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The Worth of Creativity

I was having a discussion recently with some friends about artworks are priced. Some are in the creative industry so understand the struggle but there are other who aren’t and genuinely didn’t understand the costs that go into making a piece of art. It got me thinking that perhaps this is the norm and on the whole people see a painting and not the factors that go into that. (I use the term painting here as I’m writing this from my perspective but this is applicable to anyone working in the creative field who produces a final product for sale).

Pricing an artwork is something that most artists I know find a very difficult thing. It’s something I really struggle with as well. People are very free with their generally very contrasting advice when it comes to the price of an artwork. There are two main trains of thought: “don’t overprice or no one will want it”, “don’t under price it as people won’t think it’s worth anything”…What do you do? How do you win when those are the two options? Where’s the Goldilocks of artwork pricing?

Here’s the thing, there are a lot of factors that go into the price of an artwork. This is what some people forget. Most people who ask about my art are amazing, wonderful and supportive humans who see the worth of a painting. There are however the few individuals who don’t. Some people want to haggle, they ask for the price and upon hearing it offer a quarter of the price then get irritated when you say that’s less than the canvas cost (in a nice way obviously). Or you get told they have a really small budget that wouldn’t buy them a printed canvas from a home decor store and want an enormous custom commission. I genuinely think this is just due to a lack of understanding of what art supplies cost and not them just trying to take you for a ride but it’s still a little disheartening. This has only happened a few times to me but having to justify why something is priced as it is is a really difficult thing to do. You know why but having to stand up for yourself when you need work to sell is hard, but underselling yourself is worse and that’s a hard lesson to learn.

The number one thing I think people forget to factor in is labour. My 20 hours of painting is equivalent to 20 hours of any other kind of employment. It’s necessary to make it clear that these are not mass produced things, they are handmade items that aren’t just rolling off a production line. And then there’s factoring in experience. Most artists have worked to master their skills. They’ve studied, experimented and spent literal years getting to that skill level. In any other field we would gladly pay for that expertise but lots of artists don’t factor their labour into their pricing as then it would be ‘too expensive’.


Then there’s art materials. Canvases are expensive, especially if you want a custom size. We’re talking easily over R1000 just for the canvas if it’s about A1, R750ish if it’s stock. A 75ml tube of fairly average paint is going to set you back about R65, a nice tube about R100. That’s one tube of paint. 75ml doesn’t really go very far. Then there’s priming, brushes (minimum R50 a brush) and anything else you work with.

Other things are studio costs, proper packaging materials, couriering costs, photographing with a high quality camera, editing and the editing software needed to do said editing…behind the scene costs as it were.

The final thing is the love that goes into the piece. You can see if the artist doesn’t care about what they do. I know that’s not an actual quantitative factor but I think it’s genuinely important to buy work from someone who loves what they do.

So there you go. A small breakdown of how you get to a price. Obviously as people get more well known you’ll pay more for their work, that’s a given, but for most of us those are the things we have to factor in to break even on a piece, not even make a bit extra to be able to buy more materials to do it again and have a bit left to live on.

I believe in fair pricing, I want to cover my materials and be able to pay my bills at the end of the month. I will never try to take advantage of people trying to buy my work, I respect you too much, and would like to thank you for giving me the same respect (except for the lady who offered me R100 for a 1.2m x 1m canvas, that was a bit of a slap in the face!). The conversations I have with people on social media about my art are great so I just wanted to share this for the few that perhaps don’t see the worth of creativity.

Liffey Joy