Be Smart About Art

Your time equals your money

written by: Susan Mumford Nov. 8, 2015 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan Mumford + Chris King's Blog 2750 views

Your time equals your money

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Making good money as an artist, and for the majority of small, independent enterprises in the arts, is notoriously challenging. The subject of funding for the arts was the focus of conversation at a recent panel discussion I attended. As public funding is increasingly unreliable for artists, gallerists and institutions alike, new sources of income must be devised, and it’s your responsibility to define your own value.

When the panellists talked about artists being the last to get paid by institutions (if at all), I squirmed in my seat. The university hosting the discussion is guilty of doing this very thing themselves. Professional artists who struggle to make a full-time living are generously giving away their time for free, being invited to mentor current BA art students. Why is the university not paying their own graduates who are giving precious time and providing insight from real-life experience? With students in the UK paying more than 10,000 GBP for a three-year undergraduate degree, surely some budget to pay mentors could be found?  

Let me be clear: If someone is making a healthy income, able to provide for family and put aside savings, it’s perfectly reasonable to give away time and resources for good causes. Giving back feels fantastic, and is a natural inclination held by the majority of human beings. However, if your business is not yet viable, it’s irresponsible to give away time that could otherwise be spent working.

The solution with the mentoring? Say that sure you’d be happy to be a mentor, at your stated hourly rate. Consider this excellent saying by Jim Rohn, “You don’t get paid for the hour. You get paid for the value you bring to the hour.” There are many scenarios in which you might charge an hourly rate. In the instance of getting paid for consulting a client, you can identify how you will not only save the client that amount of money, but how it will be worth so much more in the end. Similarly, what ‘value’ do you bring to students to help them have a successful start to their careers after graduating?

Similar thinking applies to making a healthy profit on the sale of goods, such as works of art and prints. An artist I once mentored felt terrible about making a good profit margin on framing. He felt like he was “ripping off” customers. It was nothing of the sort! Though there wasn’t a lot of money to be made in the prints, the frames were purchased at trade prices, enabling artists to make money from frames sold at ‘retail’ pricing. There’s nothing wrong with making money; you are running a business rather than a hobby after all, right?  

As for the takeaway… Stand up for your value. So long as others think they can take advantage of the ‘free’ and ‘cheap’ mentality so prevalent in the arts, it will remain true. By standing up for what you are worth, you not only stand up for yourself, but the art sector at large.  

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What about auctioneers and the part they play? With commission on both buying and selling at the rates charged, anything one buys needs to rise 50% to break-even.