For those of you who don't know me, I am a curmudgeon. I often express this "beingness" when any part of the visual arts profession is being infantilized or associated with whining. That being said. . .
As I could not respond to the essay : Things I’ve Learnt About Pricing Creative Work (Published on February 10, 2017 in Linked In) in the comment section (my comments being too long and too many) I have posted them in the following essay entitled. “Is getting over ourselves ever a sure thing?
And so. . .
Things I’ve learnt about pricing creative work presents us with 16 points of reference to the topic of pricing. Or does it?
(Note : To make things clearer, the content from the original essay (to which I am referring) is in italics. My reactions are in regular font.)
And so. . . :
1. There’s no perfect price list.
Agreed. (See! When not prodded with a stick, I am quite an amenable fellow. . . )
But. . .from what I can gather, this presentation is not about actually selecting a price point. It is more about normalized hesitation and "them". . . . Obsessing about price points, as a subject of concern in our times, seems to be a norm in the visual arts (illustration or otherwise). Not because it should be, but because we live in anxious, hesitant, worried, OCD times. Expecting perfection rather than excellence seems to be a given. And then, there's this apparent acceptance of treating clients as generically impossible or difficult. . .
Though the arts, as they relate to creative thought, are based on trial, analysis and failure - and trial and failure again - and growing and growing some more (despite trial and failure), we have somehow homogenized it into being something about 'our" purported genius and “expected” success - especially where selfie-styled recognition and finances are concerned. But, it seems, that “out there” there are "people", often called "they" who seem to not understand the greaterness of us who strive so vehemently to impress them artistically. Let me elaborate on these topics emanating from the essay: Things I’ve learnt about pricing creative work
As to the rarely dealt with price point considerations in the aforementioned essay, I can only state :
CHOOSE one and get on with life for god’s sake!!
At 9 I wanted to be a portrait painter - i.e. : make a living at painting portraits. My father made me realize that this decision involved time and expense and hard work in order for me to eventually get to where my resulting efforts would be worthy of somebody’s undivided attention, let alone hard earned money. So. . . . I practiced and concentrated on bettering myself every day - and this without thinking (or earning) “money”.
But once there - once arrived at the level of professional work - whether fine or illustrative arts - (I have practiced both) - I tried to stay focused. Concentration on the essentials (creating) was (is) more important than concentration on the obvious (the product). Therefore, selecting a most practical price list rather than a complex one did help get me back to thinking about what is more important - otherwise, it is obvious that dithering about prices would have made me look like a mercenary bastard who was simply looking for (a) $, £, € and/or (b) recognition based on the $, £, € I could get rather than the work I could produce.
Coming from a “labour” background, I simply chose the least intrusive price point list in my quest to work as a “working painter” : i.e. : I selected square inches (cm) of my smallest work = $50. (35.92 Euro or 30.61 BP). Naturally, this does not take in the “illustrator’s” complex point of view (from which this article stems) but the concept remains the same. Simplify and clarify. More in keeping with illustration, at the end of my article I have submitted an address all illustrators should visit to solve their price point problems - once and for all.
(Note how generous of me this is. I could have made all of you read every snarly word of this essay before allowing you to head straight to the good bits. . . :) )
That being said. To those obsessed with adding up the costs incurred during our oh so special creative "me-time”. . . I say : get over yourself. We rarely get our “money back” in hours or materials spent. That’s the nature of artwork creation. And unless we are Warhol, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, H. R. Geiger, Maurice Sendak or Richard Corben (which we are NOT!) the artwork creating process will get us a sizable income (eventually) but rarely the amounts realized by the greats before and during our life times. If that's a bother, better to change professions and get over the whining.
2. No one wants to talk about money.
So! don’t talk about it!
The idea is to hang our work for display and try our hand at letting it say what “it” has to say. If it says nothing (to anybody). . . people will move on to looking at someone else's work. The selling game is the same - whether it’s cars or mobiles, book covers, posters or fine art landscapes. If we haven’t learned from a “rejection” exercise then what we need to understand is that, possibly : (a) the work is not good enough yet (b) the work is too expensive for what it is, (c) the work is not what people are looking for or (d) maybe. . . we’re not made for this gig. . .
As to being queried about money value for our work - that’s par for the course when we are manning the sales booth or visiting a client. If that’s not our bag, we should get someone else to handle the oh so “not lovely” client base. We should also consider finding a gallery or agency (that wants us) where it’s the sales person’s job, and not ours, to discuss with bright and not so bright potential clients.
