When does a craft become an art?

I’ve been puzzling over this question for a few years. I used to get a table at local pagan events, tried etsy, witchvox, all kinds of online methods to sell my wares but had very little luck.  I tried to price my pieces fairly, based on what the market would bear, not based on the time spent. I found out very quickly when going around to the local pagan type brick and mortar shops that the market generally only bears cheap Made in China/India products. I was actually told in one shop that touts itself as being highly spiritual in a New Agey way that 1) their tarot bags ARE handmade (sure, by children and slave labor in Asia and India) and 2) that the Greenman wasn’t “in” any more.

I can not tell you how many times people have said to me, “I love your work! You should sell it!” Dozens if not hundreds of times.  And I say politely, “Oh, I’ve been there done that” and then try to politely sit there while they go on and on about marketing strategies like if only I had THEIR advice my stuff would sell, never asking me what things I had done prior to talking with them.  Drives me nuts and I tend to avoid them for a while.  They mean well, but shut up! Seriously.

See here’s the deal.  My stuff rarely sold when I put a $35-75 price tag on it. Which was like getting paid, hmmm, about $2 per hour. (Please read this blog post, The True Cost of Handmade) So for the last few years my shop had been closed down because I get such a buzz creating for friends and loved ones as gifts and it pays my spirit more than cash, especially such low ball cash. But darn it, cash would be nice, right?

I started my artistic life at my grandmother’s knee, about the age of 6 because by 8 I was sewing on a machine and making some of my own clothes. Thank you so much Mom! Thank you Nana! My first embroidery hangs on my wall and reminds me how far I’ve come and how much I still love this art. This morphed into embroidered denim in the 70’s (duh), a dry spell, cross stitch, then counted cross stitch, Shepherd’s Bush counted samplers in linen and silk, costumes and embellishment, full blown textile research, metal working, and photography, encompassing a broad range of skills, eventually becoming full blown art created out my mind and spirit and heart through connection with the medium and the universe.  I’m now 53.  That adds up to 47 years of experience and training and learning and making mistakes, some minor and some so major there was no hope to save the piece.  Some languished (the hooked orange, yellow, and brown mushroom shag rug comes to mind) and eventually were sent to the thrift store in hopes that someone else would finish what I began and lost interest in.

Goodness, such a Young Thing, in one of my first dresses…

47 years of experience.  That’s a lot if you think about it. A literal lifetime. There was a time I never would have thought I’d live this long. Life got quite weird, scary, and dangerous more than once.  But I kept at my craft. No matter what life threw at me, I stitched, I burned, I morphed clay, I cooked, I drew, SOMETHING.  After 4 decades I began to call myself an artist, it took that long to feel I had earned that honor.  It took a major psychic and emotional shift for that to happen let me tell you.

There was a time that what I do was simply a hobby, a craft project, for fun.  That is no longer true.  Sure, I can craft with the best of them.  But the plain fact is, I’m an artist. And all 47 years of joy and pain and struggle and learning and teaching go in to that fact.  This is not something I picked up over night.  My work represents years of observation, practice, and persistence. ALMOST half a century!

Early this year someone got very excited about one of my pieces.  They were all, oooh, must have, my wallet is open. I was a little excited but also a little skeptical.  I’ve heard that before. We communicated privately and I let them know that the price was $400.  This piece had at least, AT LEAST, 20 hours of my time in it.  Backed by 47 years of experience and training.  They wrote me back and told me that they had $25 for me and for my box.  I remained firm in my price and they said, fine, I’ll make one myself.  By all means, go right ahead.  You may very well create something magical and beautiful and more power to you.  But are you fucking kidding me?????  $25 for 20 hours of my work?  That is $1.25 per hour for my time, nothing for my materials, and no acknowledgement of my art and craft and the beauty and spirit that goes into each piece.  ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?  I didn’t say that then and it’s possible they may see this post and know I’m speaking of them. But get real…   I am not as gentle in my response as Somer Sherwood.  I’m a lot of things and one of them is an aging punk rocker with an attitude that lingers. The arrogance, as if you would trade your time so cheaply…

So.  My pieces sit in my Etsy shop with the price I think they are worth. Every once in a while one sells.  I’ve been “favorited” by artists who I have admired from afar.  That is worth its weight in gold, believe me. Sometimes I take a piece and give it to a loved one.  But one thing I will not do is violate my integrity, my work, and my spirit by saying, you know, this is only worth $25.  Those days are LONG gone my friend.

