Why is Art so Expensive?

I have heard it a thousand times.  So has every other artist on the planet.  "I would buy your artwork if it didn't cost so much."  While it is discouraging, and it tends to force quite a few of us to undervalue our work, and settle for lowering our prices, I am going to try to explain in my oh-so-indelicate way, why that is a bad idea. I will also be trying to explain to the layman why art has a higher price, and how offensive it is to us to undervalue our work.

I make jewelry and do woodworking, so I will use these formats for my examples.  I am quite sure that potters, painters, sculptors, writers, and every other artist has exactly the same issues.  Some more and some less, but each artist faces these hurdles for each and every piece that they put their heart and soul into creating.

There are actual monetary costs for each and every piece that we create.  Again, some things cost more than others, and some art forms have negligable monetary costs to create.  But ALL have some expense that the artist has to put out even before he/she can produce a finished piece.

The piece that I am currently working on is a clock inlayed with turquoise, coral, and pyrite.  Since this one is fresh in my mind, I'll use it as an example.  It is one that actually had very little initial cost to make. (So far!!!)  It is an 8"x10" pine piece.  The blank wood cost $5.99, so we will call it $6.00, for simplicity sake.  I only use real stone for all of my work, but the crushed stone for the inlay isn't too awfully expensive.  I'd say I used about $7.00 worth of stone and epoxy to set the stone.  It is hard to say exactly, because I buy it in larger quantities, so I can get it cheaper...as most of us do.

Then, there is the stain, and polyurethane finish for it.  Again, each container can do a few pieces, so I'd estimate that was about $1.00.  The clock movement cost $6.50 because I got a good deal on it by buying ten at once. They normally go for just under $8.00. but I'll use the $6.50 actual cost.

That brings the cost, JUST for materials to $20.50. But what about the tools that I have to have in order to make it?  They do not just give them away.  Not to mention, that there are things like sandpaper and carving bits that wear out pretty quickly.  It is hard to estimate what this clock cost in wear and tear on my tools and in sandpaper, so I am not going to include those expenses. We'll just call it $20.50 in materials.

What should I ask for to cover these costs?  If I mark it to double the material cost, it will be a $41.00 piece.  But wait!  What about the time and knowledge it took to put it together?  Shouldn't that be worth something?  I should hope so.  I was planning on writing this, so I was keeping track of the time I spent on making this piece.  It isn't done yet, but it is close, so I will only count the time that I've put into it so far.  I still have about an hour of actual work left to go on it, so I'll leave that out of the time I put into this piece.

Sanding: 1 hour
Staining and finishing the wood: 15 minutes
Carving for inlay: 4.5 hours
Inlaying: 6 hours

There are a few other things that took some time, but not enough to worry about, so I won't add those either...That brings the time I spent working on this piece to 11.75 hours.  We'll call it 10, again for simplicities sake in the math.  If I charge $41.00 for this piece, that makes my time working on this piece to just over $2.10 per hour. Tell me...Would you do your job for $2.10 per hour? Isn't our time worth more than that?  Not to mention, the knowledge and artistic talent that we have honed, some for all of our lives.  

The vast majority of us do not create our art to get rich, but to bring a bit of beauty into the world in our own way.  But shouldn't at least our time be compensated?  And not at $2.00 per hour.  So, if you are an artist, this is something to keep in mind when you are pricing your work.  If you are a patron.  it is something that you really have to take into consideration before you tell an artist that they are charging too much for their hard work.  

And now you know why art is so expensive.