You found a neat little formula online, tracked your hours, spent even more time tracking the cost of every single paint tube you have in your studio, tried to figure out how much of it you actually use in a month. You added, divided, multiplied and did all those crazy math twerkings you hadn’t done since you left school. Then you stared at your numbers paralyzed. Your pulse raced. Your brain blanked. “Holy shit!” is what went through your mind when you saw your numbers. “I can’t possibly charge that”, you think. “What would people think”, “nobody would pay that much for it” and “I should really clean that spot on the wall” are also thoughts that come through your head. You pause for a moment and decide to take a breather. “Maybe my numbers were wrong”, you think. Only to freak out even more when you redo you math and find out you have been paying yourself less than minimum wage at your current price point.
Or maybe you’ve always felt kind of guilty about charging people money. You might have a weird relationship with it and you have a really hard time putting a price tag at what you do. You have this crazy mental battle every time you have to price something. On one hand you would love for people to have it at a very accessible price point, because you’d love for everybody to have it. On the other hand, there is this crazy desire to actually make a living doing what you do (imagine that!). There’s this tremendous guilt for charging for something that you probably wouldn’t be able to pay for, yourself. And there is this chatty little voice in your head that keeps pointing her finger at you and saying: “who do you think you are?”. There’s also your conscience that keeps the guilt going by affirming that “if it’s so easy for you so it can’t be worth that much”.
However, there is also the fact that you spend really long hours at each piece, and that you use only the very best material.
So, how are you supposed to price your art?
After all, you want people to have it. You know how great what you’re selling is. You know better than anyone else how much thought, heart and effort you put into it. How do you put a price tag on it?
It turns out that pricing art goes far beyond the all too known cost plus formula. If you think about it, art can be both value-“less” or beyond valuable. Who’s to say how much an art piece should cost then? Take Picasso, for instance. The price of his artwork has nothing to do with the material or time it took him. Of course this is up to a certain point, but pricing really isn’t just about being skilled and good at what you do.
Add that to the fact that you actually need to make a living from what you do. There are bills to pay. There is this sense of “damn it, I deserve to make enough to live, not just to survive”. And there is also the ego involved. There is a part of you that can’t separate your own sense of worth from what you do.
So pricing is a real mental battle for you and how much a piece will cost, depends on who wins this internal battle.
It shouldn’t really be this way, though. As contradictory as it may seem, you also know that you’re not what you do. It doesn’t define you. It’s part of your life and you love it very, very much, but it doesn’t define you. You know that you’re much more than just that and you shouldn’t really attach your own sense of worth to the work that you do. But why is it so damn hard to put a price tag at what you do then?
Besides your own internal shenanigans, there is a whole lot more going on that makes pricing something so difficult.
First off, pricing and money are a huge taboo at art school. People just don’t talk about it. Usually, there are no classes about it (at least in my school there weren’t any) and you’re seen as a sell out if you even mention it. You’re supposed to just do your work and the money will follow. What nobody talks about is that that is a bunch of BS. No, this “if you build, people will come” mentality doesn’t really work. Plus it puts the artist in a really fragile position. If your work is good enough, if you are good enough, you’ll make it. Yeah, try doing that and let me know how it works. This is extremely dangerous territory. It not only puts you at the mercy of the art market, but it also attaches your sense of self, your identity to the work you do.
Then there’s the stereotype of the starving artist. Can you see a cause and effect relationship here? Of course there will always be starving artists. For as long as this type of mentality prevails, this will always be reinforced.
But wait: If you know this, then why is it so hard for you to price your art at a price point that you need to charge to make a living?
I wish there was a simple answer to that… You see, it’s really hard to change a mental script. And these things can go as far back as our childhood. We all have money beliefs that were engraved in our brains since we were tiny little things. Add that to other people’s expectations of us and you have a pretty hot mess.
The good news?
Is that it’s actually possible to switch those scripts. The bad news? As you can probably imagine, it ain’t easy. It’s an ongoing battle and there will be ups and downs, but it’s one that you cannot not fight for. Not if you want to make it as an artist. Not if you want to make a living from it. And damn it, you deserve to.
This post was a part of the Double Your Followers blog tour to spread the word about April Bowles-Olin’s CreativeLive course.