Value & the Arts

Value & the Arts

Can we talk?

(about a 3-4 minute read)

We like to think that we support artists/designers/makers/creatives, right? Wrong. As a society, we really don't. Let's examine some value based issues that all artists face. .... The word value is 2 fold here, monetary and belief based.

There are struggles that most artists encounter, including appropriate pricing, copyright issues, and how we value them as a creative based businesses in general. These topics can be frustrating and discouraging for creatives. Therefore, it's important to keep the following in mind as advocates and responsible consumers of their goods.

(Additional reading and resource links, on the following topics, at the end.)

First, let's talk about PRICE.

As an indie business, I've crossed paths with many small/indie, handmade, handcrafted, (etc.) product based businesses. Honestly, a large number of them grossly under price their work. Especially in the Midwest, where I'm located.
This a problem. It doesn't set them up to be a financially sustainable business. It may cause overwork and overwhelm, needing to produce more in order to make ends meet.

On the other hand, artists that price their work appropriately are made to appear as if they're overpricing their work and are 'expensive'. 

How can you spot this? Think of a mass produced example of a certain product. For example, an illustration print. How much is the business selling it for compared to what a large business charges for something like it? Is it fair to be at a similar price point? Some say yes, the market sets the price, but these businesses are NOT in the same market.

One important example that sets these businesses apart from large ones, is that individual businesses are (or at least they should be) paying themselves and their employees a fair wage. A living wage. The opinion of economists who track wages based on inflation, estimate that minimum wage should be around $24 per hour. Increased accordingly based on skill level, number of years in the industry, etc. For example, my labor is highly skilled and has been crafted over 15 years. I pay myself WELL over $24 per hour.

How should handmade or handcrafted work be priced?

There are many factors that go into calculating the price of a product. Bottom line, the price we pay for, let's say, a bottle of lotion from a small, independent business should cost more that something you buy at Target and we should be willing to pay it with full understanding.

For small businesses: There are lots of online resources for pricing work appropriately. This step by step guide from is very comprehensive. It takes a serious look at all the variables you need to consider and include in pricing for sustainability. Take the time to do it. If you're using something like the following formula STOP. You're pricing is likely way off. Way. Off.

The NO NO pricing method...

Materials + Labor = Production Cost

Production Cost x 2 = Wholesale Price

Wholesale Price x 2 = Retail Price .... (This method will NOT give you appropriate pring. Take the time. I beg you!)


When an artist creates work it is immediately protected by U.S. copyright law without the need to be registered. However, it's recommended to register copyright, so the artist has sufficient proof that the work belongs to them.

Regardless, this fact has not stopped large companies like Target, Urban Outfitters, Converse and Kohl's, to name a few, from copying work by artists (you can easily search for these stories online). Regardless of how the artwork or design was acquired, through an employee or third party, they are ultimately responsible. In many cases, the work is removed by the company, but artists are often powerless to fight them. (See article below for tips)

Even worse, sometimes 'artists' steal other artists work to 'influence' their own. Changing it ever so slightly, to avoid copyright infringement. I put 'artist' in quotes, because, no matter how simple a design is, an artist with any shred of integrity would NEVER do this to another artist. One recent case of this is via Target, with it's collaboration of home goods with Hilton Carter. (more on that here) I could go on, but I'll leave it here for now... my blood pressure needs to settle.


"We can pay you in exposure." If you're an artist, how many times have you heard some version of this? Artist have to pay bills too... What is it about art/artists that makes exposure seem like an appropriate form of compensation?

If we take a close look at our culture, it's quite CLEAR. It starts within our education system. In most cases, art is considered a 'special', but expendable subject area. I had a short career as an art teacher (long story). The way my classroom was treated, as a craft supply store, a dumping ground for students and a place to go for free work from students and myself, be certain this is where the problem starts. If we don't model the arts as a serious subject, why would someone grow up to accept a path in the arts as something valid, worthy or worth professionally compensating? (BTW, when teachers sent their students to my class for supplies, I told them to come back with a blank check. That was fun.)⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Many of us understand that the arts should hold the same importance as other 'core' subjects. In fact, there has been a movement to change 'S.T.E.M.' (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) to 'S.T.E.A.M'. The A = Art. Art is not a supporting role. I challenge you to look around right now. Most of your personal belongings were touched by an artist/designer at some point in their creation.

Full disclosure: I'm not here to only make jewelry. I care about the arts & I get passionate about the struggles we face. With a history in the arts, arts education and struggling to make a living as a creative, it's not hard for me to speak up for all of us.

Thanks for being here. If you'd like to contribute to the conversation, please leave a comment below... and if you witness an artist undercharging for their work and you can pay them more... do it. Be brave. Encourage and empower people to charge their worth.

In power, creativity & sincerity,

Sarah (owner/designer/maker)

Other Reading & Resources

"The Right Way to Price a Handmade Product (Step-by-Step Formula)"

"Raising the minimum wage", AFL-CIO

"84 Times Artists Caught Companies And Fake Artists Copying Their Work And Selling It As Their Own"

"Baltimore native Hilton Carter’s plant design collaboration takes root at Target" (article notes the Corbe controversy)

"Was Your Design Stolen? Follow These 6 Steps."

"How to Copyright Something"

"How to Copyright Artwork"

"Pay Artists Fairly, Exposure is Not Enough"

The banner image on this post is a detail of the interior of a Minoru Yamasaki building, McGregor Memorial Conference Center in Detroit, Michigan.) 


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1 comment

“Art is not a supporting role. I challenge you to look around right now. Most of your personal belongings were touched by an artist/designer at some point in their creation.” Agree 100%. Looking forward to shifting this paradigm together!!


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