I have had the opportunity several times in recent months to talk about what one's work is worth. This summer, I had a very memorable conversation with Shawn about how to price work. She makes hooked rugs, painted wood objects and children's clothes for sale at high end craft galleries and she sells her work herself. She said a very wise thing, which I remember as being something along the lines that it is impossible to actually make what your time is worth so you price what the market will bear and if that makes you enough to live on, then that is enough because you are doing what you love. It makes so much sense to me, especially where Wee Ball Yarns are concerned. By the time I have washed the fleece, dyed it, carded it, spun it, there are so many hours involved that I would have to price a 50g skien at about $300. But since I do actually want to sell some yarn, I don't price it according to those standards. I have researched what the market is for a similar product and I priced accordingly. Maybe even a little lower in the hopes of attracting some loyal customers. But the end result is that, were I to measure my worth in an hourly wage, the result would be pitiful.
When it comes to my artwork, it is a whole other thing. I have been deeply influenced by a book called "The Gift" by Lewis Hyde. In it, he maintains that artist's talents are a gift to society and he spends a good deal of time discussing the method and results of how we attach a price to those gifts. He also talks a lot about gift economies and what exactly a gift is. This book has certainly shaped how I think about The House Museum and its role in the community. It also, increasingly, has made me less and less interesting in making money off my art. What a dangerous thing! I still apply for grants and very sincerely hope to receive them, but I have very little to sell and I am not terribly interested in selling anything. I like...no, I love giving my work away. On principle. I love it because it completely negates all the ugly, messy stuff about making art a commodity and the business of the art world, which is a business first and foremost, like any other. And in this hyper-commodified world, I love simply not participating. When you give a gift, the value is in the eyes of the receiver. When you sell something the value is whatever is on the price tag.
When I participated in the 25th anniversary project for Art in General with my piece on Canal Street where I made (well, Patti made too) 60 granny square afghans for each street light, stop light and sign post along the street, I allowed the afghans to be taken by passers-by. Of course it was initially a difficult thing to do given the amount of work that went into them. But it was also a heady experience. But one of the crowning moments was when one of the gallery assistants told me that her boyfriend had been walking near Canal Street some time later and a possibly homeless person was selling some stuff on a blanket. Her boy friend saw one of my afghans, so he bought it. A totally new economy was created! Her boyfriend was thrilled, the homeless person made some money, and it made me very, very happy.