Value of Art

The $200K Napkin

It is said that Picasso was at a Paris cafe when an admirer approached him and asked him to draw something on a napkin. 

Picasso, being polite, agreed and within minutes created- almost effortlessly- an original piece of art. As he stretched out his hand to offer up the napkin he asked the woman for a million Francs (worth about $200K today). 

The patron was shocked. How dare he expect so much money for something that took so little time to make?

His response, “It took me a lifetime to draw this in five minutes.”

A Lesson in Setting Value

This story stays at the forefront of my mind these days. I found out earlier this week that I will have my first print featured in a gallery exhibit in Texas. It was a far-fetched goal I included in my list for 2021, and it was being met far earlier than I expected. Now, I had the challenge figuring out what would be the price I would put on my art.

When I started The Inspired Storytellers, I wanted to make sure my family clients in particular were not just purchasing my time and receiving some virtual representation of themselves, but that their investment resulted in a final piece of family art. When it came to pricing I relied on my CODB (costs of doing business) to determine what my clients would have to invest. Because of the level of service I wanted to deliver, I knew I wasn’t going to be one of those photographers that relied on volume to make a living. 

Here’s the analogy I like to use when describing the difference between a “shoot-and-burn” photographer that quickly delivers just the digitals and a full service photographer, like myself, that will take the time to design and deliver photographs in some tangible form:

Let’s say you want to renovate your house for esthetic reasons (not repairs). You start speaking to contractors in an effort the price out the work and find someone you can trust to deliver on your vision. One contractor offers an amazing price. He will do all the work of buying the materials and delivering them to your home. He will even provide you a list of recommended electricians and plumbers, but ultimately you will have to do the work to put it all together. Another contractor promises to get all of your materials and complete each task by bringing the right service people into your home on a schedule that fits with your needs and timeline. 

There’s not a right or wrong answer to which contractor to hire. It is a luxury investment for your family, and you get to determine how much of the project you want to leave to the experts.

The Value of an Artist

That word, expert, brings me back to the initial story. 

For anyone that has ever gone to an art show and said, “Really? That’s art? I could have done that,” I hope the response you received back was, “But, did you?”

Creativity requires regular practice. We have to learn our tools and examine the history of the artists before us. We have to prove we know the “rules” of our craft before we can grant ourselves the permission to break them. And most of all, we have to overcome the fear of putting ourselves out there for the world to judge if we want our art to have a voice worth hearing.

In this day and age anyone can pick up my tool of creation, effortlessly make something with it, and then make a split-second decision to share or delete it. 

We can all create art. 

But, it takes practice, dedication, and consistency to become an artist with a clear voice that can create and deliver when asked.

So, when Picasso said it took a lifetime to create something in five minutes he meant that price reflected every minute he dedicated to becoming “an expert.”

A Personal Struggle

Developing my own voice has been one of the biggest challenges in my artistic endeavor. The fear I would be perceived as a “basic bitch” from suburbia with nothing unique to say has been overwhelming at times- especially during Covid. 

Before getting selected for this gallery exhibit, I had entered the same piece in four other artist calls without being chosen. When the acceptance letter arrived I was filled with a brief moment of elation before the imposter syndrome started. Does this work have any value to anyone beyond myself? 

The piece is the last of six abstract diptychs I made in late April 2020 when my business was shutdown. Ironically now (as I struggle to assign it a financial value), it is titled, “Lost Value.” 

Every morning I would come across an image of a mask or glove tossed on the ground while going through my newsfeed. The concept was tired, but so must have been the person wearing it to have discarded it in such a way, right? At least that’s what I read from these images. How something so valuable and in demand like PPE could end up as litter on the street- what a state we were in.

The idea came quickly- toilet paper tossed in a puddle. Something that in any other time is dependable- there when we need it- rarely a need to give it a second thought. All of a sudden it’s in high demand and scarce. Instead of doing our part to help manage the supply problem for everyone, we hoard for ourselves at every opportunity. 

As a mom, that’s kind of what I felt like. My role at home- though not much different than before- was in much higher demand. It was a dizzying time where every second had some sort of hair-on-fire emergency that required my attention. Meanwhile, my business- the creative outlet that fills my cup- was deemed “non-essential” and forced to close. I was everything and nothing at the same time. 

I developed a concept and produced two images in a total of 10 minutes- 20, if I include culling and editing.

If I priced this based off my usual CODB model, would I sell myself short? My costs included the roll of toilet paper, a pro-rated amount for the 20 minutes use of my tools and time, and the commission fee plus costs that the gallery imposes for the 16×20 matted and framed print. 

– $200 – 

How can one amount seem so much and so little at the same time? 

I should make it higher, right? That concept came from a very personal and poignant moment of my life as a mother, business owner, and struggling artist.

How much higher? $300? $600? What possible reason could I have to demand such a price?

Who would even buy this for $200, let alone something higher?

The negative self-talk took over – this definitely isn’t a $200K napkin.

“Lost Value” will be available to view and for purchase at the A. Smith Gallery ‘Diptych’ exhibit from March 12 to May 9, 2021.