The modern, successful artist provides entertainment.

“From today, painting is dead’ is allegedly a quote from French painter Delaroche after observing the first photographic process.

Of course, photography hasn’t taken the place of painting completely, but it has had its effect on the old 17th century profession of portrait painting. We may see photography now as an art form that can easily live side-by-side with fine art painters, but I am noticing an interesting overall shift in the art world from static art to entertainment.

What art do we really spend money on?

I don’t think any artform is dead or is going to be soon, but let’s face it, how many of us spend money on original art?

There are art collectors who buy original paintings and sculptures, but in my experience, most people who come to art shows are quite happy to spend a small amount of money on a nice art print. Places like Ikea, Pottery Barn and World Market also have a good collection of inexpensive prints, so you don’t even need to go to an art show. That has an impact on the value of artwork and the ability to be a professional visual artist. It’s tough to live on $30-$60 art prints.

I’m sure that also includes photographers, who probably feel the hit from the amazing camera apps and increasingly better phone cameras. You can take a half decent picture on your Iphone, use an app to enhance it and print it for $30 on canvas at Walmart. Who needs an artist? The photographer will tell you it’s not as good as a professional photo and a quality print and they’re probably right, but if you just want something colorful on the wall it’ll do and it may even come with good memories from the time the picture was taken.

If I think about what visual art I spend my money on, I must admit I’m more likely to buy a print at a Comic Con than original art. I think the last piece of original art I’ve bought was 16 years ago! I’ve bought plenty of cool art prints though.

I also buy concert tickets, Kindle books, go to the movies and occasionally I’ll pay for a music download from Itunes and I sometimes buy theater tickets. All of those have one thing in common, they’re a form of entertainment to pass the time. That’s also the one thing a piece of static art, like a painting or even airbrush art on a motorcycle doesn’t do. It’s cool and may make you stop to look at, but it doesn’t entertain for an hour or more. In fact, I will argue that riding a motorcycle with or without airbrush art is equally entertaining.

But I’m a dinosaur, I know that younger generations don’t typically buy music, but stream it or download it for free from Youtube. If you dig hard enough on the internet you don’t need to pay for an ebook either (sorry writers). Movies can be watched on various streaming services or Youtube. Although going to the movies, going to a concert and going to the theater are tough to replace, because it’s an event. It’s also a moment to lose yourself and if anything, something to brag about on social media.

Entertainment is key

If we are only willing to pay for artists to entertain us, then especially us artists of static, visual art, need to rethink what we’re doing if we want to live of the proceeds of our art.

Hard work

I think we’ve come to a point where the artist with professional aspirations needs to be part of a medium that people do spend money on. That means providing entertainment. But I also think the successful artist needs to work harder than ever. Look at any successful musician. With money from music album sales dwindling and streaming services paying pennies, musicians are forced to hit the road more often and longer in addition to composing and recording new material.

Youtubers seem like a bunch of young men and women who just play games with the camera on, but these men and women work hard! Many hours go into creating all that online content. If they miss a beat, they lose many subscribers. Some of them are even touring now, going from online to live entertainment. I’m going to see Markiplier in January in a theater in Denver. Many podcasters, such as Mark Brickey from Adventures in Design and The Minimalists, tour the country many months of the year.

Want to write novels? You had better be prolific and when you’re not writing, make those book tours! It’s no different for anyone in the movie and theater industry. Right before a movie comes out, you see the actors hit the talk shows on TV.

Make a choice

I think as artists we have come to a point where you must make a choice: Set your life and family aside and work the many, many hours to be successful in a form of entertainment, where there still is money to be made, or accept that your art is a side business and enjoy creating it, without the pressure of making money doing it.

Art Pricing III – Custom art on objects

Art Pricing for commissioned work on objects

The first time I had my hockey goalie mask painted, I wasn’t working as an artist yet. I had bought a brand-new mask. I remember that my budget for the paint job was (arbitrarily chosen, I admit), no more than what I had spent on the mask. After all, in my mind it was just decoration, whereas the function of the mask, to protect my noggin, was worth much more. The idea that the paint job was skilled art work that takes much more time than to create a mass-produced goalie mask and therefore should cost more, never crossed my mind. I looked at the art pricing from the consumer’s perspective, not the artist’s.