3. Everyone has a budget.
Certainly! And that budget may or may not wish to fit our presence within its specific plan spectrum. But then, what has that to do with our price point? There will always be those who will not buy and those who do - and at its jittery worst "might, maybe, perhaps will buy" are the times when we get our most antsy - and. again, so what! It's part and parcel of the "art game" Take it or leave!
5. People like bargains.
When I want a bargain, I don’t go to a gallery. I go to a thrift shop or second-hand store. I don’t go to regular shops where sales are on because that usually means they’re trying to flog something they haven’t been able to get rid of in the past year. BUT, in dealing with people who nonetheless are looking for bargains, I smile and grit my teeth. We all need such consternation in our lives. It builds grit, stamina and maturity. As for handing out bargains, I don't. I'd rather starve. Only my regulars get a discount and I only give away to charities I truly and honestly believe in. Otherwise, everyone pays the price indicated - or they don't. . .
By the way MANY “lovely” clients do not have the budget for “our work”. That they don’t doesn’t make them any less lovely. AND. . . if they nonetheless have a yen for our “turtle that looks like a dove making love to a horse”, it behooves us to organize a payment schedule which would fit both our needs and theirs. Better to get $5 per month for the next 50 years (with no interest on the balance) than get $0 at all.
By the way if the selling part of our “I’m an artist” illusion doesn’t pay the bills, it’s possibly time to look for a job that does, so we can go home to painting in our spare time - thus honing our skills to a level which would "eventually" get us enough money to pay our bills painting on a full time basis. If a client’s (considered not up to par on the sophistication bell curve) banter and bartering and haggling “gets us down” - better to learn that from the beginning. It proves, (a) we’re not grown up enough to be in this business and (b) with not too much time wasted, we’ve discovered that maybe weeding a garden, with only weevils to deal with, is more in keeping with our strengths.
6. Working out quotations is a job in itself.
What? You haven't budgeted for a secretary!!! Sheesh! (Again, my take on sarcasm., . . )
Quotations are part and parcel of the job we are to do - or not. Why highlight this aspect as a "don't you understand?" reference. Quoting is part of our profession. It's not our potential client’s problem. If working out quotations is cause for dizzy spells, we should head back to our basement flat (paid for by a full time job which does not require hanging things on the wall, meeting with "those people" and begging for sales). In essence, it is NOT an insult to be seen to be working full time “elsewhere” than in our studios - unless contemporary self esteem issues happen to be more important to us than self respect. Check out some of the top people in the arts in general. Many have had to and some still do work elsewhere in order to pay the bills. This does not make them any less in the (real) visual arts and so why is this concept so beneath so many of us today?
7. People only want to pay you for the time your pencil hits the paper (hand hits the mouse....*insert relevant creative skill here*).
Really!!! How horrible these “people” are!
Quite a generalization! On the other hand, are we dealing with the correct demographic or is it that we are "slightly" too enamoured with ourselves and our talents?
“We want to use an illustration from your website for a national advertising campaign,” he enquired, but when money was mentioned he said “why should we pay you, you’ve already done the work.”
First off. Such a person does not require an answer. What they need is to see our backside “politely and smilingly” walking away from their “offer”. No more than that. Not worth discussing. Not worth thinking about. Such an individual is a boor who has not yet achieved a level of evolution which permits them to recognize artwork, let alone “art”. Now, if our work is deserving of better, then maybe encountering someone like this, once in awhile, is par for the course and undeserving of anything more from ourselves than a loud “pshaw!”.
But then, let’s not display equal and opposite “self-grandeur" behaviour. Even at our best we will have our detractors, and anyway. . . we are never going to be god's gift to the world no matter how many times we look in the mirror. Selfie attitudes do not make a biography legitimate.
The rest of this (#7) makes me cringe as it implies that (a) our work is at such a high level only a mindless twit would recognize it as less. (b) it generalizes the world (note : words such as “people”, "they", "them" and "clients" were used more than 25 times in the aforementioned essay in ways a client base should never be referred to by someone trying to earn a living soliciting "these people".
When "people" feel that they are being looked upon as part of the great unwashed - just maybe, "they" don't want to deal with us. . . And an “us” and “them” mentality never a financially successful combination makes.
“ ‘People’ only want to pay you for physically creating and they sometimes don't understand that saving a pdf file or writing out emails takes up a hell of a lot of time.”. . . . .
How dare “they” be so rude! - (Note : extreme sarcasm. . .)
“The client can sometimes turn into the equivalent of a five year old child on a trip to Skegness “Are we nearly there yet?” “Are we nearly there yet?”
