Friday, November 23

For what it's worth

Once again I am having a familiar conundrum. I am a bit sick of this particular conundrum! It is one I have struggled with for years; one that comes up time and time again.
This conundrum involves asking for what I am worth; selling my services and art for their true value.

It also concerns the hippy yearnings I’ve had for years about living in an idealist society where barter is more the norm than the exchange of currency; the ideal that people are honest and will give as they receive. That people might actually offer to pay what they think something is worth rather than asking for a discount or bargain…

It may also be a bit about self-belief. This may also be tied up with being a happy giver but a not so happy receiver.
And it may be about wanting to be generous and realising that many people live a financially frugal life, as I have at times.

Years ago when I was a massage therapist (well I still am but don’t practise much now…) this conundrum first came up for me.
Friends would want massages and even though I intended to ask for a reasonable fee I always ended up saying “Oh, 20 bucks will do.”
At the time a massage at a Healing Centre would cost $50-60.

Now, I’m going to rave on a bit about my skill as a massage therapist…just bare with me til the end…

I am good at massage, actually I am great! Most people who I have massaged have told me it was one of the best massages they ever had. But when I have massaged at home (because that is where I am) I have always felt that I should discount the price a bit because I am just massaging in my lounge room, with my kids crawling under the table and sometimes the atmosphere is not quite like a relaxing Healing Retreat…ok, so price drops from $50 to $40.

Then I figure that as I don’t pay the over-heads that a Clinic has I should drop the price a bit more…down to $30…

Then as most people I massaged were friends or friends-of-friends I should give a mates-rates discount…so down to $20…

I can see the logic of it BUT I ended up resenting working for $20 for 1 ½ hrs at a very physically and energetically demanding occupation.

It has been the same with selling my crochet. Sometimes I finish a piece for which I have designed the pattern, taken hours and hours to make and end up selling it for $20.
Well, when the yarn cost $10 and the time it took was extensive I really wonder if it is worth continuing sometimes.

Once when I realistically price a pair of Adult sized Crochet Pants on my website I received a very rude comment on my blog about how “ridiculously expensive” they were!

And no! I have not sold many things at all! I am not rolling in money.
It seems that people see crochet as a Granny Craft, as something bored house-wives do to fill in time when they are in between chores (chuckles to self!)  

It doesn’t help that some crochet items made by Grannies and sold at Craft Markets are ridiculously UNDER PRICED!

Crochet, like any Craft is actually an Art form!
I find the distinction between Art and Craft amusing at times and insulting at other times. Apparently the distinction is that craft makes “useful” items decorative and Art is purely for pleasure; for aesthetics.

Craft is a ‘hobby’; Art is a ‘work’.
I read a great book awhile ago, “Radical Lace and Subversive Knitting” by David Revere McFadden, Jennifer Scanlan and Jennifer Steifle Edwards.

It really crystallized for me the belief that anything that is beautiful is Art!

One Author talked about “dissolving the categories of Art, Craft and Design that have fragmented the world into aesthetic and functional.”
This is so true

I have a friend who makes the most beautiful clay sculptures as a hobby; as her craft. She sells them at her local markets for $50 each.
Not long ago while surfing the net I came across some images of similar sculptures…they were in a Gallery in Sydney and were selling for $2000!!!

Maybe that is it!

If you have the balls, the tenacity, the attitude to call yourself an Artist then you can sell something for 40 times as much?

The latest visitation of “The Conundrum” is about the new Fairy Wings I have made.

One-of-a-kind Fairy Wings. (I.e. no one else will ever have the same wings as you!)
They are lovingly hand crafted using wire, nylon, wool, yarn, lace, up cycled and new fabric, with elastic or ribbon straps.

Approximately 8 hrs of design, layout, wire-work and hand stitching goes into each pair of wings.
Which in real time, because I am a stay-at-home-mum who Home schools my kids, equates to 3-4 days to make each pair. So if I get paid a pretty low wage of $20 an hour then the base cost is $160…if I added on the cost of materials, of Artistry and Inspiration; the fact that they are one off I would realistically be asking about $300 for them. But I am just pricing them at $130.

