I must admit that this week, I am feeling a bit daunted by what feels like an obligation to produce a wise, well thought out and polished entry into the “Why Does Art Cost So Much?” series. It is an important topic, one I really want to share and discuss with you. And, I am bumping up against the ticking clock, having lots of things to do in a short period of time. Given that the topic of today’s entry is about the amount of time it takes to run an art business, this is absolutely perfect.
The wise and respected Benjamin Franklin once said, “Time is money”. If this is true, a dollar value has to be placed on every minute of the day. An artist spends a large amount of time doing things other than producing art, and this time needs to be considered in the value of an art work. As I have mentioned before, I once had a woman say, “I wish I could sit around and paint all day” – to which I replied, “So do I!”. While I do spend time creating work, there is a large chunk of time dedicated to research, marketing, networking, exhibiting and taking care of office necessities.
Time spent creating work is precious. I love the feel of paint gliding across a canvas, the joy of composing and snapping a photograph that has the potential to be really good and the feeling of accomplishment when the vision that is in my head is produced in a concrete form. It’s the best feeling in the world to problem solve and trouble shoot in such a way that what I produce has pushed my boundries outward, causing my work to stretch and grow. But the actual physical creation of the work is not all it takes to produce it. There is also time spent researching, purchasing and setting up materials, building supports, editing the photographs, and framing the work – not to mention time for experimentation and exploring new things. Taken in combination, this can take as much if not more time than it takes to produce completed works.
In addition to researching the best materials, most professional artists spend quite a bit of time researching and learning new techniques, about other artists and art history. Many of us read what may appear to be unrelated topics such as science, politics and world history to gain new insights about the world around us. This is time well spent because it expands our knowledge beyond our current horizons and gives us new ideas to potentially include in our work. It also makes us more well-rounded human beings.
Being well rounded assists us in what is perhaps the most time consuming thing outside of producing the work – and that is marketing. Since a large portion of most artist’s marketing is done on a social media platform (blogging, Facebook, Twitter and more), it is good to have something to discuss outside of art for art’s sake. I find it invaluable to have a perspective on the wider world so I can have intelligent, informed discussions with people on my blog and social media sites. As important as social networking is, there are other marketing duties to attend to such as producing and distributing newsletters, writing and disseminating press releases, creating and sending post cards and keeping mailing lists up to date.
Networking is another consumer of an artist’s time. It is imperative for artists to connect with one another and with potential supporters to be able to succeed. Those connections occur at networking events, exhibition openings, participating in artist’s organizations and social events in support of the arts and artists. Social media is another way to connect with supporters that we might not otherwise have had the opportunity to connect with. All of these things take hours away from creative time each week, yet make a big enough difference in our career path to be worth it. (It can often be fun, too!)
Unfortunately it is a rare occurrence that an artist, no matter how talented, is spotted early and supported throughout their career, rarely needing to lift a finger to have their work presented to the world. It takes years of hard work by the artist to research exhibitions and galleries that are a good fit for their work, enter those shows and court galleries for potential representation. I have been exhibiting my own work on the regional, national and international levels for eleven years. For all my successes I do not have gallery representation, and still get plenty of rejection letters when applying to art shows. For every exhibition I show in, there are at least one or two others I spent an afternoon applying to and did not get in.
In addition to the time spent doing things specific to artists, we must still take care of the rest of the responsibilities of running a business. Many of us do all of the administrative and book keeping duties. This includes keeping receipts, managing expenses, keeping a database, writing all correspondence and doing taxes, among other things. We even take care of the super mundane, including office and studio cleanup, cleaning out hundreds of emails and watering the plants. We do it all, and to the extent we balance the effort in all areas of our business, we can move forward in our careers.
If we revisit the esteemed Mr. Franklin’s comment that “time is money”, we must consider time spent in ALL aspects of running a business when looking at “why art costs so much”. You wouldn’t expect any other business to do the work for free, would you? (For example, could you see a lawyer not charging for every second of their time?) Yet people often discount the time and effort artists put into our careers. Until established, artists can often anticipate barely making enough money from their work to pay for supplies, let alone all other expenses associated with their work (or any pay for their time). We’ll explore more of why even when art seems expensive, artists may not be making a living wage, in our next segment, “Getting the Work Seen”.
Click here to read Part Five – Getting the Work Seen.
This blog is written from the perspective of a visual artist (specifically, me!). Each art form will have its own set of challenges and responsibilities. I’d love to hear them! 🙂
© 2011 Amy Buchheit All Rights Reserved