Yule is coming up.  I’m seeing a lot of folks, especially on Facebook, encouraging folks to buy handmade this year.  With pocketbooks tight and the economy what it is, I understand if you have to opt for other, less expensive items.  I don’t judge that in any way. I’ve been there myself, especially in the years when I had no faith in my ability to make all my own presents.  But think of handmade.  Think of Etsy.  There are affordable things and there are incredibly expensive and amazing things there. All made with heart by an artist.  (okay, I know, there is some total crap on etsy too)

Soon, I promise, I will have some new pouches in the shop for sale.  The thing that is holding them up is that I keep finding one more thing I could do to make them better. They won’t be cheap. But they will be beautiful. They will be one of a kind, unique pieces that will be, I believe, treasured for life. So when you see the price, remember what really went into that item. And remember that, no, you so totally could NOT get that for $25.

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12 thoughts on “When does a craft become an art?

  1. yes i know this issue well, the time verse cost verse materials verse how much someone is willing to pay… it is something i am currently struggling with, espeically as i don’t have work currently.. ack.. so i am furiously making wall hangings to ,1 keep busy, and 2, to sell at druid camp in feb.. and maybe some on etsy

    also your horned god tarot bag.. awsome!! maybe i should put links on my blogg about your blogg and etsy and the stuff you make? would that be ok?

    i do so love your art!

  2. growing up in a household where the main income was from handwork, I learned never to undervalue my time, so I’ve never had that problem of underselling my work (in fact, from the age of ten through to my twenties I made and sold small soft toys, the income saw me through university at a far better pay rate than the shop jobs friends had). But i do know how you feel, I give historical needlework talks and demos, and still get a rush of anger and have to bite my tongue when someone blithely asks “so do you sell them when You’re finished?”, because this piece takes 200+ hours and I know they want to offer a tenner

  3. Kudos to you for sticking to your guns! I make and occasionally sell art dolls, especially inspired by Nature Spirits and deities. I don’t go out and vend much, but when I do I also get the oohs and aahs. I love that – just knowing that people appreciate what I do. Most understand the prices. They see just how much effort goes into it. But there’s always one or two who look at the price and make a face. I actually once heard someone tell another that they could just get a plush dragon at Walmart later if they really wanted one. Wow. Ok – thanks. Still, I try to hold on to the admiration and respect from others.

    I’m very disappointed to read that New Age shops treated you that way. I’ve started to become very picky about who I patronize. I prefer shops that emphasize hand-made, local artists over cheap resin crap from China and gemstones from questionable locations. You keep doing what you do and know that you inspire this artist in the making!

    • The other thing I find very interesting is this….

      “You should sell your work!”

      Why do folks assume that because they think it is beautiful I should sell it when they don’t actually offer me money for it? I just don’t understand that. One said “Well you should share it with the world!” Again, uh, why? And I do share it, read the blog! heee. Tell the world to bring the big bucks and maybe, MAYBE, we’ll talk.

  4. Your artwork is absolutely outstanding and unique, and you should never, ever underprice it! As someone who lives from making art too, I can relate completely to every thing you have said in this post! Here’s another aging punk rocker with an attitude :D.

  5. I have been lucky to be able to purchase a few of your bags and they were worth every penny! Your craftsmanship is impeccable. I hope to purchase more in the future.

  6. Thanks for the marvelous posting! I really
    enjoyed reading it, you may be a great author.I will always bookmark your
    blog and may come back in the future. I want to encourage yourself to continue your great writing, have a nice
    day!

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