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A Bargain No More: Raising the Price on My Life’s (Art) Work

Sweet friends, I am raising the prices on all of my art work as of 12:01 am, October 19th, 2013. That day is my 42nd birthday and it marks a fine time to grow up a little in terms of my art career. This is not a decision I am making lightly, but maybe my reasoning is helpful to others out there struggling to assign value to their work as well.

Quick edit: here is a link to one store of my work, and here is the link to Ennui Free, my last project. Get it while it’s cheap!

My updated art-making standards

  • I will not give away work unless I get a grant to pay for the entire production. I cannot pay for it out of pocket.
  • The Valentine will be a subscription from here on out. I will send out word when one is being produced to a few hundred people who will be given the opportunity to order the work at a reduced price. Everyone else who orders one will be charged full price.
  • I will be producing work more suited for galleries in addition to the products. I’m not saying it will comprise the lion’s share of work, but it will be there as well.
  • I will use higher-end materials for physical work, and I will consider making one-of-a-kind pieces more frequently.
  • I will no longer treat my art as something I do on the sidelines. I’ve had to work day job after day job, trying to fit in my art when I could scrape together time, money, and space to do it. I have slowly drifted into a position of treating my work as little more than a hobby. An all-consuming, terribly expensive hobby.

Why the change?

Starting out back in 1996, I wanted to make a difference for everyone, especially people with no money. I grew up rather poor so I felt compelled to make art I myself could afford. To that end, I chose printmaking–with its glorious heritage of the multiple–as my principle means of conveying some light into the lives of my fellow wo/man. I have given away thousands of prints and objects over the years to let people know I cared. In the end, I was just giving work away to my friends, rarely did the circle expand beyond that. For all my highfalutin ideals, I didn’t get out enough to really start a movement.

I wanted to be for the people, my people–the poor, the uninsured, the artistically inclined and badly financed. To this end, I have actively priced my work as cheaply as possible and have never made enough to pay for the print run of even one of my pieces. I have actively sought poverty and obscurity, thinking that it would somehow lead to credibility and acclaim. It doesn’t, I assure you. I also had a little bit of a beef with gallery-friendly work: I didn’t want to alienate the crowds of people who don’t attend art shows. I stuck to mail art, hand-held objects, products for some imagined utopian department store. I ditched loads of ideas over the years as being too gallery-friendly.

This way of operating made sense for nearly 15 years, although I admit the last few years I have been getting a little resentful that all those prints I sent out never led to a huge retrospective at the Whitney (never mind that whole gallery embargo). Hell, I was getting pretty sore that so few of the people I sent work to ever managed to say thanks. My motives had gotten a little cloudy, to say the least. I need to seriously engage the art world in an informed way as I want to be a professional artist with a body of consistently well-developed work.

Another quick edit: I did get invited last year to be in a group show called Tomorrowland, curated by Sam Fields. I was flown out to LA to do workshops and an artist talk and everything. It was tremendous in terms of validation and recognition. I am sorry I did not mention it in my original article, it was a huge moment in my career so far. It made me keenly aware that I had been operating outside of the gallery system for way too long.

I launched into becoming an artist with absolutely no training as to the business of art, or to the art of making a living doing what I love. I did not know how to account for overhead or how to make a profit. I thought that would all just… happen. It does not. I have to educate myself and cultivate an art practice that actually makes enough money to pay for itself at the very least. I have to redress my working ethos as what I thought would work when I was in grad school can only get me so far.

Here is what I am working to learn:

  1. To treat my art-making as a way to earn a living.
  2. To earn this living using workable business practices: time-management, sustainable spending, and project management.
  3. To promote my work with the vigor it deserves: I cannot rely on my personal network of friends. I have to take a stand professionally. No one is going to discover my work in the proverbial soda shop, I have to hustle to get it seen.
  4. To make my art-making my top priority over any day jobs because it is my life’s work. (Luckily, teaching has proven to be a lovely compliment to making art.)

Looking back, I unwittingly shortchanged myself and my artwork in the name of a few youthful ideals. There is more than enough working against us as we start out as artists in this world, I just made my path harder for the first decade or so. The experience will probably work to serve me well in the end, but I cannot afford to make myself or my artwork a bargain anymore. I am lucky to have realized that it is my responsibility to change things instead of getting bitter and giving up entirely.

Now, I just have to find out how to do all of this. I’m lucky that I’ve worked as a freelancer for so long as there are a lot of good habits that I can transfer. I just have to get over feeling dirty: there is no sin in making work that sells for a good price and I am not a sell-out for expecting people to pay for my work. I deserve to make a living doing what I love to do, if I do it well enough.

Filed under: Work


I am Libby Clarke, an artist, designer and educator living in Brooklyn, New York. I operate under the name Monstress, which actually started out as my zine label in 1997. Since then, it has grown to encompass all my efforts.


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