Lessons in Value

Halfway through my Fine Arts Degree, a professor told an anecdotal story about an early experience he had selling his art. As young artists, we were curious about making money. Let’s be honest no one wants to be a starving artist. I listened, hoping to take a nugget of information away that might possibly help me earn some coin and place a value on my own creations. In his story, he had a garage sale because he was moving. He had a large stack of drawings on a table with a sign written in black marker: Five Dollars. No one even looked at the drawings. Since they were not selling, he decided for the sake of clearing things out of his garage he’d give a drawing away every time someone purchased something from the garage sale. A chair would be sold and he’d roll up his drawing with an elastic and give it to
person who bought the chair. More often than not, his art was refused, even when he offered it for free! He could not give his drawings away.

A few years later, a local gallery recognized his talent and took him in as one of their up-and-coming artists. The very drawings that he could not hand off to people were now being sold for hundreds of dollars because the gallery said so. My young artist mind was hit in the face with a bag of metaphorical money. Just like that, the minute someone decided what his art was worth made it so.

Many years later, I had an art show in which I sold multimedia pieces for small amounts. Two years after that, I had another exhibit at the University Club. The curator asked me how much I’d be selling the pieces for once the show opened. I used the same prices from the last exhibit. He looked shocked. “Angie, you’re giving it away. Don’t do that. You love your pieces. Value them. If they don’t sell, you have beautiful work you get to keep. If they do sell, you’ve given them a fair price and should be happy with parting with each piece.” I thought about what the curator had said in his most gentle way. I doubled and tripled the price of all the pieces in the show. I sold more than I had hoped and not one buyer batted an eye when it came time to pay and leave with an original work of art.

Apply it to writing

This was another good lesson. The works I create are worth it. So is my time. Now I must apply the same idea to writing. Business is a big part of the world of the creative endeavor. The art sale is more of a one-to-one exchange. I make the art. The art is then sold to an individual. From me to you on a price we’ve decided. That’s it (unless you’re in a gallery).

Writing on the other hand seems much more complicated. If it’s a script, there are producers and the cost of the film. There are union wages and there are non-union wages. If the creation is a novel, it’s many people purchasing it over and over. Yet, the one thing that is similar about my experience with visual art and writing is that my time is worth something and so is my skill. If I give it away, I never place any value on it. If I decide to place a price on it, some people may not pick it up. It’s a risk but it is also that lesson that my professor taught me—by giving it (the product and my time) value it becomes valuable.

What’s it worth

I want to be the one (with my writing partner, of course) who decides what our bottom line is. I want to create a clear boundary in the value of the product. Creations are so connected to us that the value we place on it is almost a value we place on ourselves. It is almost a ‘what am I worth’ experience.

Money is a form of energy and it must be fairly exchanged to feel good within us. If it’s not enough, we feel like we’ve been robbed on some level, depleted, ripped off. If it’s too much that feels uncomfortable too, leaving us thinking, “When are they realizing they gave too much and coming back for a refund?”

I have offered so many times when at book signings that if a person hates the books we’ve written, they should email me and I will happily put 20$ in an envelope and send it to them. I guarantee they will enjoy themselves and get 20$ worth of entertainment. No one has emailed to ask for their money back.

Before I started writing formally, I was watching the 2003 Emmys and Debra Messing won an award for Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Will and Grace. In her speech she said “All I ever wanted my whole life was to be a working actress and I am so grateful.” Her words stick with me because my goal is to be a working writer. For that I would be so grateful.

They always say, “If we do what we love, the money will come.” I do believe this.

*Written in part December 19, 2014


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