It’s Just Strokes on Paper

I was thinking about the post I wrote the other day regarding my Ortiz drawing that’s up for auction and how I have trouble with the concept of pricing my work. I don’t want to get too much into it, because it’s a boring argument (the whole “eye of the beholder” thing), but I will say this:

About four years ago, when I was living in Maine, my basement flooded during a spring thaw. My studio was down there, and while most of the stuff that I was working on at that time was spared (sitting on easels or lying on my drafting table), my portfolio that held all my work from high school and my three semesters at Syracuse was on the floor, leaning up against a wall, and it got soaked. Once the basement was pumped out, I started to gingerly go through some of those pieces until I realized that they was no saving any of them, and I picked up the portfolio, took it out to the garage, and chucked it in a trash barrel.

I didn’t feel anything regarding the situation. It wasn’t that I was numb or in shock, I just felt like, “Oh well, no sense in keeping this stuff around.” I don’t think I had ever placed any value on it beforehand, sentimental or otherwise, the pieces had just sat there in an unopened portfolio for close to fifteen years, so what’s the loss? If I had cared, I would have hung some of the stuff, right?

Yes and no. A lot of the pieces were of the quick sketch variety, not necessarily the kind of things you’d put on a wall. Others were more experimental and held more value as living lessons than as decoration, but not enough for me to have ever looked at them since leaving school. And last but not least, a great number of the pieces were nudes that I had drawn during some studio classes at SU, and unfortunately for me (and everyone else in those classes, I suppose), SU seemed to corner the late ’80s/early ’90s market on morbidly obese models. Such a cruel joke: you tell a college-aged kid he’s going to draw a live nude and then a manatee comes waddling in. So that’s not the kind of stuff you want to linger over, either.

My basic point is that none of the stuff held any value as finished art. But they were worth holding onto as biographical pieces or historical documents. To track progress. To get a sense of place and time. To show to my kids some day.

But I felt no pangs as I threw the portfolio away. I’ve never hoarded my art, I’ve almost always given it away to someone else. I’ve cared far more about the process than the final result, so it wasn’t like having your CD collection wiped out. Which is why it now feels weird to sell anything I do. I’m sure this struggle isn’t unique, but it would be different if I had a storage room full of my work that I preciously guarded; it would feel right to tell someone that the drawing they want is going to cost 200 bucks. But if I bat no eye nor shed no tear when my entire portfolio from my formative years is swept asunder by the wrath of God, if I blithely give away whatever new work I create again and again, then how can I place a monetary value on it? It’s not that it’s priceless, no, quite the opposite… I’ve always seen it as disposable. So how can I sell it to someone and keep a straight face?


I feel that if I’m going to charge people for art, a price really can’t be put on it. At least not one that would facilitate a piece being actually sold, anyway. I have no problem giving art away for free, because that’s my choice, but if you ask me to assign a cost value to it, it’s going to be far greater than a few hundred bucks. That’s in a vacuum; obviously the market dictates the price, but in terms of the amount of myself that goes into each piece, it’s going to cost a lot, more than anyone would probably willing to pay. But that’s not the way it works. So you grit your teeth and set a price and then whine about it on a blog.

One Response to “It’s Just Strokes on Paper”

  1. Nice writing style. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Chris Moran

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