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Let's Talk About Money & Art

Updated: Apr 17, 2023


Let's talk about the money-making side of making a living as an artist. Is it possible? How do I figure out how to put prices on my art? What is a fair price, especially if I'm just starting out?



I have some thoughts about trading money for art, and they may not be what you expect.


About ten years ago, I had the chance to see Cheech Marín's art collection. Apparently, every since he's had money, he has collected the works of Latino and Latina artists. His collection is gigantic, featuring everything you can think of, works of art in all shapes and sizes. I have always wanted to be like Cheech, but I've never had the money to collect art the way I'd like to.


When I started to think about people buying my art, I wanted to have something at a price that most folks could afford—along with a robust set of choices for people to buy my art in various ways. I had spent about a year recovering from Covid, and all of the mental health issues that came galloping in when suddenly I could no longer run my business or function at the level I was accustomed to. This change in my health was jarring and upsetting, and I did dozens of tiny drawings, each one a tiny meditation and bit of art therapy to help me get through those months.


But what the heck do you do with 70 or 80 itty bitty works of art at 2x3" or 3x4"? Then I had an idea I call Tiny Jewels. I would take these little works of art and present them in an upcycled thrifted frame on a black mat for 25 bucks. So far I've sold about two dozen of them.


Through this website, people can purchase my art as a card for $7, but I want to put original works of art into people's homes and spaces at a low price as well. Don't get me wrong. I sold a piece through a gallery in March for $250, and am working on a painting now that might go for four times that amount in a gallery setting. I will happily take it. I'm not anti-money, I just want to have a true range of prices for original work.


Value Transaction


My true inclination in setting a price for art would be to ask the buyer to pay what they think it is worth. That method does contain within it the possibility of losing money at making art, and if I'm going to do that, I'll go back to being a hobbyist and save myself a lot of time and effort. Still, it appeals to me.


I don't like the consumer culture that has most of us buying, buying, buying, in an insatiable cycle of desire and boredom with the object of our desire: new headphones, or a kitchen gadget, new clothes, new car, new comforter set for the bedroom.


Art is different. Not mass-produced, but crafted carefully by a human being. Not so much a thing as an experience, an interaction, and a relationship over time.

Feeling the Ick


I believe that a lot of artists and creative people feel a certain "ick factor" when talking about money and art, and how to put a price on it. We don't want the sweat of our brows and the work of our hearts and souls to be commodified.


But that's the best part—as creative people, we can define how we want to approach a value exchange for our art. If someone tells me they can't afford a Tiny Jewel at $25, you know what? That price is going down, and I might even give it away. And by the same token, if somebody offered me $250 or $2,500 for one, I would accept gratefully. This freedom to be creative in the approach to selling art is almost as exciting to me as making that art in the first place.


As I restart my blog and post artwork on my website, I'm working on developing a newsletter with art news, art features, and resources for artists. If you're interested in something like this, or would like to send me feedback on this post, please email leotabrigida@gmail.com.

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