Spring Break, Mixed Media Painting, 20×20, $335
I understand the question. “How long did that take to make?” Artists and craftspeople hear it all the time.
I remember the first time I asked it. My family was traveling in the southwest US and we stopped to visit Navajo tribal land. A woman displayed her handmade silver and turquoise jewelry on a colorful, woven blanket. My mother, who collected silver jewelry and was trying to avoid getting her ears pierced, was searching for clip on earnings.
I was 12 and didn’t have much money. I was looking at the less expensive beaded necklaces.
I picked one up. “This is pretty,” I said. “Did you make it?” She nodded. “How long did it take you to make it?” “Oh, a long time,” she said.
My father took me aside. “You shouldn’t ask that question,” he said gently. “It took her a long time to learn how to do this. Maybe she learned from her mother or her aunt, who learned from their mothers and aunts. Her work isn’t about hours of work, but her skill and talent.”
I think I understood. A little. I understand a lot more, now.
Much of our work in this country is paid for by the hour. We value the TIME it takes to make something– sometimes more than the skill and talent and education and heritage of the work. Oh sure, we appreciate those things, but often the value of the work comes down to the TIME required for creation.
I realize now that the beaded necklace might have only taken 15 minutes to make. If she had told me that, would the value had been diminished? Probably. I might have focused on the time the item took to make, instead of the value of the skill, the history, and the practiced hands that made it for me. I might have compared the price to the amount of time I had to work to earn that money.
When asked, some artists respond with their age: ‘It took me 52 years to paint that. All my education and experience went into its creation.”
It’s a cute answer, but not satisfying. And it reinforces the idea that the value art or craft is measured in TIME. It’s not. It’s measured in emotion. It’s measured in the viewer’s connection to the work. It’s measured in excellence.
As an artist, I don’t punch a time clock. I have no idea how long it takes to create a particular piece. When asked, a try to give a quick answer: “Oh, I don’t know. Sometimes hours, sometimes days. I don’t pay attention. I work until it’s done.”
That generally satisfies. What the person is really asking is: “Please tell me more about this art.” So I do.
I bought the necklace I found in the desert that day. I still have it. It’s value has stood the test of time.