ART ARTITHMETIC 101
Nan's reaction, though she couldn't agree more:
"Oh Lord, Another Soapbox Rant"
I upset a lot of people last time I did this, fourteen years ago now – it came out as an article in our (then) annual ArtQuest Magazine titled: A Lesson in Art Arithmetic. It considered both the expenses for producing and marketing one's work, focusing on painters – because Nan is a painter and I was familiar with the issues. Who reacted with anger? Well, a great many of the artists. The interesting thing was that no one could argue with my figures or even points, they were upset that I felt it worth pointing out how badly most artists were underpricing their work while at the same time wildly celebrating sales that left them losing money, deluding themselves by looking at gross and ignoring net. Admittedly I rubbed a little salt into my analysis by equating this as actually paying to have someone to take a work off your hands that you put your heart and soul into, but I do seem to have a knack for that. Are we that desperate for outside affirmation? They took it out on me, go figure.
In response to a number negative comments about my charging $20 "cost" for the work in my Do You See Yourself showing at Concord Point Coffee in town, I've decided to go there again. This time I'll stick to photographers and be a lot more specific, avoiding estimates as much as possible. Maybe this will help someone else, or at least piss off a few photographers who seem to have the same issues facing reality.
I will stress here that while I have a huge problem with underpricing my work just to salve my ego, I thoroughly enjoy giving my work away at times – it's just that in the case of the "Havre de Grace Street" work I can't afford to include the frames on this scale with this many images.
We live in an area that has what I call the "grandma syndrome" – someone who began giving out gift cards containing $5 bills back in the 50s when that would actually buy something, and still doesn't see how that has changed. One example is the Bel Air Art Show's prize money – it hasn't change from $100 in over 40 years, in spite of both inflation and the fact that entry to th event used to be free and now costs $100. Add to that fact that the area, as a whole, isn't really all that interested in any art form, fine, performing or otherwise, and you get a sticky situration for the lot (local theaters don't even carry Fathom Event cultural showings – they tried one year and we never saw more than 4 to 6 others attending). So don't really expect to get a fair price for your work locally.
Here goes, and at the end is a little summary of what one faces doing an outdoor/indoor art show. Of course nothing here speaks to the hours of labor, effort, skill involved, artistic merit, etc. – why should that be a factor for artists just because it is for everyone else. This time I'm making myself the target.
Photography – printing one's own
Paper and Ink – $2.60 a running foot used on a 100ft roll of paper. Since the first successful, usable print takes one or two test prints, and one rarely sells more than two or three copies of any one image, I'll calculate in for two per. And then of course there's the trim. Paper is $100 for a 100 ft roll and there are 8 ink cartridges at $100 each. Are we having fun yet? COST per PRINT:
8.25x11 / $5 12x16 / $7 15x20 / $9 18x24 / $10.50
Mounting – this one can be rough. But one can save $ on the extra small prints by using hinge-tape. I will add here that my scoring a press for a total investment of $600 "should" bring these costs down – at the point where it pays for itself. That will obviously be a while.
8.25x11 / $2.50 12x16 / $15 15x20 / $17.50 18x24 / $20
Matting – only 100% rag will do. Since I cut my own, I save a little here – double this if you don't:
8.25x11 / $3 12x16 / $5 15x20 / $10 18x24 / $20
Frame – even metal frames are expensive. My frame of choice id Neislen 93-50. For the smaller, special offerings, I get await specials on a little eco frame and buy in bulk. But even with the others, I have to spend hundreds to keep the price down. These are frame sizes for: 8.25x11 / 12x16 / 15x20 / 18x24.
11x14 / $8-10 (not metal) 16x20 / $28 20x24 / $32 24x30 / $36
Glass – a lot of fun when it has to be hand-cut, he he. Price given is by the case, individually they are much more. Glass sizes for frames above – raise this fee by maybe 25% if purchasing individually.
11x14 / Included 16x20 / $8 20x24 / $12 24x30 / $16
Misc. – hanging wire, mounting tape, screws, bumber pads fro frames, protective corners for toting them, etc., etc. This one is pretty much of an estimate, so I'll make it small. Again, image size:
8.25x11 / $1 12x16 / $1 15x20 / $1 18x24 / $1
8.25x11 on 11x14 / $19-20
12x16 on 16x20 / $64-65
15x20 on 20x24 / $82-83
18x24 on 24x30 / $103-104
AND THEN THERE'S…
Commissions – my normal gallery expense at RiverView is only 20%, very good. but this adds considerably to pricing, where one often has to allow for 40 to 50%.
