Friend and fellow artist Jhina Alvarado recently blogged about this topic of how long a painting takes and if/how that should affect it’s price.  To read the complete post, visit her blog Rising Artist, but in essence the post was about a comment made by someone who questioned her pricing because in his mind it “didn’t take her very long” to complete a painting.  Umph.

Pricing art is tricky to be sure. A lot of factors go into coming up with a pricing structure. Some artists have a price per inch strategy, others price paintings based on how much they like them, others have an arbitrary price structure that I can’t make heads or tails of.  An artist’s resume plays a part in pricing, how many solo shows they’ve had, if they have a particularly outstanding exhibition record, are paintings selling faster than the artist can produce them and so on. Typically, if an artist has gallery representation, the galleries will give input on pricing as well. My own personal pricing has been based on all of the above and I feel that it’s appropriate for where I am at in my career.  But it sure has nothing to do with how long it took me to make any particular painting.

I understand some of the thinking behind it – the longer it takes to make something the more it must be worth, after all time is money, right?  But this idea of time predicting value is misleading, especially in the case of art.   The active creation of any piece of art is only a part of what it takes to be a professional artist with a studio practice. It’s taken me about 15 years of active searching to find and define my voice to make the art I make today. Behind me are countless hours of experimenting, workshops, classes and that’s after my three years of high school art and almost five years getting my BA in Fine Art at UCLA.

An experiment

It may seem like I can pick up a brush and make art, but I am well practiced and deliberate about what I am doing so that I can reach a focus and get in the mental zone to paint.  There is a massive amount of time spent on mundane things that have to happen to get to the end of a painting, of which active painting is only a fraction. I make some of my own paint, I make all of my own medium, my husband makes many of my panels, and we frame every painting when it is finished. I use my own photographs to make up the patterns in my work, and I may have taken 500 photos to get to the one that I want to use in imagery. And some paintings don’t make it. No matter how I fuss sometimes a painting just fails and doesn’t see the light of day again let alone a gallery wall. And that’s before I begin the business side of what it takes to promote and sell my work.

My analogy for those who may struggle to understand: imagine if someone told you that only the last 12 months of work experience was going to count. Your position, pay and job responsibilities were only going to be based on what you’d done in the last 12 months.  Anything before that wouldn’t count.  That’s what it’s like to tell an artist that the only way to assess value of a painting is the clock. Tick Tock. The more tick tocks you get the more digits you get to charge. Yeah, it doesn’t make much sense to me either. So, for those non-artists out there, the next time you want to know how long it took to paint, sculpt, write, compose, film or create a particular artistic endeavor, just ask how long the person has been working in their medium.  It’ll be a far more accurate answer than a punch card.