So I have decided to call myself an Artist.

I am not a hobbyist; I am not a bored stay-at-home-mum who fills her spare time decorating useful objects!

I am an Artist.

My time is precious and yet the time I spend making my creations is fulfilling, inspired and it is my work.

My skills are not incidental or cute.

These are serious skills passed down by my Mother, my Grandmother and many Mothers before that. They are not just skills of necessity or of needless decoration but are beautiful Artisan skills.

I was taught to knit and crochet by my mother when I was a small girl. At the time my Mother would spin her own wool. I loved helping card the fleece and would sit for ages while she wound the newly spun wool in a skein around my hands.

My Nana who was a Seamstress and worked, among other jobs, making Costumes for theatre Companies in Melbourne back in the 1930’s – 1960’s taught me a love of sewing. She taught me to how to embroider, how to darn socks, to sew invisible hems, to latch hook rugs, to hand sew clothing from scratch. So as well as the amazing stories and invaluable family history I learned from her while we sat together doing these things, I also had the privilege of learning my basic skills with a master crafts woman.

Oh, the stories she told were incredible! How when she was learning to sew in a factory the Boss woman would walk around making them undo stitches, redo hems if you could see so much as a single stitch on the right side, how there were no sick days or no workers comp…if you accidentally ran over your finger with an industrial sewing machine while sewing, you stayed and worked so you could keep your job and your family could eat.

She was the type of woman who valued resources. Maybe growing up during the Wars and the Depression did that to many people. She would save every button, re-use every zip and darn and fix clothes and then re make them to fit others or make them into tea towels or as last incanation they would become rags…nothing was wasted.

Nana Ninny was the one who taught me the meaning of frugality and before it was even an issue in mainstream society, she taught me the intelligence of recycling and up cycling. She taught me the pride in a job well done; she taught me that functionality does not over-ride aesthetics.

So though this mad world continues, with it’s messed up systems of value; with its esteem of Bargain over Craftsmanship; it’s insane ‘disposable resources’ mentality,
while we live in a world where a ‘qualification’ is more valuable than self-taught skill; where a GP can charge a standard $150/hr fee, regardless of whether he just prescribes antibiotics or actually diagnoses something or just refers you to someone else (yet does nothing at all for your health) or actually only spends 10 minutes with you; while we have a society where teachers are payed, yet home educators are abandoned by the government; where Midwives are ostracized yet the business of Obstetrics grows every year; where the food producers engineer, codify and Copyright our food crops ; where many Tradesmen are not Craftsmen or Artisans but bodgey rip off merchants; where Engineers are designing products not to last, but to be frequently replaced… I will continue to try to realistically price my wares.

I will try to make some money towards caring for my family and I will continue to recycle and create, to imagine and dream; to bring artistry to the mundane, to bring a useless but fantastical object into life AND I will value my Craft and ask for what it’s worth.


Yeshe said...

Wow. I totally agree. I think we have a completely warped sense of what is of value in this society.

While I am a hopeless crochet-er and a limited knitter, I appreciate the effort my mother and grandmother put into trying to pass these skills on to me (even though to be honest I find them totally boring - it's a personal thing). And my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother also had that idea of reusing and preserving things. But then again, things were made to last then and like you said now things are designed to fail to keep the money flowing.

I love your pieces and while they are not something I would personally wear I love seeing what you create! And hell yeah they are art. I dare anyone to dispute it!

Hellena Post said...

Onya Sal, and I also reckon it's time we made crochet SEXY!! And spinning. Cause there's a whole bunch of sexy mammas like us who are feeling a pull to the creative, but they just haven't realised there's a whole other world out there yet.....not just the craft shops with the boring patterns that they've been recycling for the last 50 years, but REAL revolutionary crochet and spinning and fibre exploration! Bring it on :)

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