What goes into a piece of art?

"the unexpected vista" exhibition at the Brickton Art Center, Park Ridge, IL, 2015

It has been almost 4 years since I have created a body of work especially for an exhibition. This year I had a solo show at the Brickton Art Center in Park Ridge, Illinois. I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on this past experience and write about what goes into making a body of work. Often times I hear people judge a work of art based on the price and immediately label it as ‘expensive’.

I knew from the beginning that I wanted to share my thoughts with you on a constant struggle that we, as artists, have when it comes to our own practice. My hopes is that this blog post can be used as a way to educate others on what exactly goes into a piece of art.

My first text-based photograph sent via Instagram
Lake Michigan, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 2013

I would like to start to talk about my current body of work called, “the unexpected vista”. This idea started about two years ago as I was driving along Lake Michigan in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. I parked the car and took a photo of the water with my smartphone. This photo was soon edited with text and shared via social media. I found myself creating more images like this more often especially when I traveled. I was surprised by the frequency of these text-based photos I was sharing online. After living in Sheboygan for over a decade I began to wonder if my environment was beginning to influence my ideas, ways to execute them in my studio, and how to present them to the public.

Thinking back to my first Instagram photo (above) to what “the unexpected vista” became today (2015) has provided me with this opportunity to share what goes into producing a body of work. So grab a cup of Joe, sit in a comfortable chair, and feel free to share your thoughts by commenting below.

As an artist it is my responsibility to keep track of what goes into a piece of art or in this case a body of work. This includes expenses and my time. By recording what the expenses are, reflecting on the current art market (pricing history/CV), and paying myself an hourly wage should provide an accurate retail price for each work produced. What I have found to be difficult is to compensate for my time unless I am working on a commission where I can estimate what the work will cost to produce.

Please keep in mind that I am reflecting on my own practice. Every artist’s practice and pricing varies.

Below is a list of expenses I incurred as I began to prep my work, produce, and transport for my solo exhibition at the Brickton Art Center, April 1-25, 2015.

Expenses + Costs

  • Frames, glass, hanging hardware, $450                                  
  • Printing of Photographs, $90                                                      
  • Mat board, foam board, glass cleaner, $97                                 
  • Gas, $70                                                                                         
  • Food , $29 
  • Hotel, $222

Total……. $958

This total does not include the hours I spent creating the work.

Photo by Dale KnaakI created 10 (ten) hand-lettered, text-based photographs. Each piece took me 3 hours to complete. If I gave myself an hourly wage of $25, then my cost to produce these 10 (ten) photographs would cost $750 to produce. In Addition to the photographs I created 4 (four) paintings, which took about 2-4 hours to complete at $25 per hour. This would add another $200 to $400 to the $750. Finally, I created 16 (sixteen) pen & ink drawings for a total of $400 for a total of $1350 to $1550 to produce these works.

Grand Total: To sum up it would have cost $958 + $1350/$958 + $1550 = $2308 to $2508 to produce this body of work. This total does not include cost of materials, traveling, and the number of hours thinking, sketching, and problem-solving/trial-n-error with process.

Artists are driven to make art. Through their art they communicate their world.

I would like to point out that the artist’s current pricing history, gallery commissions, and/or their own buying market drives the artist’s price for a given work of art. So when you see a painting, photograph, sculpture, etc on exhibit in a gallery take in consideration that the gallery assesses a commission for all sold work. Most galleries take about 50% of the retail price so if the artist wants $250 for one of his paintings then the retail price will need to reflect the gallery’s commission resulting in a new retail price of $500.

Visiting galleries, receptions, art festivals, art fairs, artist studios, and artist websites are great ways to experience art. Talking to artists, curators, gallery owners, and other art aficionados is a great way to educate yourself about the work. Artists pour their souls into their work. You are not only buying a work of art, but also investing in the artist’s journey.

Next time you find yourself face to face with a work of art that you are drawn to I encourage you not to pass a quick judgment based on price listed on a label. Instead, think about why you are drawn to this specific artwork. Also, what is the artist communicating, how did the artist create the work and what materials were used. Perhaps read the artist statement, artist’s biography, and curricula vitae (if available) before you decide that a work of art is too expensive.

I believe it is important to educate others on what goes into a work of art; not just expenses to make the artwork, but also the planning and prepping phases involved. This has to start with the artists first. 

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