Why Does Art and Finished Crafts Cost so Much?
As an artisan who has taken on many crafts I am often asked why I charge "so much" for my products. I am actually a pretty cheap person to buy from so this is slightly offensive. Still I would rather answer with dignity than storm off so here is my explanation.
Art Takes Skill
I know, we've all seen the work of Jackson Pollock and thought to ourselves, "That's just splattered paint, it rather looks like baby puke and takes no talent to make" and in some cases this might be true... but it most cases it is not. Most art doesn't just come from talent it comes from skill garnered from doing that art for a long time. Just because most of these skills are not taught at colleges does not mean it was any easier to achieve. Think for example about playing a piano. Anyone can walk up to a piano and push a few keys but only someone with many hours of practice will be able to play a concerto. In the meanwhile, when they are learning, they're not being paid for what they're doing. It is a labor of love.
Art Takes Supplies
Depending on the artwork at hand the supplies might be simple or complex. Some of my cheapest art to produce have been what I call Sharpie Doodles. Basically I bought a package of Sharpies for $5 and a package of photo paper for $20 and started doodling designs but this is only after many practice attempts on regular paper. Although the materials are common they still add up. One Sharpie only lasts me through two doodles.
The more complicated the art form the more supplies are going to be needed. Here I sculpted a 6 inch figurine of a tiger for a little girl's bedroom. To make it I needed a box of tinfoil (to use for the insides and keep clay costs down,) a box of Sculpey clay, an oven to cook it in, four different colors of craft paint, ceramic glaze, and two different glitter colors and even so this was one of my simpler creations. If you're just starting painting then you'll need an easel, paint brushes, and different colors of paint - which will make your head spin just thinking about the growing costs.
You're Paying for Quality not Quantity
The reason why most things in the US are so cheap is because they're mass produced using the cheapest available resources and the least amount of human labor possible. So now we can go to Wal-Mart and buy a sweater for $20. That's all well and good but what does it take to make a quality sweater?
First you need wool, sheared from sheep that someone has taken care of up until this point. From there the wool needs to be cleaned and dyed and from there it needs to be spun into yarn. At this point a small ball of yarn is likely to cost $8-30. Now if you want to make something with that yarn you will have to buy a bunch of balls (more accurately called scans) and either crochet or knit them. You might need a pattern to go by which is usually found in books that cost around $30. An adult sweater takes an average knitter a long time - simply because it is a slow process but it will come out with a quaility so high you might never need another sweater again.
You are Paying for Time
Imagine doing a job that takes you all day long and then only being paid $20. You wouldn't be happy would you? Many of the arts and crafts for sale today take hours if not days or months to create. For instance I decided to knit 20 scarves for one Christmas so I got really fast at knitting scarves.. and by fast I mean I could complete a wide six foot long scarf in about six hours. Now consider that when you are looking at a hand knit scarf in the store. If I were paid minimum wage, $7.25, for six hours worth of labor that would come out to $43.50. I've never gotten that much for a scarf ever. I am delighted when I get $35 and that's not even putting the cost of the yarn in there. These scarves cost me $4 a piece in cheap mass produced yarn, so that's technically $31, or a little over $5 an hour. Imagine that! And I see knitters and crocheters who are so desperate to sell their creations they literally only try to get the cost of the yarn back - not paying for the labor at all. The same goes with paintings. When you look at it like that the whole scene gets very depressing. People just don't understand that not everything should be $5 and since they won't pay for quality crafters get used to being paid a pittance.
So the next time you are at a Craft Fair or in a little shop that sells the goods of local artisans remember these things. Remember art takes time, patience, skills, supplies, and hours of labor. Consider the individual who made these pieces and realize that each piece of art isn't just a little do-dad for your home it is a reflection of the artist. Maybe then you won't be too quick to ask why the prices seem so high.