10 May 2007

money talk

It makes me uncomfortable to talk about money. Especially when it comes to my own work. I guess on some level I feel I shouldn't have to explain myself or that it is unsavory for an Artist to talk about it. Perhaps it is but I feel it is important to offer some explanation of why things are priced the way that they are. If I don't talk about it then how will anyone know?

I know that people often suffer "sticker shock" when they see the prices on my work. I have been selling my work professionally for thirteen years now so I have a pretty good idea of what people expect to pay when they see an object that is made from clay. Especially if it is in the shape of a bowl, vase or plate. Even I do it. I have that preconceived notion in my head too, equating function with frugality. So when someone writes to me and asks "I would like to buy your large bowl, how much is it?" and I tell them $320. Often times I get no response in return which I interpret as "it is so expensive... How can she charge so much for just a...bowl?!" I have read it on blogs too, I love her work but it is too expensive for my budget. I understand that it is shocking and this does not upset me, $320 for anything requires some thinking about before splashing out.

What goes into the making of those ceramic bowls, vases and plates is a lot more work than usually meets the eye. Anyone who has taken just one pottery course usually gains an immediate appreciation for the labor that goes into making ceramics. I often hear things like..."I took a pottery class intending to make all of my Christmas presents and all I ended up with is an ashtray...and I don't even smoke!" Any object successfully made out of clay is highly deceiving. That is the beauty of the medium. It gives off the air of simplicity, ease, some say a calmness but in truth the mastery of making things from clay that look that way require an immense amount of skill. People who work with clay do it because they love it and also because there is a bit of the masochist in them. When people say to me you must be so happy to "play with clay" I want to well ... scream. I rarely "play with clay" and really it is not respectful to the craft. In fact I heard Oprah say it the other day (did I just admit that I watch Oprah!?) while she was doing a spot on Jonathan Adler. He just smiled and was gracious but I wondered if that statement made his blood boil just a little. Anyone who is serious about the medium knows that there is nothing playful about it at all. The outcome may look playful in some cases but what goes into making it is a whole lot of work. Plain and simple...work!


When it takes me hours to make, paint, etch and glaze just one piece and then throw it into a kiln, not just once but twice and it may or may not turn out that is what goes into the cost. Also consider the cost for studio space, equipment, materials, education on top of the hours spent making the work. Honestly I don't think any ceramic artist/potter ever charges enough when you compare the hours they put into making their work to lets say a lawyer or a computer programmer. Those are professional realms where people rarely question their hourly wage. (we don't like how much they charge, but never the less we accept it). Even though those services provide as much function in our lives as the bowl we eat our cereal out of every day.

25 comments:

alyssa said...

Bravo, well said!

Briana said...

As an art dealer I deal with this issue from another angle everyday... I think what you said really got right to the meat of the dilema.

While artists in all mediums have to deal with this, I think you especially have to deal with resistance over pricing because when some people look at your work they see a functional object and they have set ideas about the prices for "functional" objects. Because in their head vessel = bowl, they think "cereal" not "sculpture". The great irony is that if you were to do *just* the illustrative work on a board or paper or canvas (and cut out all the time you spend on throwing, slipping, working the clay, whatever) that you would probably get less resistance for your pricing...

You are a *fine* artist (and by fine I mean as in *fine art*) and I for one am glad your works are still affordable. So one day I can say "Oh Diana? I knew her when..."

(And I do think you pricing is low, btw.)

Kim from Kansas said...

Enjoying your art and your blog...I'm an newby potter, and your work is inspiring!

Listoria said...

Your work does not go unappreciated, believe me! I took a 6 week class and came away with a few wonderful things and a deep appreciation for the art and esp. the artist. It was TOUGH! You need some strong hands to manhandle that clay! And I remember how disappointed I felt when I had a cute little bowl that I worked so hard on explode in the kiln.

I applaud you for your work - it is always beautiful!

Tiffany

jen j-m said...

i think your prices make total sense. it is obvious even in your pictures how much work goes in to each piece. i appreciate that you took the time to write this - it is always interesting to me to consider all the factors that those of us not intimately acquainted with the process may take for granted.

Camilla said...

