Periodically, we pose questions about issues artists face in their work and lives. This month, we asked: What considerations impact how you set value for your art?
Clara Lieu, visual artist
Pricing your artwork is a process that most artists dread; quantifying the value of your time to create an artwork by slapping a concrete number onto your piece feels inherently awkward for a lot of artists. I have ideas for projects that I conceived of a long time ago, but that were not able to come to fruition until many years later. In that sense, it seems ridiculous to put a price on the time an idea spent floating in your head for several years!
When I do sit down to price my artwork, the only way I can get through the process without driving myself up the wall is to consider concrete factors that are indisputable: the media used, the scale of the artwork, and the hours spent physically creating the piece. As unromantic as it seems, I simply calculate an hourly rate that for me doesn’t feel insulting at this point in my career. In terms of media, the same artist cannot charge more for a print on paper that is the same size as an oil painting. There’s a hierarchy for media in the art world that you just can’t argue with.
Adam R. Levine, film and video artist
I don’t make money from selling my work and there’s very little in the way of a market for experimental film, so I’m fortunate to teach at an institution that values and supports my creative practice, and to occasionally receive grant funding.
The time and effort I exert in the studio has to result in a sense of discovery. There are days spent staring at a blank screen, fixing glitches and moving files around, but this is time well spent if the work continues to surprise me, or if I’m developing new skills by fixing problems that inevitably arise. I don’t storyboard or script my films, but I do start with a “what if?,” a question about representation, structure or film technique. If this question still seems worth exploring after the first few rolls of film are back from the lab or when I’ve cut an initial five minute sequence, then the project has value and is worth pursuing.
Another marker of value comes from the journey a finished project makes, whether it is programmed in certain festivals, provokes interesting responses from audience members during talkbacks, or results in excitement and curiosity from my own students.
GennaRose Nethercott, literary artist
I firmly believe that in a healthy society, 1. Art MUST be accessible and affordable for all and 2. Artists MUST be paid appropriately for their work.
One of my means of income is composing poems-to-order for strangers on subjects of their choice. Sometimes, I’ll offer the service in a public square in exchange for donations (a few dollars, a half a sandwich, a couple bent cigarettes…). But I also charge firm hourly rates for events that clearly have a budget.
In my opinion, art pricing should follow a similar structure to taxes. That is – the price fluctuates based on the buyer’s income. If they have more, it’s their social responsibility to pay more. If they have less, those with more help subsidize the artist’s time to make the work affordable.
To promote my new book, The Lumberjack’s Dove, I’m embarking on an eight-month book tour across the country, with a shadow puppet show in tow. Like live poems-to-order, this highlights a specific kind of value – the value of a live, human connection. The value of intimacy. It’s impossible to quantitate that, monetarily. It’s leviathan and abstract. However, one thing that can be quantified is an artist’s time, which can be calculated and compensated like any other profession.
Adam R. Levine is a film and video artist whose work has screened at festivals and venues including the Vienna International Film Festival, the San Francisco International Film Festival, and Festival des Cinémas Différents et Éxperimentaux de Paris. He is currently Assistant Professor of Art, Film and Media Studies at Amherst College in Massachusetts.
Clara Lieu‘s studio practice includes drawing, printmaking, and sculpture. She is an Adjunct Professor at the Rhode Island School of Design and a Partner at ART PROF, a free, online educational platform for visual arts. Watch a recently created course on Tombow Brush Pen Drawing in Taiwan.
GennaRose Nethercott is, most recently, the author of The Lumberjack’s Dove (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2018), selected by Louise Glück as a winner of the National Poetry Series. She is currently on an eight-month book tour for the book; upcoming events include Brooklyn NY (10/17), Washington DC (10/21), and Baltimore MD (10/22).
Images: Clara Lieu, SCARS THAT SPEAK NO. 7 (2016), graphite on tissue paper, 33x20x3 in; still image from COMMUNION LOS ANGELES, a film by Adam R. Levine; GennaRose Nethercott, cover art for THE LUMBERJACK’S DOVE (ECCO/HarperCollins 2018).