Saturday, May 17, 2008

Where are the cheap artists?

I must really be out of touch. I had to cover an art fair/show for work today so I was out wandering around, chatting with strangers and artists alike. It's what I do.

And looking at stuff. Paintings, photographs, sculptures, jewelry, glass pieces and wood and stone work. They were, for the most part, beautiful pieces and I found several of them I wouldn't mind having in my own home.

But not at $600 or more a pop. I saw a painting (GORGEOUS!) for $8,000. EIGHT-THOUSAND DOLLARS, people. Okay, the jewelry was a bit cheaper. I could have a hand-crafted necklace for the low, low price of $400. And it kind of looked like something I could run on over to Claire's and pick up for $15 or $20.

Folks weren't just browsing, they were buying, and apparently, after talking to some of the artists, buying a lot. Hubby and I do okay with our combined salaries and we're pretty close to a brand-new tax bracket, but I couldn't even begin to imagine plunking down a few thousand of my hard-earned bucks for a painting. Not when the Hobby Lobby sells prints for $20 and frames for $40 or so.

Not that I'd complain too much if I could pay those prices for art and not feel a twinge of guilt for such extravagant spending. But the guilt would get me. Seriously. I would feel all kinds of guilt.

As I watched these people buy high-priced art willy-nilly, I kept thinking that the high gas prices, high energy prices and economic "slow down" haven't touched them at all. Is it just us middle-and upper-middle class families who are starting to feel the pinch? Things don't hurt, yet, not for us any way. But I know a lot of people who are hurting and scraping more than they have ever had to scrape before. These are the same families who were in the position we are in now, and it's a position they were in not to long ago...they made enough to pay all the bills without worry and still have some left-over to play with. Now they are hurting. I'm starting to worry we won't be too far behind. We're already starting to cut some of the extras in preparation for even harder times, which I have a pretty solid feeling are on their way.

It's scary. We've worked so hard to get where we are, but it feels like the whole economy is working against us. You get ahead a bit and get stable, then everything starts going up and up and up, and your stable budget starts to make a little bit of noise.

I guess that means I won't be buying that $8,000 oil of an abandoned barn on a wide-open prairie with the dark storm clouds rolling in any time soon. And you know, I'm okay with that.


Krista said...

Yeah, I don't know what this recession thing is gonna do to us... at least we didn't buy a house, but we still can't afford one. :(
There was one painting we saw in New Orleans on the street about 9 months after we got married... it was amazing and it was $500. We seriously debated it and have always regretted not buying it. Drat! At least I have a small picture of it to remember it by.

Wendy said...

four digits for art is an ouch! i guess people are thinking it's an investment? or they're drunk?

duckrazzle said...

A bulletin board-type site to talk about bloggers!

It’s brand new – get it going the way you would like to see it! New topics at will, and forums by request are yours for the asking.

Blogs are a wonderful way for the blogger to express his or her viewpoint…but they don’t allow much feedback if you happen to disagree, or if you really agree and want to amplify on it. provides a clean slate for you to vent…praise…flame…whatever.

Jim Thomsen said...

You know the principle of "impulse buying"? This is "insecurity buying."

I think of wine as a salient parallel. There are many, many perfectly tasty, perfectly good $10 bottles out there. But I've seen people buy $40 or $50 or $80 bottles before parties or dinner gatherings or the like, and heard them say: "I can't bring a $12 cab-franc to Tyler and Melissa's house! What will they think of me?"

Taste is not price. And having money doesn't mean you have taste.

The lesson is: Get what you like.

The difference with street-fest art is that everything is negotiable. I once bought a nice framed black-and-white desert photo I really wanted from a Seattle street vendor. The price on the card in the corner of the frame was $175. I had about $140 to spend. We went politely back and forth until she finally agreed to sell me the picture for $125.

"In the end," she told me, "it's not the price so much as the appreciation. I can tell you really like my work, and that means more to me than anything else."

Nancy R said...

I saw you in the byline and wondered what the fair was like. We've never been...maybe some day when our kids are too busy for us, lol.

amy said...

$8000 is reasonable for a large oil painting. They can take a long time to paint, and even longer to dry (a year to completely dry all the way through, and longer if it's really thick). If you know art well enough, paying that much can be a great investment. You could get rich dealing in art.
It's a luxury item, for sure. Kinda like diamonds to me: why spend so much on a diamond when you can just buy a fake that looks the same?

Maybe that's why artists are somewhat crazy. We are just normal people with a pretty nifty skill, but to make money we gotta appeal to the rich folks. It can drive you to advertising. Ugh. (Or teaching, which is much better than most options in the art scene!)

Anonymous said...

I LOVE photography, and photographs. It is unreal the amount of money that a really nice photo costs, and these aren't always originals. I am learing how to take photos myself and hope to get some printed and hung..they will mean more to me that I've taken them and they are my memory.

We spent $250 on an oil painting, as an invenstment, and we liked it. It was by a recognizable painter and I think it will only increase in value.

Carla said...

My husband and I have the opportunity to travel alot. 99% of the time is because of work, but because we aren't the ones paying (at least half anyway) we get art that remind us of our journey. We still don't spend anything near 4 figures, but we get what we like.
Also with our jobs we are grateful every day that we don't have to pay for our own gas....yet!