What is my artwork worth? A awkward discussion about artist wages.

What is my artwork worth?

Sometimes, in doing demonstrations to the public, I end up having some variation of this conversation;

“That ______ is so cute! Can you make me one?”

Which is very flattering! I really appreciate that people like my work, and want to have some of my work around them all the time. Unfortunately, too often this comes with no offer of remuneration. And when we [I] get down talking about exchanging money for goods or services received, a lot of that potential interest cools down really quickly. Not everyone, of course, but enough.


Why? Well, the obvious conclusion is that the prices I charge are too high. So, how much should I ask for my work?  I am going to start this awkward discussion with a basic minimum wage fact for Australians:

“The national minimum wage is currently $16.37 per hour or $622.20 per 38 hour week.”

This comes directly from the Australian Government’s Fair Work Ombudsman site on Australian Minimum Wage. As of the time of this writing, this number is a national standard for adults working in Australia outside of an industry with standard award rates. In 2004, RADF was paying $16.00 to trainee artists;

RADF pay rates

…but after having graduated with a Bachelor of Visual Arts, with a degree in secondary education and having qualifications which allow me to teach and assess at a tertiary level, while applying myself to exhibitions, workshops, residencies and other public events non-stop in the four years since…I don’t believe I can really qualify as a ‘trainee’, at this point in my artistic career.

But for the sake of round numbers and this awkward discussion, I am willing to insult myself. So I am a trainee. And I think that if you are commissioning me to create something, I would like to be paid $16.00 an hour for designing the piece and creating it. And perhaps, the fact I have studied for hours to have the skills and knowledge to create you that thing is worth something too. Which I have factored into my $16.00p/h fee. But what about the materials I use? Well, I supply them too, and I guess they are free or something.

How long do you think one of these took to make?

kelly-marie mcewan creative tanks 2013 amigurumi cake crochet sculpture

Each one was between three and seven hours. And how much would you pay for one? Is it more or less than between $48-$112? If you answered less, that’s OK. You’re not alone.

It’s a complicated issue, made more complex by strong artist feelings. There seems to be no simple answer for the handmade item, struggling to get by in a mass produced goods world.

My only suggestion for approaching artists about buying their works is: at the very least, offer to reimburse them for their time, materials and skill. They will notice.

About kellymarietheartist

Visual artist originally from Australia, travelling the world creating crocheted wearable art and functional textile pieces. Sustainable art and slow fashion made from recycled fabrics, wools and metal. Colourful. Psychedelic. Unique.
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