0% for the Do You See Yourself series thanks to Concord Point Coffee
20% everything else at the Gallery
Most of these direct expenses will run an average of 50% more if not buying in bulk lots, from on line, etc., even hanging wire, which comes in spools of 750 to 1000ft. As you can see, someone just starting out can have a huge pricing problem.
Did I Mention INDIRECT EXPENSES?
Printer – You can get a good, pigmented ink printer for between 2 and 3 thousand. Mine ran almost three grand. So maybe:
$250 per year to be somehow absorbed into the above
Camera and lenses, batteries, filters, tripod, camera bag, etc. etc. – I put these all together. My present camera of choice is not one of the more expensive, costing less than 2,000 (body only). Very difficult to estimate this BUT, if I stretch it a little, estimate equipment investment per year, divide that by image output, maybe, keeping things on the probably very low end – and then grading it by print size. Not that this will really cover this. I purchase ony used lenses – there are so many mint condition lenses out there.
$1000+ per year on the average to be somehow absorbed into the above
Computer – try doing graphics without a really good computer. With backup drives, etc. $3,000 if you are lucky. Low end estimate would be (include cost of on-line backup and web space in this too). I buy from Apple Refurb store, that helps.
$1,000+ per year at best
Software – not as expensive as it used to be, and Photoshop is only $10 a month now. But there is always somthing needed. A low end here would be:
$250+ per year to be somehow absorbed into the above
Mileage / Travel etc. – impossible to even generalize, this one has run us anywhere in the range of:
$200 to 5,000 per year to be somehow absorbed into the above
Travel Housing – this has a pretty wide range, depending on where you are shooting. We've spent as much as the maximum listed here for the year. for housing, power, water, laundry, etc. (the car was bought and resold at the end).
$0 to 5,000 per year to be somehow absorbed into the above
NOT EVEN GOING THERE on these two:
Misc. – like electricity, studio use and much, much more. I won't even attempt to put a figure to this one. Rest assured, if the tax forms find these a legitimate deduction, it must be a legitimate expense.
Other – The whole subject of self publishing BOOKS. I would end up having to shoot myself if I spent the time to work up those figures. At least I love what I do.
OH WHY NOT – ADD IN DOING AN ART SHOW
I'm going to assume here that art shows are still ART shows instead of commercial craft and crap shows where people who want to see actual art don't show up because they know it won't be there. That being said, a fine artist, in any medium, has to invest $100 to 300 in an entry fee. Then they have to have a good, wind resistent tent – another hundred. And display racks, that can cost at a minimum 250 more – already they have to do a lot of successful showings in order to even break even.
Then consider the hours sitting and trying to market one's wares. What is an artist's time worth there, can one put a value on it, minimum wage? It's certainly nuts to leave that out of what is considered as an investment. Then there is travel expenses, sometimes motels, etc.
Consider the realities and one can realize why the old Havre de Grace Art Show before it changed hands and began its long slide into almost joke status and Mary Woodward's ArtQuest (that I ran for the final six years) worked for artist and public alike.
I should clarify here that my observation that the Havre de Grace Art Show has gradually, by evolving in the wring direction obtained "joke status" does not in any way mean that they could not continue their good work of providing scholarships to local students, money now coming out of registration fees on the backs of the artists, using any other approach. Logistically it could be done easily, and be something wonderful. Realistically, locally, any fixit that would continue to provide these funds while not bleeding the artists would require far more leadership, imagination and hard work than is available, especially in an atmosphere of needing to reintroduce something of an art cuture to a public who have been told for decades that the crafts and crap they are now seeing at their local shows is the definition of fine art and fine craft, along with an entrenched goo-old-boys-and-girls network that is suspicious of, resents and blocks any efforts to fix anything.
The one constant is that to attract real art, and those who want to see real art and might purchase it, real artists need free entry and display racks, plus even tent cover. We did that at ArtQuest and never lost a dime – and the only jurying that had to be done was for whether or not the submission was fine art or fine craft.
All of which also sort of puts a damper on the idea that an artist has any real incentive to prostitute themselves by doing what they "think" might sell rather than what they really want to do. Besides, where's the fun or fulfillment in that. Even in a culture that falsely believes that money is the measure of everything, real art is an obvious exception.
Now, what was that about asking why I don't drop the price on these $15 to $20 pieces that I am essentially giving away as it is? Especially since there is a standing offer to take it for FREE without the frame?