Thursday, January 3, 2008

Is the Laborer Worth His Wage?

A couple of weeks ago Ed Vaizey, the UK Shadow Minister for Culture, published an article in the Art Newspaper entitled "Artists are apolitical, leaning to the left but embracing right-wing standards". The article asked and attempted to answer some excellent and timely questions posed by the UK's Art Fund, including "Has contemporary art sold out? Have contemporary British artists sold their soul to Mammon?"

While I disagree with Mr Vaizey in his contention that artists have a responsibility to be political in their art, I fully appreciated the honesty expressed in his statement, "The contemporary art trade is exactly that—a finely honed, global business." As implied in my previous post, it was more than evident at Art Basel Miami that art and business are intimately entwined on a global scale. Furthermore, if one watches the art auction scene, you can witness numerous performances at the Theater of Absurd Pricing.

Several months ago an associate indicated they would like to purchase one of my oil paintings, Boscastle Memories. Of course, one's ego always enjoys hearing that one's work is appreciated so I was pleased to hear this voiced. However, when I unashamedly stated the cost of the painting, the individual was rather taken back and asked me to repeat myself. I, of course, also gave them a graceful "out" of the purchase offer. This experience reaffirmed the general public has no conception of the actual material & time costs incurred by artists in the process of creating their works. Consequently, a "fair price" may appear to be astronomical to someone who isn't familiar with the realities of our profession.

Artists certainly have a responsibility to other artists to not under- or over-price one's work, but to ensure the prices established are fair and reasonable. Too often, emerging artists under-price their work, hoping that it will gain notice and they will recoup some of the monies they've invested in the work. It's not a trade secret that co-op galleries are wonderful places to pick up "steals" because many of these artists don't possess the confidence to ask a "fair" price, thinking it "too high" for their town/region/country/self. Sadly, in doing so, these artists fail to understand six words from the Gospel of Luke also apply to artisans in our day and age, "The laborer is worth his wage." (Luke 10:7)

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