In expressing this sentiment, are we failing to realize that "possibly" we are describing the self-important artist rather than the client?. . . Just saying. . .
It would be good to note that competition is rife in this 1st half of the 21st century. 90% of us will never make our living in the visual or illustrative arts. But that does not mean we are not good nor does it mean we should “quit while we’re ahead”. It simply means that we must deal with reality by being real - and be DEFINITELY less emotively attached to the obsession that is the idea of “being seen to be” an artist, à la 19th century fantasy. Better to be a damned good half-time painter, sculptor or illustrator, enjoying the creative process (as we should), than pretending to be a so-called artist drinking our lives away at the prospect of always having to deal with yet another boor client who fails to see our "specialness".
8. Some clients can be a little disrespectful
I’m only at #8 and already I am rhythmically banging my head on the desk. . .
The “we” and “them” mentality in this essay is, among other determinants, not in keeping with the intent of the title : “Things I’ve learnt about pricing creative work”.
A merchant, producer or distributor does not pick and choose its client base! The name of the game is produce, display, present for sale. The whole process says nothing about “guaranteed sales”.
“Being talked to like this on a regular basis is easy to make you lose confidence”
Ah yes, such micro-aggressing on the part of the dastardly beyond the realm of the arts.
Before we end up spending all our hard-earned “sale of artwork” money on self-indulgent therapy, maybe it would be best to change professions. . .
9. Talk to other creatives
Having each others backs is fine at a peer level. This is where we can allow ourselves to rant and rave and order another bottle. On the other hand, getting advice and assistance in understanding marketplace foibles is best achieved through consultation with the more experienced than we. Once an individual has been in the field for awhile, they generally (and generously) do share their tricks of the trade and their "been there, done that" experiences with up and comers. Times may have changed but personality connections and confrontations have not.
All this being said, throughout time the most successful people in the visual arts have been those with gumption. Successful artists are a tough lot. Often, they have started out with nothing and their goal has always been creating excellence, not achieving greatness. Artists are those who dared greatly and did and do whatever is required to get a job done, and this DESPITE. They are those who forged ahead at a pace which would knock all opposition aside - and this without negative attacks on either their competitors or their buyer base. They did not, do not, whine or cry or say woe is me throughout their careers. Like Van Gogh, they were (are) constantly challenged and took (take) the next difficult step DESPITE any and all opposition, rejection or pressures to fail, or superficial anxieties over "what not".
We live in a time which has sadly normalized and defined obsession as passion, victimhood as beingness and pseudo honesty, authenticity and entitlement as confirmation of our self worth. We fear failure because our need for self esteem is more important than our quest for self respect.
But the world we live in is ironically one of ecological survival not of Renaissance. It is more in need of refuse collectors and recyclers than yet another so-called, self-defined artist. So, let's stop the whining. We in the arts are privileged!!!! We see and feel things no others do. Our job is to create work which “says something” - not to define those who cannot appreciate it as lesser. We are owed nothing and should not expect to be recognized simply because we say so. Those who in centuries past thought in this vein (prior to the introduction of art galleries and agents) simply ended up being apprentices to those who actually were artists. Better they would have spent their time being positive in order to lift themselves above and beyond even their own best estimates. But then, that is a choice made. . . or not, isn’t it?
10. Underpricing work doesn’t do anyone any favours
“Remember those lovely creatives you just got moral support from? You don’t want to be undercutting them.”
Under-cutting someone?. . . Pricing our own work has nothing to do with others in the field or their work.
“Nor do you want them to do that to you, right?”
What is this?!!!! Working in any visual art field is not an extension of being in secondary school. Neither does being a creative mean being “college friends true”. Life as a painter, sculptor, dancer, writer, conceptualizer, composer or illustrator is beyond adolescence. It is not based on a frat school agreement over a secret hand-shake! It’s real life. It’s being out there ON OUR OWN - whether we like it or not.
Succeeding is on the minds of all of our peers. And when the time cones for them to go for it, the rest of us had better get going - or get out of their way.
Pricing means establishing a realistic (professional)base which recognizes “our” level of expertise and recognition - not anyone else’s and most especially not based (today) on what we dream we should get.
11. Everyone views money differently
In our studios, we are (more often than not) dreamy wanna-bes who have a talent which craves to be expressed. Super!!! In the studio, that is exactly how things can be. But the minute we walk out of that special place with artwork under our arm is the moment we become producer/distributor/seller/merchant - not an “arteest”.
