The value of art

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday that prompted this post. Basically, it boils down to this – some people don’t understand the value of art in all its forms. Writers, painters, sculptors, musicians, designers, all of those who produce art of whatever kind. It seems to me a great many people who are not involved in art consistently undervalue both the final product and the people who create it.

I’m going to use the example easiest for me to quantify. Say there’s a painting you like but you don’t think it’s worth any more than say $20. Except that painting took the artist six hours to paint. Valuing that painting at $20 is telling the artist that their time is only worth $3.33 an hour. You wouldn’t work a job for that, would you? Fortunately, artists do what they do because they love doing it. Unfortunately, some of those artists are likely willing to let that painting go for $20 just because they want their work to be loved, to be seen.

For those who have no experience producing art, being driven to produce art, it’s easy to tell a painter or a writer that they should just get a real job if their work doesn’t pay the bills, but art is real work. It is hard, it is draining, it is fulfilling. If artists didn’t love what they do, they wouldn’t do it. It isn’t like working a regular job – there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to sell a piece in the first place, let alone make a profit on it. I could spend one or two hundred hours on a book that ends up in my trunk, never to see the light of day (and I have – those first few books are not good but were incredibly useful in learning what works and what doesn’t). I don’t really know many artists who don’t have to work a “regular” job or depend on their spouses to get by month to month. It does limit the projects they can take and the deadlines they can successfully make.

There is a very good example of what I’m trying, in my bumbling way, to explain. There’s a writer who set up a kickstarter in order to be able to focus on writing her book and she has been vilified for acknowledging that she would be using some of that money for *gasp* bills! Like she has to do if she wants to meet the deadline. She could have gotten a regular job, written the book in those few scarce hours of “free time” (if she doesn’t have kids), and then focused on publishing it but she wanted to make the book available much sooner than that and having the money to pay the bills while she focused on creating that book was part of it. Someone explained it much better than I can here. The whole issue is very frustrating for me.

The value of art is more than the sum of the time, supplies, and talent to produce it. Art makes us feel, makes us think, inspires us to be better. How do you go about putting a monetary value on that? Remember, next time you’re buying a book, a painting, a handcrafted piece of jewelry or clothing. Why are art and artists worth less than your latte? Why are we so willing to spend $5 on something that takes at most five minutes to make and balk at spending that same $5 on something that took months, if not years, to complete?

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