Monday, December 16, 2013

Why I Don't Sell My Art

Sometime shortly after I finished my first mosaic guitar, I was met with a familiar feeling. It's a slightly manic and charged emotion and although it feels good, it's really not.
This feeling is best described as "I could sell this and make a TON of money".

However, like most bad feelings, it's pretty detrimental.
When this feeling enters into my mind-set, my production rate sky-rockets. My quality doesn't suffer too much and my rational thinking disappears. I start to make things for some unseen audience. That effects every choice I make. Like I said, it really doesn't effect the quality too much, but it ceases to be an emotional endeavour. It also causes me to "rank" my pieces, "This one isn't good enough for selling, I should just pass it off..." bla, bla, bla.

At the very core of this is the fact that NOTHING of mine ever sells. Doesn't matter how good, original, well-crafted, high quality, beautiful, etc. my things are. The bottom line is they never sell.
The painted tennies.
The children's furniture.
The mosaics.

After 25 years of this, I can honestly say I couldn't sell a dollar for fifty cents...
I've never even aspired to that. It is like a strange, alien land that whole sales thing.

I plod along. Time heals a multitude of wounds and dulls the memories. I got really PUMPED UP after making Laura's mermaid guitar. I dove back into mosaics with a vengeance. So after a big summer of major mosaic making, I had a small show at a shop in town.
I sold a few little things, but not enough to warrant the 11 weeks of work and pounds of tile I'd bought.

And right then and there I gave it up.

I spent the following week feeling down. Unmotivated. I didn't want to start any more projects. I realized it was the feeling of failure that had dampened my drive. "Feeling" of failure. Because, when you look at it, I didn't fail. I only was unable to get a big pat on the back from a monetary source. Granted, our society is 99.9 wired into gratification and validation from financial sources, but certainly I'm better than that. Aren't I?

Mostly what I disliked and actually dreaded were the conversations about what I "should" do. There's a certain groove you "should" have to self-promote. Everyone has an opinion. E-v-e-r-y-o-n-e.

I know it is because we are all consumers. We all buy things therefore we all fancy ourselves a bit of an expert on what makes things sell. Despite what I know in my heart are people's good intentions, these conversations always made me feel awful. Talking about selling made me feel more of a failure as people addressed skills and strategies that I could never dream of having, and above that, skills I don't even want to have. Being good at sales is like aspiring to be a gymnast. I admire it, am in awe of it but I know there's no way on God's green earth I could ever do it. And again, I don't want to.

No one has anything bad to say about my work.
Not about the quality or creativity or color choices or anything.
What I do get are loads of comments about how expensive it is. It feels a little silly that it would just dawn on me that I couldn't make a small living selling my art...but here we are.

My mosaic shoes and skulls are small items. However, they take about 14-18 hours to complete each one. Then there's the cost of tile, grout, adhesive, etc. It adds up.
And most people would like to pay about, oh, $35 for one.
It's laughable and sad.

This is what Target/Wal Mart/Ross has done to us. Everything is disposable. Everything is replaceable and thus, NOTHING has value.

When you make something FOR someone, it is very different.
I've made a few quilts. When you are sewing that quilt for someone you know, you think about that person the entire time.
When you knit a sweater for someone, you have that person in your head every stitch.
When you are finished, your end product is elevated to a realm that is untouchable. It may not look that way to anyone else, but it will to you the creator.
There is no way to put a price on that. The validation is between you and the recipient.

Tom's guitar

Back to the failed sales at the show:
I decided shortly after that to NOT try to sell my work. I would continue to make things as I desired.
 If I found a worthy recipient, all the better.
It became just as difficult to discuss this "new" groove as the old one. People, friends, family all were stubbornly arguing against just giving the art away.
Key word in that last sentence? "just". It implies a weakness or a step down in stature.
"I'm just a stay at home mom."
"It's just an old sweater."
" It's just what we do in my house."
There's a silent apology hidden in there, but it is NOT how I feel when I just give the art away.

It is also difficult to explain that making art---and knowing full well you are NOT going to be compensated with money---is my WORK. People want to label it a hobby or tell me I'm spoiled in that I get to play around all day, but I see it very differently. It is my work and I am not ashamed by it nor do I really feel any need to defend it. I am LUCKY in that I can do my work and not have to take a salaried job. For now at least.

Without getting too weird, when I give something away, it does feel as if I've released a bird to the sky. My art is out there. It is all over the country. There's a toaster in New York. There is a guitar in Cathedral City, CA. There are yoga mat bags in Texas and mosaic shoes in Las Vegas and Indiana. This is success to me. I gave things to people who admired them. Everyone gets to be happy. I don't get off on being unselfish or gracious. What does it for me is putting something (anything) that I feel has worth into the hands of someone who values it.


  1. I will forever cherish the mosaic phone you sent me in my darkest of hours. The fact that your art is worth more to you than dollar signs makes the gift that much more meaningful to me. Would that every person had their "thing" like you do that they were willing to pour their heart into and share for free. What a much more beautiful earth we could have (maybe we will one day!) if everyone evolved to that point. You are a beautiful soul that I very much appreciate having in my life!! I think your soul is probably covered in beautiful, colorful tiles! ;)

  2. Thank you J. That means so much to me.

  3. Thank you for this commentary. This is how I feel also! I have run the gamat of hobbies and each one was going to "make it big". But I have finally decided that I enjoy making things. I don't spend a lot of money on my hobbies at a if I sell great, if not I still enjoyed the making of it.

    So I occasionally do a show, but not often. I got lucky that my parents opened a store for handmade items. I sell some there, but not enough to claim. Yeah!

    {I found you from a pin on using alcohol latest obsession!! :-)

  4. Thank you! In the most beautiful and articulate way you have validated me and my endeavors. Everyone seems to feel that if I don't Etsy or ArtFire all day long my efforts are wasted. I truly love creating...and learning. I will continue on and remember you and your thoughts. Love to you, Beverle

  5. I hear you! I have the same feelings regarding things I have made.

  6. So glad I stumbled across your blog! You perfectly describe what many of us have experienced in a creative, humorous and interesting article. Thank you for sharing!

  7. I totally understand what you are saying. I get those same comments from people about selling things I make. Glenda makes stuff too. I get the most joy out of making things as gifts. They are always valued when I give them. As you say, what people are willing to pay for all your time and materials is laughable.

  8. I wish I could print this out and hand it to people who ask me/tell me their unsolicited opinions on what I make. Some of the comments are well-meaning, but still dig into my ego a bit when they unintentionally make me feel like I'm failing at artistic success; such as if I'm not constantly self-promoting and marketing myself, or I'm not plugging to be in a gallery, craft shows, or other public displays. OR if I'm offering pieces I've made at a price that they wish was bargain basement to compete with the shelf junk at a K-Mart.

    Thanks for putting this out there and putting into words what many of us are thinking. :)

  9. Very nicely put. I've spent the last few years of a long career working with kids of all ages just attempting to have them experience the joy of creating their own art. And when they come to the table with mountains of angst, and leave with some real joy and pride in what they've created: How would you ever put a price on that artwork? But I do have to add at the risk of tarnishing all of the above- the 'value' of "Tom's Guitar": Priceless!