A goalie mask will set you back on average around $500. OK, there are more expensive ones and cheaper ones. To paint a goalie mask typically takes me around 2 weeks, including preparation for painting and clear coating. Of course, I don’t work on it a solid 8 hours a day – I’m also a stay-at-home dad and I usually work on more than one project at a time.The artist airbrushing a goalie mask.

If I was to divide the price my customers pay for a goalie mask paint job by the hours I spend on it, it comes to a little over minimum wage. I avoid doing that. It’s depressing. If I priced the paint jobs properly by the hour at what I think it should cost, the cost to paint a goalie mask would be prohibitive for most goalies.

The Art Pricing Value Gap

I call that the art pricing value gap. The difference between what the value of a piece of art should be or is even perceived and what the customer is willing to pay for it.

I think most of my customers would agree after I paint something for them, that the value of the paint job is far higher than what they paid. However, budget constraints simply won’t let them pay that. That’s OK and understandable. We all know this struggle.

So once again, my father’s wise words, that you price an item to what the fool is willing to pay hold up. However, in this case it really backfires.

The value of doing what you enjoy

Why do it then? Well, I could spend my time in an office, making much more than I do, performing a job I don’t want to do, 8 hours a day? Not in corporate America, where you’re required to show your commitment to the company by working many more hours than the regular work week.

Or, I could make a lot less, but do what I want, be my own boss and enjoy what I do and spend more time with my family, which all makes me happy! That’s a choice I made.

Not all jobs are like the goalie masks though. I find that the higher the value of the object you paint, the more people are willing to pay. My motorcycle customers are willing to pay more than my goalie mask people.

Of course, there are occasionally exceptions, but I think many of my colleagues in the custom art world will agree that they prefer not to divide what they get paid by the number of hours they put into a project.

Lastly, my airbrush teacher had looked at it in a positive light: “Every dollar of profit you make, is more than you had in your pocket yesterday”. I’m not so sure that that holds up when you look at your total business accounting, but it puts things nicely in perspective. Enjoy what you do and be grateful for that.

Art Pricing II – Art Business Decisions

Know your expenses

If your art is your business, you need to have a good overview of your expenses. By knowing that, you can know how much you need to make to breakeven and to make a profit.

In part 1 of this series I talked about a base price. That base price is not chosen randomly. Based on your expenses you need to figure out how much you need to make to cover those expenses and then some more for profit.

For me, expenses include paying for my domain name, webhosting, email service to use that domain name, art materials, marketing materials like business cards and event materials (canopy, banners etc), tools, insurance, admin etc.

Knowing what that is, you can figure out, if I make $X on a painting, how many should I sell in a year to cover my expenses. More strategically: How many do I need to sell to not just make breakeven, but to make whatever profit I want to make?

Creating income

You could gamble on selling one original painting for $50,000 if that’s your yearly goal, but more realistically you figure out how many pieces you can realistically paint in a year. How many you expect to sell within a year. How much should you then get for your paintings? That will get you closer to that base price. Over that you need to add any cost of materials, packaging and maybe commission. How does the price look now? Would your customer pay that or do you need to adjust? In that case, do you need to increase yearly production to be able produce and sell more? How can you do that without giving up quality? Do you need to add other revenue streams? If so how and what?

These are all important business decisions. It’s an ongoing process called running your business. There is never a single, final answer.

Choosing creative freedom over business

This may not be how you envisaged being an artist. Maybe you’re more idealistic, maybe you just want to create your art, regardless of cost, profit and demand. That’s OK, but then you need to be prepared to supplement your art career with other income streams (a different full-time job). There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that’s how a lot of the most progressive artwork is produced, sometimes with dramatic success, far beyond those of us who try to immediately run art as a business.

I’ve read a few times that if you do that, ‘art is just your hobby’, I disagree, you can be a professional artist and still supplement your income with other jobs. I think most artists do one way or another.

This is the great thing about art, the freedom to be an artist however you want. In fact, the way many folks in the corporate world often look with jealousy at my freedom as a commercially minded artist, I feel a pang of jealousy when I meet the artist who truly creates what he or she wants, without the constraint of commerce, especially when they are as successful as I dream to be….

In part III of this series I will talk about how I price my commissioned airbrush and custom paint jobs…