(Yeah, crappy title for this post. Sorry about that. Couldn’t think of anything better… I promised Grace a blog post on this topic, but she sort of beat me to it. Her post focuses on the mathematics of how much time it takes for the kind of embroidery she does; some of those numbers are scary.)
I hear/read a lot of “reasons” why artists and craftspeople shouldn’t get paid even minimum wage (if they get paid at all), but I have yet to hear one that’s valid. So I’m going to address some of those invalid reasons…
“You have fun doing it, so you shouldn’t care if you make any money.”
These days, most of us need our hobbies to be self-supporting. That means that we need at least to make back the costs of our materials. Also, imagine what the world would be like if only people who hated what they did got paid for doing it. Not just artists and crafters, but everyone: teachers and doctors and chefs and bus drivers and dog groomers and the neighbor kid who does yard work for you… The world would become a seriously fucked-up place in no time at all.
“Art isn’t necessary, so artists shouldn’t get paid.”
Professional athletes aren’t necessary. They sure make a lot of money, though. On the other hand, teachers are pretty darn important to our society, and they get crappy pay, considering what’s expected of them. Besides, art is necessary, in all its forms, be those forms visual or otherwise. Musicians and filmmakers and photographers and painters and puppeteers and the lady down the street from you who excels at flower arrangement: they’re all doing something to make us more than worker ants marching in lines. Sometimes they volunteer their efforts, asking for nothing in return, but when they do, it’s a gift. Be grateful. Don’t tell them that what they do is worthless.
“Anyone can do that, so your time and skills are worthless.”
Fine. If anyone can do it, do it yourself instead of asking me — or anyone else — to give the time and skills away for free. Also, just because someone can do something doesn’t mean they will, or even want to.
“I can buy that at Wal-Mart for half that price.”
No, you can’t. You can possibly buy a similar type of item, but it won’t be the same by a long shot. You can buy a basic faux-leather belt at Wal-Mart for about $30; you cannot buy a hand-made, tooled belt of real leather for that — at least not one made here in the US where no one can scrape by on $50 a month.
“That isn’t real work.”
What definition of “work” are you using? Is it “not work” because it isn’t done at the command of a large corporation? Because it can be done sitting down?
Why do I even have a right to give a rat’s ass how much an artist is getting paid? Well, here’s the short version: I live with a couple of artists.
My twin makes miniature sci-fi vehicles out of plastic — scratch-built, not from kits. People on the forums where he posts photos of his work are generally quite impressed by his skill (and by how fast he makes things — OCD, when properly harnessed, can be an advantage). And yet, should anyone ask him how much he would charge to make something unique for them, they are usually angered that he would want to get paid at least as much for his time as, say, an underpaid burger-flipper.
Grace makes dolls. No, let me clarify that: She makes fabric sculptures that happen to somewhat resemble children’s playthings. Draws her own patterns (and makes jokes about that, for my amusement). Hand-sews everything, start to finish. Spends hours on even the more simple creations. One of her “critters” won Best in Show for its category in the art show at a BIG science fiction convention (Worldcon, if I recall correctly); others have appeared in a doll-making magazine. A charity organization commissioned not one but three dolls from her to use in a fundraiser. Everyone who sees her dolls loves them… and then most turn around and tells her that, because anyone can buy a mass-produced teddy bear at Wal-Mart for under $20, one of her critters should cost less than that.