Well said. I do wish I could afford to buy one or two of your pieces, I'll admit, but I find it inspiring to see someone who values their work as much as you do. I think ceramics traditionally have a perceived value that is much lower than their actual value, and it's good to see artists championing the right to charge fair prices for their work. (And if none of that made sense it's because i'm verrry tired and my eyes don't work anymore)

JUDI TAVILL said...

It's very hard for me... I used to design clothing.... of course alot of work goes into that too... but no problem getting $150 for a skirt(Lilly Pulitzer) I'd like that for a chip and dip and the uncomfortable reaction I sense MAKES ME CRAZY.... we could make 10000 of those skirts in asia for 1/4 of that price and I am make ONE piece..... and ARGH... but I just love love love clay...

one black bird said...

wow, thanks for all your input!!! i classify this entry as "scary" meaning that I wasn't not sure how it would be taken. how nice it is to hear from you all...

so thank you alyssa!

brianna-i'm gonna raise my prices and send everyone to you for an explanation ;)

kim from kansas, thanks for stopping by & welcome!!

tiffany, you are a gem and i can hear your applause through cyber-space. xo!

jen, maybe you can be my agent ;)

sleepy camilla, you make perfect sense and thank you!!!

thanks judy, i see you experience it first hand as well. we have to love,love,love the clay otherwise it would drive us completely mad.

bridgette said...

I have been reading your blog for awhile now and just wanted to say that I love your work. And while I don't own one of your pieces yet, I hope to in the future.
Pricing one's art is always a difficult thing to do. Everyone seems to have an opinion on it. Either it's too high or too low or too something else.
I think that the people who buy your work understand the artistry and craftmanship that goes into your pieces and feel that every cent is worth it.

Abby Creek Art said...

Your beautiful pieces are worth every penny, Diana!

amisha said...

ditto to the other comments here. i think the pricing on your work is totally fair (and even low really for how much work goes into each piece)... yes i have to save up for the vases and big bowls and platters i want surrounding me :) but that's okay. there is so much of the art/craft problem in people's attitude towards ceramics... pottery is not considered 'real art' and therefore not worthy of the price... so ridiculous... i am always trying to find the elusive way to think outside of that binary! all this to say i think that your points are beautifully articulated here. xo

Amy H said...

Frankly, it would make me sad if I saw really low prices on your work -- it is pretty clear (to me, at least) the work that goes into them. I'm only a beginning potter, but would like to make it my life's work, and pricing is something that I worry about. Not only is expensive to work in ceramics, but you really have to learn to value your own time and talent (that sounds difficult to modest me).

I saw that Oprah, too. :) She couldn't imagine how working with clay could "do it" for someone, but I don't see how it couldn't. :)

bugheart said...

it always
frustrates me
when people
don't see the value
of art
and
how much goes
into making
such beautiful
pieces...
i save my pennies
to buy pieces
like yours
because it is
worth every penny
(if not more
pennies!)
well said!!!

mary said...

Wow I can relate to what you said about other people who think you just play around all day! People laugh at me when I tell then I have a BFA in "Craft and Material Studies." They think I went to college to study "arts and crafts."

I just stumbled onto your work and blog last week and was so amazed with both that I put up a post on my blog dedicated to your work and my own dream of one day owning a piece of your art.

I don't think you need to offer an explantion to anyone...those of us that get it definitely get it and thank you for your wonderful pieces!

futuregirl said...

I admit that the first time I saw your prices I thought - ack! Mostly because I really *really* wanted to buy something and it's out of my price range (right now).

I think your prices are more than reasonable and when I do have the money to spend on wonderful, handmade items, your beautiful objects are going to be on the top of my list.

Although I'm not a fine artist, I find pricing to be tricky as well. People see a crochet handbag and think of the $5 bags they can buy at Target. That really limits my audience to people who can appreciate the time and talent my handbags take ... which is usually someone who can make their own.

Your post is very important. I think people need to know more about the 'back end' of your operations and everything that goes into the work that you do. Briana's comment really highlights the disconnect that some people have - not only are you an artist, but you create your art on a difficult and mutable medium.

Kathleen said...

