It’s exciting to see the topic of selling handcrafted items for decent money rise up in the consciousness of our industry. I believe that the more we talk about it, the better it will be for all.
I was sent a recent post from Kate Chiconi, from which I pulled this quote (emphasis mine) regarding getting paid well for a quilt:
But I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no point counting the hours I spend in my enjoyment and expecting a return on investment. All that would achieve is a deep sense of despondency at how poorly I’m rewarded, whereas in fact the reward lies in the process and the pleasure my handwork gives, not the monetary reward. Fortunately, I’m not dependent on my sewing to support myself, unlike some of my forebears!
While I’m glad Kate understands the “despondency” of being low-balled for her work, and I’m thrilled she enjoys her process, I think she is missing the fact that her contemporary peers try to make livings with a needle, too.
For many of us, it’s REALLY tough to place a price on what we do. It engages all sorts of discomfort in our esteem, and often leaves us open to criticism and ridicule for daring to challenge the notion that it’s OK for artists to starve. Our love for what we do is called into question when we monetize it. And for we ladies, there’s an added layer of judgment about being uppity and “not nice” when you try to be business-like.
So we don’t do it. We shrink back when asking for a fair price. We do funky math and discount the cost of the materials because we already owned them (unwilling to point out that to replace them will cost good money.) We weakly defend the idea that you can love something AND make money at it (and why the hell is this only a conversation in the arts? I don’t see bankers struggling with this at all.) And the most corrosive lie we can tell is “I don’t need the money.”
It’s a great one to hide behind… not only does it make you sound fortunate, it colors you as generous and altruistic. You’re doing the would-be buyers a favor by leaving some cash in their wallets.
But while it might help you, and maybe get you a modest sale, it actually hurts all your sew-sisters and -brothers. YOU might not need the money, but I certainly do, and I’m not the only one. If you don’t educate buyers as to a fair price, then the knowledge of what that is will not permeate our art-buying culture. And we all suffer for it.
Even if you don’t need the money, PLEASE charge it. Donate the cash to children’s arts programs or your favorite charity if you need to get it out of your account. If you still don’t want to do that, please AT LEAST give the buyers a detailed invoice showing the depth of the discount they receive. Education is the easiest thing we can do to change this.
Kate ends with this:
We create because we can and because we must. Monetary reward is just a very pleasant fringe benefit…
Pleasure in my process is certainly important. But no one quilts for cash without enjoying their process – it’s just too damned hard. However, we can’t pay the rent in satisfaction, nor should we be expected to. Money isn’t a fringe benefit in the arts, it’s what feeds the family. Just like in other careers.
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