Elizabeth Berrien · World Class Wire Sculpture and Illustration · (707)445-4931 · HOW LONG DID THAT TAKE YOU?
elizabeth berrien's bbc cables wire sculpture illustration wins the BIG WON award for #1 Innovative and Alternative 2008.
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"HOW LONG DID THAT TAKE YOU?" Discarding the Concept of Hourly Wages One universal pleasure of artists and craftspeople is showing off one's work to an appreciative viewer who makes educated observations on the more subtle detail... and starts thinking out loud about taking a creation home to live with. While we all enjoy expostulating at length on most aspects of the finished work, the innocent or not-so-innocent question most likely to jam the circuits & puncture the mood is: "So how much time do you figure you put into this?"

After all these years, that question can still throw me off guard. When the work in question is the happy result of an inspirational jam session, if I say, "I did it in one insanely intense session last week", the answer may be "Well gee. Five hundred dollars for eight hours work means you wanna make $60+ an hour. Do you expect me to think you're really worth that much?"

Artists tend to find themselves abruptly on the defensive about now. If the Time Question has been delivered in a friendly mood of curiosity on the technical side of your work, great. But if your Inquisitor seems to be a) asking you to define and justify an hourly wage, and/or b) expecting you to discount your asking price on this basis rather than the worth of the artwork, you're going to need an answer that sets things in proper perspective.

You might reply, "Perhaps I should mention that this particular workday was seventeen hours long". Don the Blacksmith's pet response is, "Fifteen years so far, and I'm still counting". Judy the Potter says, "Throwing that coffee mug took a couple minutes. But from the wedging of the clay to the trimming of the piece, two firings and a glazing application took a week." Hal the Photographer says, "1/250th of a second. Next question?"

I like Hal's answer best, because it tosses the Time Question out the window and leaves a nice void in which the client can realize that Hal's camera and other photographic equipment didn't come cheap, that Hal probably spent a great deal of time, expense, and trial & error to achieve professional skills and an artistic "eye" (Hal may take hundreds of photos in order to attain a single usable image), and that whether Hal has his own darkroom or has someone else process his film, it costs him plenty.

Not that time isn't a factor in the pricing of art; it's just one of MANY factors. My own Dartboard Method of Pricing finished work is heavily weighted toward overall quality and appearance in context with my general body of work, which over the years has established its own range on the open market. It's that wonderful old standard: "The Value of an Item is That Which It Will Bring".

While there are indeed "born artists" out there who can create professional quality works by the fourth grade, such is not the common case. Artists have to begin somewhere; they spend years on end in the never-ending process of mastering their technique and interpreting their environment into art. My first few years as an artist, I gave away most of what I made because it never occurred to me that it was worth anything. Then for a couple years I'd spend five or six hours making something I hoped I could sell for four or five dollars. As years passed I became more skilled, I found myself producing better works in less time and eventually celebrated achieving Minimum Wage! (a parable for those who take up Art to get rich quick)

Of course, I wasn't really quite making minimum wage, as I found out at Tax Time. At Tax Time, we sweep up all those old paid bills & receipts and sweat it out with the adding machine to find out what we made from sales, and how much of that the business ate. Working artists, like other small businesses, pay rent, utilities, taxes and licenses, the cost of materials, and a whole lot more. Only on the evening of April 14th do they discover their actual net income for the year before. (This mystical figure is usually high enough to make the viewer shudder at the total tax due Uncle, yet low enough to make the viewer quickly blot the monthly average from memory to enable Rationalizing Yet Another Year's Artistic Pursuit.)

Which brings us to Self-Apprenticeship: there is a tendency to diminish one's own sense of self-worth if one knows for a fact that a finished work has far more hours in it than you can ever be paid for. After all, even if one of your Resplendent Wombats entailed ten times the agonies of creation as its mate, you can't expect your Admiring Public to grab the one with an extra zero on the tag. So price them both reasonably, and credit the excess hours to your Self-Apprenticeship and the knowledge that you will earn more as time passes and you get better.

Avoid "clocking yourself; forcing a production timetable, you cut corners & reduce the heart and value of your work. (Screaming Deadlines are a major exception. Some of my best work happens during adrenaline-packed all-nighters, when there's no time to think, just DO). I work on several works at once, focussing on each for as long as it holds me. Then I set it down and switch to a fresh work, or do Research, a time-consuming but unrespected aspect of creation. Often the research phase takes longer than physical execution. But from a bystander's viewpoint, it's "So you're finally working! Every time I go past your studio, you've got your head in a book!"

If someone persists in attempting to define you in terms of hourly wage or challenges you to justify your entirely intangible Hourly Worth, gently steer him or her to the ABC's of business overhead, murmuring softly that one does not question the wages of brain surgeons, who also invest heavily in time and training. In extreme cases, you may Enlighten the Ignorant by handing them a paintbrush and inviting them to create their own work (in the time they think you should be able to make it in, of course...) My own answer to the How Long question? "Damfino...I never kept track!"


Dear Auntie Social: So what's the big difference between Art and Crafts, anyhow?

My Child: Very well. First we expose this as the Artistic Granddaddy-O of Rhetorical Questions (i.e. those uttered for the sake of producing an Artificially Eloquent Effect, without any expectation of an actual Answer). At parties, fatheads pull this one out when they've run out of pick-up lines, and stand there smirking while artists are gulled into mucking about for a plausible answer in which one's own medium qualifies as Art while someone nearby is consigned to the alleged Low Rent sector of Craft. Painters sneer at weavers, jewelers insult photorealists. Everyone but the Fathead ends up in a prickly mood.

Auntie Social invites you consult the Dictionary, which tells us: a) Art is the ability to make things, whether in 2-D or 3-D, b) Craft is some special skill, art, or dexterity, c) Craft is sometimes deemed to differ from Art if it appears that a lesser skill and diminished creative thought are involved.

For Auntie Social, the difference is Production: is the work in question the unique outcome of a one-time-only effort to achieve a certain effect, or is it a clone you can reproduce with relatively little mental outlay once you figured it out the first time? A handful of mud, properly shaped and baked, can get into museums as Art. "Factory" oil paintings of Clowns, Daisies and Wide-Eyed Rottweillers are in fact Craft. In top form, we make Art. When we do certain Bread & Butters, it's Craft. A Craftsperson can make Art and/or Craft. Satisfied? Write if you get work, Fathead.

Back to the Art Biz Coach

World Class Wire Sculpture · Elizabeth Berrien (707) 445-4931 · email wireladye@yahoo.com

Content and images © 1968-2010 Elizabeth Berrien. All rights reserved. · Updated Aug 10, 2010 · this page valid HTML 4.01

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