“How long did it take you to paint that?
This is the most notorious question all artists receive. Viewers really have no idea what it takes, and artists don’t even know where to begin answering this question, because it involves…Well, it involves the entire explanation how long it takes to become good. I think this quote by Jackson Pollock sums it up perfectly, since the production of a single piece of art doesn’t always look like a lot of work, yet the artwork incorporates years of work leading up to this moment. In general, viewers ask this question because they want to open up a conversation with the artist and they don’t know what else to ask.
In general, viewers try to calculate or connect the objectivity of high pricing with the time artist spends painting a particular work. On the surface it looks expensive or overpriced, and a prospect buyer wants to understand where the number comes from. Artists, however, think of a lifetime of effort, hard work, bills, and many other costs they accrue working in their studios. Often times weeks, months and years can’t be quantified into a certain number of hours spent on one work.
In the beginning of the career many artists have to wrestle with the financial burden and make sacrifices while learning the craft. The costs often include education. Besides the obvious tuition and living costs most students have, artists don’t become artists in four to six years after college graduation. This profession starts with zero job prospects or security, and builds up to something meaningful over a very long period of time of hard work and dedication. For many artists it means a continued struggle, a reconciliation of the need to paint with making money to pay the bills. However, if the artist is good at marketing and understanding of the importance of relationships, the struggles most artists face may be reversed into the opportunities.
It takes A LONG time to learn how to paint realistically. There are no cute formulas or shortcuts. No one learns it overnight no matter how much talent you have! It’s a skill that takes the artist’s continuous effort and focus. Until very recently, there were no realist schools available to get the comprehensive education from, which magnified the problem and effort to achieve a certain skill level. Of course, there are exceptions and we can find super talented, self-taught artists, but such instances are rare. Those who have no time to do their art every day don’t become artists. Fear of instability takes their need to paint away from them.
There is a notion that artists just hang out at art festivals, fairs, or their shows enjoying the limelight and attention. Well, maybe for a little bit but… exhibiting at festivals involves a lot of effort, persistence, and investment. On average, a popular festival’s booth fees run around $450-$500/per show, and the artist is responsible for other costs (application fees, hotel, gas, transportation, and the cost of a professional booth itself that runs around $2,500 on average). Many artists hit the road for months, traveling from one state to the next, working way over 8 hours a day. Work at the festivals includes not only the artist’s time present at the booth all day, but also the time and effort to set up and to break down (usually early in the morning and late in the evening,) time to carry, pack, unpack and pack again a number of heavy, framed paintings.
Professional representational artists also have other costs that include:
- Custom framing. Artists invest into their frames because it gives them professional presentation that is often required, by the way, to display their work in juried shows.
- Time to market artwork. E-mails, presentations, social media, research, writing, contacting galleries and editors takes consistent and relentless effort.
- Artists hire models to paint the figure from life.
- Art supplies. Artists spend hundreds of dollars on art supplies every year as they keep practicing for years. This is a continuous expense, like going to a grocery store each week. When the time is right, the artist transitions to professional, durable, lightfast materials that cost a lot more that cheaply manufactured canvases and paints. The result is different. Professional art supplies let artists create long lasting, museum-quality pieces, unlike the junk that would fall apart or fade within years. Often times if the artist doesn’t share this information with the buyer, no one can tell visually if the supplies are archival or not.
- Other office expenses that include professional photo equipment, storage files, a scanner and a printer, camera and video equipment, etc..
- Some artists chose to advertise online or in magazines.
- As a surprise to many, the artist’s retail price includes a 50% mark up, sometimes 60-65% that galleries take selling artist’s work. That means that the artist gets only half of his/her money when making a sale.
- The final cost to the artist is not the financial, but the emotional one. In the U.S. artists don’t have much respect unless they are famous. This leads to stereotypes and generalizations. Often called “lazy artists,” “starving artists,” “stupid artists,” or “flaky artists.” We have become the 2nd class citizens because we often allow it to happen, and because art has become the all encompassing word that incorporates everything into it. Art is everywhere today.
We don’t even pay attention to it, but art is everywhere today: in magazines, book covers, album covers, calendars, and even on plates. This is one of the hardest costs artists encounter. As the society has moved from scarce product production to consumerism, artists get pushed to the side. A lot of work gets devalued by the Chinese manufacturing, cheaply made goods and mass-produced items and reproductions. This trend reinforces the people’s desire to buy a cheap print or new piece of technology rather than a small original artwork. As a result many folks don’t appreciate art, because they simply don’t identify with it, don’t find the emotional connection, and don’t really need it. TV, wall posters, and other goods and entertainment have replaced the enjoyment of looking at a single painting.
In other words, ART has lost or changed its original meaning, evolving into other facets of artful creations that redefined the uniqueness and value of art. Bogus art may receive lots of publicity due to smart marketing campaigns that confuse people, because Quality has nothing to do with Art these days. Those souls who love the arts just get lost trying to understand what’s really valuable and what is not. It’s rare to see someone admitting that he or she doesn’t get art or lacks enough education to have an opinion. And that’s why art appreciation should be taught in schools as a relevant subject along with math and the sciences.
Art is about creating unique experiences. Art is visceral. Art takes care of our emotional life. Often described as healing, art reflects on society and our inner life. Art therapy is a proven technique to make us feel better.
No matter the style or medium, Art makes us human. Art lets us experience joy and see the beauty in ugly circumstances. It also marks the societal change and makes us think of topics we want to ignore. Art can be a protest. Art brings suffering and love to our attention. When we look at history, we often study it through art. Why is that?
What do you think? Share your thoughts in a comment below. 🙂