve sold four dolls over the last month and I am over-the-moon thankful (Seriously, deliriously, insanely, made-me-do-a-little-dance-in-my-living-room thankful to those buyers!!!) for those three sales. My profits for those sales were around 250€ combined over a thirty day period. If my husband were not working his buns off to support the two of us, we would have no place to live, no money to eat, nothing. Plans that I had made regarding art workshops has had to be back-burnered for now. This leaves my physical artwork as what I can offer for sale.
Perhaps there are some people who think, that if I cannot seem to sell my artwork, then the market has spoken. It’s told me that my work is bad and no one wants to buy it. So I should close up shop and go do something where I can make money, like…teaching workshops maybe? Or maybe I should just go an get any kind of job? What kind should I get? Maybe I would I sell more artwork if I decided to have a sale? What if I offered a discount? Or a BOGO? It’s tempting. I know that there are people who are more likely to purchase my artwork when I cut the price by almost half. But then what? Will people then expect me to sell my artwork for less on a regular basis once the sale is over?
I’ve always had a problem pricing my artwork. When I finally do arrive at a price, it’s been thoroughly thought about, discussed, thought about some more, discussed more (with my husband, and other respected friends) and finally decided upon. I’ve always thought that what I create, and the way in which I create it, isn’t exactly special. As an art teacher, I truly believe that every student I teach (child and adult) can accomplish the same levels of creativity and personally pleasing end product that I do. What I do is not rocket surgery. Because of this belief, I tend to undervalue what I create. So once all the sweating, fretting, discussions and debates have concluded, and a price is arrived upon. That’s the price of the work.
This may seem as though I’m being a total jerk. “This is what I will sell my work for and I will not take a single cent less!” But, would you question a physician or a lawyer about how much they charge? What about the mechanic who works on your car? Or the plumber who makes the poo go down the toilet instead of up and out of the toilet? There is this perception that an artist can be haggled with regarding the price of their work. There is this idea that because art is subjective, and capitalism is king in the US, that it’s perfectly acceptable to start haggling, or to just demand a lower price for artwork. The work of a physician or lawyer, that’s all objective. The value of their work is established. Their work is required for society to function well. The message is: medicine and law are necessary; art is not necessary.
Given the current state of the world, I’m also just cheeky enough to ask, how much art — movies, television, music, games, reading, sewing, knitting — etc., etc., — and including cooking, baking, drawing, writing, singing, playing an instrument — has the average human being done while they have been in isolation or quarantine? How long would it take people to start climbing the walls if they didn’t have art to keep them at least a little sane during all the scary weird happenings going on in the world around them?
Again. I digress.
So. I will not be offering any sales or discounts on the artwork that I’m selling for the foreseeable future. I do know that those fluid situations I spoke up previously may require me to change this, and in the back of my mind, I cannot rule it out completely. As a one-horse operation, with a very limited and specialized line of products, I simply cannot afford to. I’m learning what my value is as a individual and as an artist. It’s been hard-won knowledge and I am not ready to set it aside just yet.
This all being said, and if you’re still reading, go take a look at the artwork I have for sale.
Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next Wednesday.
This post brought to you by the following links:
Read a little about the late and very great, DeForest Kelley! He had one of THE BEST lines EVER in any Star Trek movie: “It’s like the goddamned Spanish Inquisition down here!” (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home 1986)
Adam Ellis is funny and weird and wonderful. I’m sure that most of those reading this post have come across his work somewhere on the Internet or via Buzzfeed. If you’ve read it for free, then you could toss a coin or two his way!
The Jerk is one of those movies that I watch when I really need to laugh. I hope that you can find it somewhere to watch because it’s just…completely stupid and funny. I shouldn’t admit it, but I sometimes sing the thermos song to myself.