23 November 2010

The Artist's Price and What She Pays

Image of the first sketch I did after many years not sketching.

I've known a few artists over the years - the kind for whom nothing else in the universe suffices.  They must make art because they know nothing else.  I know other kinds of artists too.  They are the artists who must balance; that is, artists who were born with the drive to make but with other competing drives as well.  Then there are the artists who yearn, people who feel the quiet inner call to create but either have little talent or great talent, but no opportunity or materials or time. And there are artists who do not know they are artists.  They make with abandon and a kind of clear freedom of heart because they were simply born that way. Often these artists are children; now and then there is a grown person who manages to hang on to their child's heart.

Image of/by me.

My friend Hoja and I have occasionally discussed the notion of the artist and "selling out" or an artist who sells.  It seems to me that issues arise as soon as another person enters the picture: a buyer, a gallery owner, a critic (professional, personal, or familial), a viewer, and/or a scholar.  Only then does the question of value come into play.

In the more professional realm of art making, I recently came across a trio of interlocked discussions from artists (and in one case a gallery owner), who saw their work reduced from creation to commodity.  Here is the record of that.

1)  Aritst Rima Staines had a work commissioned; the buyer was displeased.

2)  One of the people who commented in reply to Rima's story, posted a link to artist Jackie Morris' blog who described a similar tale and spoke of  what it is being an artist

Tell Me a Dragon
written and illustrated by Jackie Morris
published by Frances Lincoln, autumn 2009
(also published USA, Sweden, Spain, Denmark)

3)  Morris then linked to a blogged commentary by UK gallery owner John Foley.  He reports on the "daily life of running and art gallery.  In the entry linked to here he tells of buyers who regarded art buying as akin to grocery shopping.


  1. Someone recently contacted me to buy a painting from The Snow Leopard. I replied that I was sorry but the painting had sold. They wanted it as a present for their daughter. I said that there were prints available at £450. They came back and said again that they really want the piece as a Christmas present for their daughter and was the price negotiable. I wrote back and said, no. All quiet. I have never met this person, don't know their daughter and don't want to give them a Christmas present in the form of a discount.
    But next time my mortgage is due maybe I should ask the building society if the payment is negotiable. Next time I am at the check out in the veg shop, I should ask them if their total is negotiable. Next time I buy shoes, school uniform, petrol for the car, maybe I should ask if the price is negotiable.

    November 23, 2010 4:04 PM

  2. Thanks, Jackie. I LOVE your work. Your comment reminds me of something my sister (an artist also) told me once. Commenting on her prices, a person said to her "Yes, but it's _easy_ for you, so you shouldn't charge so much." As if my sister was born with all the skills in place. Like you, she spent time and money to learn the skills (that enhanced her talent, of course). Best wishes!


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