“It’s too expensive”.
Three little words that I am dreading having to hear and deal with, as I prepare for my first ever market stall… or as I’m currently thinking of it, my “bare my soul and hope I don’t fall flat on my face” sale.
I’m one of countless numbers of artists since the dawn of time to lament that in general, our work is either undervalued, or not valued at all. Waaaahhhh poor artist, call the waaaaahhhmmmbulance. I haven’t heard the line myself but I don’t doubt it’s been uttered. Why though? Why is something pretty, that takes considerable skill and talent, dismissed so easily? Part of it may come down to the “I could do that” chain of thought, and I’m sure many could. But are you going to? Even if you were going to embark on “I could do that”, none of us would produce “that” in quite the same way.
So why say the three little words that are so casually banded about? They are so hurtful to someone like me, and one fundamental reason is that a gross proportion of the time, they are inaccurate. Those three words are dismissive, and entirely subjective.
I think what you really mean to say, is “I can’t afford it”.
“I can’t afford it” is not equal to “It’s too expensive”.
Taking art out of the equation for a moment, let me give you a couple of other examples of this idea:
There is a restaurant on Sydney Harbour, one of the world’s top tourist destinations and for many people in the world the quintessential Australian scene. The restaurant’s owner is a world famous chef and he and his team have many awards for their work. The restaurant uses the highest quality produce it can, sourced from all over the world. Years and hundreds of thousands of dollars have gone into training the people that prepare the food, wait on you, etc. They have to advertise, they have to pay high rent, probably due to the fact that the restaurant is located in one of the most famous cities in the world.
A friend recently went to this restaurant and spent $400 on their meal. Do I think that was too expensive? No! Not at all, for all the reasons I have listed above. Can I afford to eat there? Hell no! But that isn’t because I don’t think it’s worth it, it’s because eating there isn’t within my means, I don’t have the money to pay for it. I don’t think even for a moment that it’s too expensive.
We all have our own set of values and our own idea of what is worth putting money aside for. Some people see value in taking a few cheap holidays overseas, others prefer to save and spend the money closer to home, or on the large trip to their dream destination. Some people have the big white wedding. Some buy a house, others like the simplicity of renting. There are people that prefer experiences and there are people that want to be surrounded by quality objects. We are all different.
Five years ago, my Husband and I were married in a little ceremony in the South West of Western Australia. There were just the two of us. We chose to put our small amount of money not into a huge ceremony, but a special holiday all by ourselves, captured by the very best and most awarded photographers we could afford. We saved, and we borrowed, and we are still paying off some of the bill to the bank. I treasure the photos and I look at them every single day. If I were to divide the cost of our wedding photography over every time I’ve looked at those photos and smiled, I can honestly say it’s been a worthwhile investment.
I would very much like to get more photographs taken by these photographers, but right now, I can’t afford it. I work 15 hours a week and whatever small amount is left over after paying bills, and buying a few treats, goes back into my business. The photographers aren’t too expensive, they are just outside my means. I could choose another photographer, or I could take my own photos, or I could save up until I could pay for their services, but there is no way I would say “It’s too expensive”. Who am I to judge that? They have trained hard, paid fees for professional memberships, bought software, bought equipment, and invested a lot of time into their art. They also have a mortgage, rates, 3 kids in school, pets, cars, insurance, tax….
Their work is priced based on the many, many factors behind the scenes. Not just on the fact that they turned up and took some photos of me and put them on a disc.
What prompted me to write this post, was a discussion in one of my online forums about whether one of my artist friends was charging too much for a print. A family member had told her that $30 was too much for a matted 8×10″ photo. It made me sad for her that someone so close, that saw the work involved in producing the photograph, just didn’t understand the value. And I thought that if they didn’t understand the value, how could we expect someone not used to investing in a piece of artwork, or fine photography, to see why our work is priced the way it is?
Buying one of my photographs isn’t just something pretty for your home, or a few dollars for me. It’s acknowledgement of so much more. When you hold one of my matted prints in your hand, you are holding a piece of work that I worked incredibly hard to create.
Each photograph or piece of photo jewellery you buy from me:
* Has 16 years of various photographic training, including two full time tertiary courses (one of which I’m still paying off) behind it. Whilst studying at a tertiary level, I wasn’t able to draw an income from anywhere else so that put extra pressure on our family.
* Probably caused me some physical pain. I have an auto immune thyroid condition and chronic fatigue caused by an unknown virus. Not only did I have to sacrifice some of my well time to take the photo, the crouching and walking around wore me out. Not to mention the strain from holding the camera and editing the photos. The same illness stops me working full time or pursuing many of the income streams other photographers rely on, such as shooting weddings.
* Took me several hours to create. Not just to print the photo or stick the piece of jewellery together, but to drive to the location, set up, take the photo, sit in traffic, drive home, edit the picture, backup, upload the picture to the lab, wait a couple of days to get it printed, drive an hour round trip to collect the picture, mount the image, photograph the image for my online shop, list the picture, pimp it out on social media… then the time to package it to send it to you. I didn’t just print it out and stick it in the post.
* Probably risked my health in some way. Darkroom chemicals, and glue, and paper fibres inhaled over the years.
* Involved researching the plants or locations I visited, to know when the right time to visit was, or to identify the plants.
* Took time to research and purchase supplies and equipment to take and edit and store the photos, as well as how to process and present them to you.
* Took time that could have been spent with loved ones. For every hour spent taking photos there might be eight hours culling, editing, listing, researching, advertising.
* I needed to feed myself whilst out on a shoot, I possibly needed to pay for fuel and parking too.
And of course there are all the other little things to consider such as batteries, shoes and protective clothing, even little purchases like sunscreen. All those little things cost money, and in most cases, that money is derived from me selling my pieces of artwork.
Try as you might, even with the same camera, and same lens, and same location, and same settings, it is unlikely we would both take the same photograph. Something has to be said for talent and seeing a scene in a certain way. If you ever want proof of this idea, you need only take part in a group photo walk.
So should you walk past my stall, or visit my online shop, if you do like my work and think it’s pretty, I implore you, before you say “it’s too expensive”…
Consider what you can afford – I regularly buy postcards and small prints from artists whose work I enjoy. It lets them know I support them, and it encourages me to want to return to their shop and invest in a larger piece of work once I have the means.
Take a business card or two, pass them on to friends perhaps. Put it in a place to prompt you to revisit the shop when you do have funds. I have often bought from shops a year after I first discovered them, because I now have money and would like something I longed after.
Think about the emotion the piece gives you. Would you like to have something in your home or office that gives you that escape?
Consider the effort, pain, skill, and time that has gone into the piece. Compare it to something you value, such as your sport, music, love of a gourmet meal. It’s not often you would compare a photograph to say going to watch a football game, but if you drill it down to the basics, there is just as much work and training involved in putting it all into the finished product.
In the end, if you can’t afford a beautiful piece of work right now, that’s ok, I appreciate you taking the time to look. Smile, wave, and I’ll see you when you are ready. I promise you, it won’t be too expensive when the time is right.
If that time happens to be now, please step on over here.
If you enjoyed this article, you might like to read Julie’s recent blog post on a similar topic.