Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Cash Value of Art and Pottery, Thoughts and learning the system for us all!

Hmm, speaking generally about the philosophy of art and selling as we all find our way...

Yesterday I was talking with a friend again about what makes some people's pottery more valuable than other's. This is a question we all ask as we decide what kind of artist to be.

The friend asked, " Is it just holding out until someone pays?"

So why does someones pot sell for $4000 and another person's pot a hard sell at maybe $40 or so?
I wish it was simple. We all could hold out for a while and maybe get a fair price. And of course if I really knew a simple answer I would be buying my own new studio or writing from the Bahamas. Hawaii wasn't bad so maybe I do have a few answers.

Sometimes it as simple as some people think more positively that the world owes them something and the rest must work for everything we get. I have some wealthier friends who simply don't settle for less. Great homes, clothes and the works. They think that is the way it is and they get it. Some will do anything to keep it that way. That is their honest choice and what they want.

But can you pull that off in the art world? I do have many former students who charge a lot more for their work than I do and they get it. Is any one's art work worth less than someones work.
Were the ancient pots presently on display in the Philbrook and Gilcrease made with great value in mind? Were those pots at the right place at the right time to end up in the museum? Only some have the artist's name. Most are categorized by tribe or culture. The artists ego was not present in those works but they must have felt a great sense of accomplishment when the pot came out of the fire and it was not broken.

It is certainly not the amount of time you spend on a project. A lady interested in a mask class called me about having me teach her and confessed she had just spent 7 hours on a mask and was obviously convinced the amount of time she spent on the mask would determine how valuable it was. Well, after a lengthy discussion with her, I was sure there was no freshness or spontaneity left in the piece. I saw Steve Freedman make some mighty impressive pieces in only a few minutes. He was into efficiency makes money.

Steve had an industrial attitude in producing his art. Touch the clay less, do it quickly and keep all your costs down. Yes, he sells pots for $4000. Making less expensive pots is a new idea for him. Still, efficiency is not the only factor. Efficiency helps but won't cut it alone.

If you are a shaker and a mover and change things that might help. Steve said it is the "Cutting Edge Artist" that makes a difference and helps the work evolve and makes trends and styles change. As the son of a evolutionary scientist he constantly thought and read about evolution. He was very aware of the science of art and evolution in art. Now we have eliminated the "Super Christians" if evolution is an issue. The dissatisfied artist makes a splash.
Does that mean if we are feeling comfortable with our work we will never excel and make those big bucks?

When I surveyed friends most people said networking makes the difference. And we all agree being at the right place at the right time helps.

As long as we have enough money, and that amount varies from time to time, some of us don't worry much about it. When kids need more money for college or we want more time off to do other things money matters more. Has not being money oriented hurt me financially? Probably.

Because my art is so personal to me I am usually honored if someone really likes and wants it and feel embarrassed to be taking money for something I love to make. That is really stupid but I seem to cling to those old 60's and 70' ideas. It is hard to undo that kind of thinking and my friends often encourage me to get real. Perhaps that can be either too little or too much ego for us all depending on how you look at it. I communicate my most personal feelings in my pots and writing to try to deepen an understanding we can all share and benefit from. I have always known that putting yourself out there makes you vulnerable but how else can we communicate honestly? If you put yourself in a leadership role you must be open to criticism.

On a personal note, it does feel odd to me when friends and former students get those top dollars for pots, take great pride and I stand there with a smaller wallet, mouth hanging open and clay that just feels like dirt in my hands. At that moment I have a bit of a pity party and regroup. Enough naval gazing.

Why do some of us enjoy marking pots down so people can afford them and giving lots away? Sometimes it feels better to give than to receive. There goes that ego again.

Still I get confused and irritated when I am handing out free technical advice to someone who is sending show pots to galleries in New York and selling them for $2000 each. I know my pots are as good as his.
So what is it? What makes somebodies pots worth more? What makes giving bowls so much less expensive than a painting in a local art show?
Who? What? Where? When? Why? These are all questions we must ask ourselves all the time.

I was selling at the annual University of Tulsa Pottery sale today. It was again a very windy experience but fun. I like to see students selling and the community being aware and buying their work.
It always pays to be aware of what the buying public wants and can afford. You need to know your audience and decide who you want to sell to. What do your people buy?
I saw people buying small utilitarian pots with a personal touch added and some tried to match what they already own. Some people love the eccentric and some want to live in a more controlled environment, matching colors etc. Some people with a little money to spend, faculty and students, play it safe. The less expensive nice pots, not edgy, sold first. And when the customer is buying for another person, like Mother's day, they will guess the personal taste and choose carefully to please, of course.
These kinds of sales are fun and good for the public but they are usually not the $2000 venue. Sometimes when we do these little shows where we get positive reinforcement for less expensive good production. I like to see the university departments interacting. Look what the art students are doing. These are valuable shows and teach students how to sell and what to make if they want to sell.

Ian, my edgy son, had a west coast pottery look with very bright colors and little functional application and guess what? They did not sell as well as the more utilitarian things. He lugged heavy pots across campus to the selling tent and lugged many of them back to the shop. It was a fun experience for him and he became aware of what the customers want. Another learning experience.

Experiences like this send mixed messages about how to earn a living and what direction to turn. Remember you do not have to choose just one direction.

Can you just wait it out? Do you have a trust fund or really need health insurance? How do get someone to write that $4000 check. Lots of times the big cash comes from big businesses.
Big hotels, oil money and the like. That requires good networking skills and a very professional look and still an awareness of what the client needs and wants. Just the word customer to client says something important.

In graduate school it was taboo to think about really selling your work. It was a luxury. We were there to learn our craft and skills and concepts. Yes, that was a luxury. I was amazed to well more that a thousand dollars worth in one night at my show in the museum. Money? Someone was willing to pay for what I loved to make? It was great to show in museums. It is amazing how valuable things look on pedestals and in good lighting.

Formal education? It helps but alone it is not the sure fire way to get rich. If it was you could not get into a pottery class. Education is a good way to accumulate knowledge and get smart fast but job opportunities are limited and there is no big pile of cash automatically waiting for you. Steve Freedman did not go the college route, he chose industry and he is financially successful and very bright. It doesn't hurt that his mother was a potter. Tradition plays a great role in accumulated knowledge.

Knowing people, having them believe in your work. Being at the right place at the right time. Working hard in a productive way. Believing in your own work and not letting the ego work against you. These are just a few of the ways to gain financial value in our work.
And, you must have the time to ride the financial wave. Now we have to prove our pottery is as valuable as gasoline for the car. So do we make more expensive pots for richer folks or more smaller pots people can afford. Maybe both.

I am collecting comments by blog and email to get your feelings on the value of pots. I will post what others have said soon.
So, think about it and let me know and we will all meet in Hawaii later and drink boat drinks. Who knows?
I realize when I write personal statements I am opening myself up to criticism. I am hoping by accumulating every one's life experiences we can compare and contrast our knowledge and help art grow. This is not just about me and why I get less cash than others. I like playing the role of the village potter and making one of a kind pottery as well.

1 comment:

  1. Two clay-covered thumbs up to this post, Linda!