Why is your photographic art so expensive?

I saw this at Barnes and Noble the other day.  It seemed a good visual representation of what artists are up against when selling their art. Often, potential buyers have no idea of the value and work involved.

I saw this at Barnes and Noble the other day.  It seemed a good visual representation of what artists are up against when selling their art. Often, potential buyers have no idea of the value and work involved.

Overheard at an exhibition: "Why do these photographs cost more than the paintings?"

I've said it before and I'll say it again. It is up to us, the artists to teach the art buying public about the value of our art.

"You only have to push a button to take a picture"

And because "it's so easy for anyone to push a button. Anyone could have taken this picture. I could have taken this with my cell phone."

"The Mystic Dark Secrets" (C) Rebecca LaChance, 2017, Keymar, MD.  This is the image the visitor thought she could take with her cell phone, or just press a button on a camera.

"The Mystic Dark Secrets" (C) Rebecca LaChance, 2017, Keymar, MD.  This is the image the visitor thought she could take with her cell phone, or just press a button on a camera.

What is your favorite artwork among the "photographs"?

Let's take a little mental stroll through a "teaching moment."  The image above (The Mystic Dark Secrets) happened to be the questioner's choice.

Me:  What is it about this artwork that attracts you?

Her:  There is just something about the horse's face and the way it's looking at the woman.

Me:  I wonder what the connection between them is?

Her:  It seems to be connected to her thoughts somehow.

Me:  Is there something in the artwork that makes your eye see that connection?

Her:  The horse just seems really close to her.

Me:  I think you're right. Look how they are connected. (Then I trace the imaginary line that travels from the tip of Daisy's ears, down her face, through the woman's shoulder and down to her right (as you look at it) hip.  I think the artist had to plan for a way to show the connection between the two of them. I wonder if there is anything else in the art that moves you?

Her: I think it feels gentle. Does that make sense?

Me: That makes complete sense!  I think this is one reason why it feels gentle (and then I trace all the repeating curves.) See all these curves? They're soft edges that makes the art feel soft and maybe even a bit feminine. I'm pretty sure the artist had to plan for the curves and the poses of the woman and the horse - as much as a horse will pose - to achieve those repeating curves.

Her:  I really like how the horse's face stands out.

Me: Oh yes it does, doesn't it? The artist had to watch for the sunlight and colors to make the horse's head and face so prominent.  I don't think that light "just happened." The artist knew where the light was going to be and how she could use it.

Her:  I like how it seems so dreamy.

Me:  That is a very artistic touch.  It requires a lot of planning and artistic vision to make that dreaminess you like...you know, as I look at this piece, I realize the artist had to be standing in the river as well. 

Her: (Laughing) I don't know that I would have done that!

Me: I suspect an artist with this depth of creative skills probably has a studio. It costs money to run a studio just like any other storefront. I bet the cost of the artwork reflects running a business, her artistic skills, and what goes into the actual production of what you're enjoying on this wall.  It's just like how your auto mechanic charges for his work.

Her:  But paintings take a long time to paint...

Me:  Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.  How long do you think it took the artist to produce this piece of art that you like?

Her:  ...maybe it took longer than I thought. I really don't know.

Me:  Well, let's see...she had to drive to this river spot with the woman to scout if it was a good background. She had to time the sunset at the spot. Just to be conservative, let's say scouting took an hour. And don't forget her round trip travel time. Then she had to draw out what she wanted to create, plan the composition (all those lines and curves, posing, lighting) and choose the clothing for the woman. On the chosen day, she drove back to the area with the woman and horse with all her photographic equipment.  The actual session probably took between one and two hours.  All three of them were in the water for one or two hours! (Plus drive time round trip.) Then she had to go home and create what you see here, including the printing and hand rubbed finish. That might have taken days. Did you notice the paper?  Look how it was selected for the texture it adds to the art. Now, we have to put a value on her years of training, experience, and equipment that led to this artwork.

Her:  Yes, but the photographer can make thousands of copies. They just get more prints made.

Me:  That could be true.  And painter's can do the same thing. They can have thousands of prints made also.  I think you're suggesting the ability to make more prints should make the artwork less valuable? Am I correct?

Her: Exactly!

Me: By that reasoning, then, a painter's work would be less valuable also. The more prints that exist, the less scarce or valuable the art.  I happen to know this artist only makes one print of her photographic art. It's scarce and therefore, more valuable.

Her:  But the paintings are so cheap in comparison to this. Why?

Me:  I don't know what process some other artists use to price their art. Sometimes artists don't know how to put a value on their artwork. However, the artist has to price her art to cover all her expenses and for herself to be paid a living wage.  The better the artist, the higher the prices.  It's the same in any business.  To be an artist is to be a business person.

Me:  May I ask you, do you still think anyone could push the button on a camera and produce this piece of art?

Her: Mmmmmm...maybe not.

What are your thoughts?

A teachable moment.  I can only hope the visitor took our conversation to heart and will share it with her family and friends.

What other points would you have added to this conversation?  Would you have felt comfortable talking to a potential buyer about pricing?  I love to read what your thoughts are.  Please comment below, over on the Facebook page, or send an email.

How to price your work

If you feel stymied about pricing your artwork, I recommend the free Pricing Your Artwork Guide.

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Happy Sunday, everyone!