"How long does it take to make this oil painting?"
This is the most notorious question artists get. Viewers really have no idea what it takes, and artists don't even know where to begin answering this question, because it involves a thorough explanation of not just ONE piece of art for us. By getting this question often, it took me a while to understand that people just want to open up a conversation with us, and they often don't know how to do it differently. Like many artists I used to get confused, intimidated, and even angry at times being bumped by it. What it meant for me back then that people didn't see much value in my work and thus questioned me. I think of it quite different now.
In general, viewers try to calculate or connect the objectivity of high pricing with the time artist spends painting the particular work. On the surface it looks expensive, overpriced, too much money, you get the idea. Artists, on the other hand, think of a lifetime of EFFORT, misery, bills, and COST associated with the ART-making chosen as a career that can't be quantified into a certain number of hours spent on one work.
So here is a partial list or a breakdown if you will of some costs artists accrue producing realist painting:
Besides the obvious tuition and living costs most students have (that run into many thousands of dollars), artists don't become artists in four to six years after college graduation. This profession starts with zero job prospects or security, and builds up to something meaningful over a very long period of time of hard work and dedication. That means a continued struggle, a reconciliation of the need to paint and to make money to pay the bills and to buy a ton of art supplies, until the one glorious day. Waking up on that sunny morning, knowing that the artist is good at his job and can begin selling his/ her artwork.
· It takes A LONG time to learn how to paint realistically.
There are no cute formulas or shortcuts. No one learns it overnight! It's a skill that takes an artist's continuous effort and focus. Until very recently, there were no realist schools available to get a comprehensive education from, which magnified the problem and effort to achieve a certain skill level. Of course, there are exceptions. There are super talented artists who haven't spent as much time learning, but such instances are rare.
Those who have no time to do their art don't become artists. Fear of instability takes away their need to paint from them.
· Artists don't just hang out at art festivals, fairs, or their shows enjoying the limelight of attention.
Well, maybe for a little bit but... It also involves a lot of effort, persistence, and investment. On average, a popular festival's booth fees run around $450-$500/per a 1-3 day show plus application fee, hotel, gas, rented van, and finally the cost of a good booth itself with professional walls that costs around $2,500 on average. Many artists hit the road for months doing such shows and festivals traveling from one state to the next, working way over 8 hours a day.
Work at the festivals includes not only the artist's time present at the booth all day, but also the time and effort to set up and to break down (usually early in the morning and late in the evening,) time to carry, pack, unpack and pack again a number of heavy, framed paintings. Costs paid to enter juried shows and festivals run anywhere from $10 to $45 per artwork, $35 on average.
· Custom framing costs a fortune, it can literally cost more than an artwork, but many artists invest into their frames because it gives them professional presentation that is often required, by the way, to display their work in juried shows.
· Time to market artwork (emails, presentations, social media, research, writing, contacting galleries and editors) takes A LOT of time and effort to do it consistently.
· Art supplies
First, artists spend hundreds of dollars on art supplies every year as we keep learning and practicing for years. This is a continuous expense like going to a grocery store each week. Second, when the time is right, the artist transitions to professional, durable, lightfast materials that cost a lot more that cheaply manufactured canvases and paints. The result is different. Expensive art supplies let artists create long lasting, museum-quality pieces, unlike the junk that would fall apart quite soon. Do you know what you buy? Often times if artist doesn't share this information with you, you can't tell visually.
· Other ordinary expenses, like the office costs that include professional photo equipment, a storage file for artwork, a scanner and a printer, often a video camera and tons of inks and photo paper.
· To stand out from the crowd, some artists chose to advertise that accrues to yet another hefty expense.
· Artist's price of an artwork includes the 50% mark up, sometimes 60-65% that galleries take selling artist’s work.
· Attitude towards artists in our society: not that much respect, stereotyping, and generalization.
“Lazy artists,” “starving artists,” “stupid artists…” We have become the 2nd class citizens because we often allow it to happen, and because art is sort of everywhere today. Sometimes we don’t even pay attention to it, it’s just there. This is one of the hardest costs artist encounter. As the society has moved from scarce products production to consumerism, artists got pushed to the side. A lot of work got devalued by, being in a direct competition with the Chinese cheaply made goods and mass-produced items. This trend multiplies by people's needs and desires that include purchases of a new piece of technology rather than a small artwork, for example. Even the multitude of options of buying art prints has cheapened the value of art even further. As a result many folks don't see that much value in an artwork, which can only be seen as valuable when buyers understand how hard it is to produce an exceptional piece, and that's the only one available. The ONLY ONE. The only one that gives you JOY and may even be HEALING. The one that connects with you emotionally and often intellectually. When we look at history, we often study it through art, as artists improve lives in meaningful ways and make powerful contribution to society.
· What is an exceptional piece?
I think the word ART has lost or changed its original meaning, evolving into many facets of artful creations that redefined the uniqueness and value of art. Moreover, there is plenty of bogus "art" that receives attention due to smart marketing campaigns, and many get lost trying to understand what's really valuable and what is not. It's rare to see someone admitting that he or she doesn't get art.
Finally, I get to that original question. "How long does it take to make this oil painting?"
It involves: sketching and planning, a color study, hand-stretching and further preparation of canvases, a set up creation, a precise drawing, and yes, painting... Painting in layers for many days, depending on size and detail. Varnishing. Framing. So the time spent painting one piece equals to two weeks of work plus 10 to 15 years of learning the craft of painting, including everything else listed above. Do I answer your question? ;)
If you'd like to hit a meaningful conversation about painting, feel free to ask these questions:
"What's the process behind your work?"
"Where does the inspiration come from?"
"Where do ideas come from?"
"How do you achieve this or that?"
You get the drift.
*This list also applies to many abstract painters who often spend the same time and effort to produce and sell art.
*I dedicate this blog post to all the brave artists out there who have the courage to stay on their path.
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