I am so glad you wrote this post. It is important for people to know its not just a $320 bowl you whipped up in 10 minutes and now you're "cashing in." I get really frustrated sometimes with what people expect things to cost. I get inquiries from folks all the time, they want a logo designed, or a catalog, then I quote them a price and never hear from them again. Art is work—really no matter what the form is—it is our work, and artists need to be paid for their work just like a lawyer or accountant would.
I've taken ceramics before and I always have this perfect piece in my head, and end up leaving with many imperfect pieces...it is incredibly difficult to master, and you do very beautiful work.

lisa s said...

i can't possibly say it any better than how it's been said but you KNOW this is something VERY personal to me.

if the conversation about pricing can't happen then what are we to do. bravo for speaking your mind....

and while i certainly would love to be able to buy you out of all your goods and can't afford to - i wholeheartedly believe that your prices are too low [so you can send them to me and brianna! how's that?]
xo

mudheartpottery said...

Just found your blog - love your pots and their delicate art and they are worth the prices. I live in a very remote part of Aus and use a lot of local materials but the market has got used to our low pricing. I do occasionally price up particular pieces I have spent hours on but I would never be able to support myself. Still I just love it and love seeing other potters' work. Yes we often say we 'play in mud' but it is art from start to finish and hard but satisfying work.

suana said...

Well said!
I love your work and I think your prices are fair!

annadee said...

Hi, I love your blog and it's very commendable of you to do this post. I've often thought about posting about price but have hesitated as my blog is visited by potential customers as well as other makers and my gallery owners.

Etsy is a fantastic outlet for makers but unfortunately it sets up an unrealistic pricing environment. I don't have an etsy shop but if I did, my gallery would insist that I sell work there for the same price as in the gallery. So this would have to include a 100% mark up!

I don't begrudge the gallery their commission one bit. They pay high street rent and they sell while I get to spend more time at the bench.

I would happily pay $400 for a hand made bowl that I really loved.

whitney smith said...

I hear the same thing all the time. The one question I hate the most is, "How long did it take you to make that?" If the bowl is $300 and I say it took me two hours to make I can see the little wheels turning in people's heads as they figure I make $150 an hour. Hey, aren't real artists supposed to starve?! Of course, that's a question I've learned to only answer one way, "A really really long time!"

Cynthia said...

Well Said! I'm way in the hole myself when it comes to materials, equipment and the cost of electricity to fire my kiln. I am passionate about working with clay because it's a part of me now.

kstyle said...

Am just now reading your post and you have said what I feel about my work so beautifully. I charge $65 for a pair of lampwork earrings. period. And even then it does not really cover all that has gone into them. And yes you could probably buy lampwork earrings cheaper say on etsy or ebay. But if you want mine, with my signature style and look then this is what I charge. I can't bring myself to sit down at the torch for anything less. I blog alot about artists on kstyle and much of their work is high end. Sometimes however I see work that I think is very undervalued. Unfortunately I don't think this really serves the rest of the art world very well. And btw I love love your work and I definitely plan on owning a piece or two someday. k

La Rimule said...

Hello !
I'm sorry because my English is not good enough for telling what I really think... But yes, I think I can't pay a bowl 320 $ because it's too expensive for ME. But I also try to make ceramics so I understand that it's a LOT of work... even for a "simple" bowl ! So I believe that yours prices are perfects !!! Keep on doing your beautiful work ! I love it !!!!

Amy C Evans said...

Greetings, One Black Bird,

Great post. To quote you: "Even though those services provide as much function in our lives as the bowl we eat our cereal out of every day."

Function, yes. But law and computer programming don't offer beauty. Or something that will last a lifetime. Or something made by human hands with materials from the earth.

Thanks much for your post. It's a breath of fresh air to hear another artist talk about the money-end of art making. I am a painter and struggle with pricing issues constantly.

Per annadee's comment, the gallery vs. etsy thing is a struggle for me, too. I'd love to create an etsy shop, but the one-price-across-the-board thing is the hard part. I do think different markets demand different price points, but I also realize it's not fair for one thing to be $700 one place and the same thing be $350 somewhere else. The Internet has done a lot to complicate this. It's both a blessing and a curse. I'm still trying to figure it all out.

Love your work. Don't let the cheapskates get you down!