At this stage of the game, we are nothing more, nothing less, than pitchmen/women hawking our wares. Artwork is a thing; a physical product which at its most extraordinary is called “art”. What's the difference? Artwork is exactly what it is : a product of our efforts. At its ultimate best it allows itself to speak on its own, over and above its creator. It is a painting or sculpture or something else which rises above and beyond the physicality of the artwork created. At this level of excellence it is an enigmatic extra-ordinariness which speaks, reaches out and touches viewers - whether they buy the “thing” presented or not. And that is when it is called "art" - that which not only touches us deeply and requires no purchase whatsoever, but elevates us along with it to a higher plane of understanding.
12. Being upfront is good.
Finally! Something valuable.
Being prepared before a meeting with a client is essential. Handed out at the appropriate time, printed parameters save time and effort in explaining and re-explaining obvious and not so obvious facts about a "dealing". It almost always eliminates the worst of having to deal with those we don't really want to.
Oh lord. . . Setting a price base is not an experiment. It is not a question of re-calibrating how the world turns. It is an organized, efficient activity which has as its goal to be the well ensconced cornerstone of our financial survival.
Once we establish a solid price list (based on reality, recommendations of prominent gallery owners, collectors and comparing with other “like work”) no further consideration, worry, anxiety or anything else should be agonizing our souls. Second guessing is for amateurs who don't take the time to "do it right". Establishing a price list worthy of the level at which we are (not at a level of our wishing) allows us to get back to what we (purportedly) do best : creating artwork. Playing around and being indecisive can mean experimenting ourselves (literally) to a professional death. Doing the pricing job right more often than not demands counsel from more than we.
14. Don’t compare.
Too much dithering with feelings rather than reality in this section. I can’t comment on the content or legitimize it.
“Give ourselves permission. . ." “ Sheesh! On to number 15. . .
15. Get it in writing
Good! Number 15 says it all. I have nothing more to say about this. . . (Surprised?)
16. You’re not an arse for placing value on what you do
“Placing value on yourself feels incredibly egocentric, but you need to stop thinking about it as something personal, and view it as a service that helps to solve people's problems.”
What is this with “artists” so in need to see themselves as the “product”, the brand? When we create a price list it has nothing to do with “us”. Price lists are simply established guides related to the monetary value of a physical thing that we are trying to sell. Nothing more. As we grow and become more well known and our work is considered of greater value, our price list will evolve in total - in a consistent and structured manner. That’s it. That’s all. No more complicated than that if it has been properly set up from the start.
“I've learnt that people can often react quite badly to freelance creatives who ask for a decent fee.”
Who cares!!!! How others react and feel is not under the purview of our power to alter.
“It's as though we creatives turn into blood sucking vampires behind our easels, just waiting to pounce on the next corporate professional victim who won't comply with our rigid demands. We're a right cocky bunch, us illustrators, always showing off about how much money we made from that picture book we got published in 2003 that earns us £10 in royalties a year. I know what you're thinking "who do you bloody think you are?”
Really??? This actually goes through our minds? We see our clients and our potential clients' minds in this light??? Not good. . . Definitely not good. . .
“Many of us have been led to believe from day one that art and creativity isn’t valued as highly as ‘academia,’ whether that’s from anxious family members who worry about whether we can actually make a living from it, or whether that’s being scoffed at by other professionals for ‘not having a proper job’, as though we all sit around colouring in all day. Society still has a long way to go in seeing the value of creativity, despite the fact it may well have just persuaded them to buy one brand of shampoo over another, or influenced them to donate to charity through an ad campaign, or enabled them to enjoy the film they’re watching whilst sat on their nicely designed couch.”
This adds nothing to the essay except to say the author is pissed off.
“I actually do think design is changing the world all the time - it influences people to make very important decisions and it helps to sell huge amounts of products and services. It boosts the economy. It adds colour and life. It creates connection. It builds community. It changes people’s minds.”
True. The rest in this section is nothing more than a whine. So I shall pass.
(So good of me - but then, maybe I am (a) simply exhausted by all of this or (b) getting mellow in my old age. . . )
“Got any helpful tips you’ve learned about pricing creative work?”
(a) Take your time. Build your price list solidly. Get it done and get it right and let it do its job so you can get on with yours : creating and (b) STOP second guessing this damned list. Give it and your work time to impress.
Otherwise, my only recommendation - as this essay is more in keeping (despite its negativity) with illustrators - is to suggest we all read, from cover to cover : The Graphic Artists Guild Pricing and Ethical Guidelines, available as either hard-copy or digital format at the following address.
I am a painter and writer who's whole life has been influenced by one precept : "thinking each our own thoughts makes us relevant and relevance makes us powerful."