When Does Art Become a Product?

Hugh MacLeod once drew a cartoon that answers that question.

We see an artist and a gallery visitor, who asks:

“And do you sell your paintings?”

The artist replies: “No. My paintings aren’t ‘products’, you bourgeoisie bastard.”

And, I can certainly understand how he feels.

But let’s look at that a little closer.

Art is a pure and inspired thing, right?

You may want to make money with it, but you create for the love of it, correct?

So far so good.

What happens though when someone buys – gives you money and takes it home – is that it has become a product.

And I’m using the word product strictly in terms of an exchange of values.

The work of art – be it a song, or painting, or sculpture – has a value in terms of meaning, inspiration, materials, and time, to name but a few.

What you get in return for all that is money (and hopefully, a goodly amount of it).

That’s it, that’s all there is to it.

See, it’s not about productising your art, or – puke – commercialising it.

I’m talking only about making something that another person wants so bad that they’ll part with money in order to have it.

So in a sense, art becomes a product the moment you put it out into the world and hang a pricetag on it.

But quite often when I coach artists, they are very conflicted about this.

Some people feel that getting paid for their work devalues it, turns it into a commodity.

The interesting thing though, is that this only applies when you give your work away too cheaply.

When you know, and feel, that a painting is worth $1000 and you accept a mere $400, that’s when you devalue your work.

And more importantly: you devalue yourself.

You’re telling yourself, the buyer and the universe, that your work really is only worth a pittance.

For your own self-esteem, that’s deadly.

For the buyer, it’s an outright put-off.

And if it isn’t, I don’t think that buyer is the right kind of buyer for you.

They’ll take the piece at $400 but not at $1000?

That’s as much as they’ll value it?

Then I’d say you need to ask yourself if you want that person to have the piece.

Sure you might need the money, but you definitely need to aim for a higher segment of the market.

And believe me, that higher segment exists.

But they won’t take you seriously enough to buy from you, exactly because your prices are too low.

It’s an interesting psychology, actually.

People who are affluent and who like to spend good money on quality products or works of art, they won’t be turned on by things that are affordable.

Beyond a certain point – and this is something else I learned from Hugh MacLeod – people stop caring about ‘value for money’.

When people are on the other side of that tipping point, they spend a lot of money exactly because it’s expensive.

Hugh told me this over a beer in a London pub.

I was still a bespoke tailor at that point, and he asked me how much my suits sold for.

Suits that took about 100 hours to make.

I told him 1200 Euros, and he nearly choked on his beer.

Told me this: “Why do people spend hundreds of thousands on a sports car?”

“Because something that luxurious is worth it?”, I ventured.

“No”, he said. People spend lavish amounts because they can. Nothing more”.

I went home, raised my suits by 500 Euros, and within a few days I’d sold another one.

Neatly proving his point.


Your art is art.

Putting it into the world with a price on it makes it available for purchase.

And the higher the price, the less ‘affordable’, the more you’ll attract the kind of buyer who’ll actually pay what it’s worth.

Scary stuff, raising your prices?

Doesn’t have to be.

When you work with me and I coach you, you’ll find that it get easier and more fun and more profitable to be an artist.

And all the while you just need to create art, not products.

Hit reply if earning more, from more high-end clients, is something that interests you.

If you’re brave enough to do it, I might be skilled enough to coach you through the process.

Want to find out?

Let me know…



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