The price of art:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

My daughter is just out of college with a degree in fine arts and beginning to work in her chosen field.
She is uncomfortable with her skill set and doesn’t know how to price herself. She was very good at a workshop which her mom and I attended. But it is 3 hours and she’s only getting paid $50 a workshop! I think she’s underselling herself.

I had this same issue when I got out of school, although I work in the medical field, not art. All of us recent grads were uncomfortable charging for services too. Luckily, for my first job I inherited the previous doctor’s secretary and she knew what to charge for everything and how to set my fees.

I learned in school to always go up from job to job, and that worth is a perceived value. How can I help my daughter to make what she’s worth?

Dr. No

Dear Dr. No,

As I am more of a hobby artist, I will defer this question to the Granny Doctor, a working artist. Her livelihood is dependent on just this question whereas mine is not. The rules of a trade can differ greatly from profession to profession. In the medical profession, for instance, the professional climb and rates are mapped out for you. In the art world that is not the case.

As far as the psychological aspects of dealing with the self-worth, value is arbitrary. You are worth what you think you are worth, along with your innate talent and learned skills. The most successful people often feel they are winging it but they trust in themselves and the universe. They know they are creative, have skills and are flexible enough to figure it out. More often than not things do work out. But when they do not, the pros are able to learn from their mistakes, quickly regroup and recognize new opportunities.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: neatly done, sir! I will accept the passed buck and enlighten Dr. No about the realities of the art world. I will begin by saying, PLEASE remember, Dr. No, that you are her dad and she is worth the world to you, but your daughter is worth nothing to anyone else. They don’t know who she is, she hasn’t proven she can do anything but school assignments. She probably has a nice portfolio. This means she has the potential to develop her skills in the market; that is ALL it means. She will have to earn the right to ask for what seasoned professionals are getting. If your daughter is just out of school, she will have no experience with deadlines, departments, dealing with printers, adjusting her work for multiple usage, learning file protocol etc, etc… If you fill her head full of “you’re worth so much more!” you will send her to a freelance grave. She has to work her way up through the ranks and learn the game. When your daughter gets the appropriate experience under her belt, she will have no problem understanding the value of her work and knowing how to price it. The self doubt she feels now is a good healthy instinct. She will feel confident when she knows what she’s doing.

About pricing art- you first have to make a distinction. Your daughter may have a degree in fine arts, but this is the starting point for more than one field and the commercial art world is a very different place than that of gallery art. If your daughter is an illustrator or graphic designer going into commercial art, she can find out exactly what her services are worth by reading the Graphic Artists Guild Pricing and Ethical Guidelines Handbook. This will tell her what other professionals are making. Then she can strap on a set of brass balls and begin the long trek to reaching that level herself. If she is going find jobs for herself, she will have to sink some serious money into promotional materials and mailing. This will need to be invested without any guarantee of return or results. If she gets work, she is going to have to negotiate contracts. The first thing she needs to learn is that she should avoid “work for hire” situations. A “work for hire” job provides a flat fee for which she gives up the copyright and all control of her work and potential royalties therein. Does she want to go into publishing? Editorial art? Greeting cards and gift products? Magazines? Graphic design? Science and botanicals? Each field has it’s own rhetoric and it’s own standards. She needs to know what the current market is, because it changes constantly.

If she plans to go into gallery fine arts, best of luck. My advice to her is to get a steady job at some other work that requires no creative thinking at all and will not drain her, so that she can develop her art without living in constant fear of ending up on the streets or back in her old room at your house. Fine arts is a highly competitive field which generally requires years and years of beating one’s head against closed doors and indifference. If she paints nice landscapes, she can probably sell her stuff. If she does extremely original work she may end up dead before anyone else figures out what the hell it means or wants to have anything to do with it. But if she is lucky enough to find an audience, she will need to infiltrate an established gallery, which will probably require exclusive representation. Again, the negotiation of contracts will come into play.

Many artists, both commercial and otherwise, get reps or agents because the artistic mind does not work like the business mind, although there are many artists who have no problem wearing both hats. You should be aware that it is just as hard to get an agent or rep who will handle you as it is to land a publishing contract. A lot of work goes into marketing and promoting an artist and a rep wants to make money. They are very choosey about who they take on.

Grant funding is also available to fine artists of every discipline. But here, as with the job market, grants go to those with experience and proof of ability. Few applicants get them on their first try, a track record of some sort is required. This is called “paying your dues.” Every artists has to do it before they are taken seriously. Grants are generally not given to anyone enrolled in school. They are targeted for emerging and established artists.
If your daughter wants security and a steady art job where she can count on an income, I suggest she look into teaching. There, the corporate ladder can be climbed with fair assurance of order and sense.

The artist’s life is fraught with uncertainty, rejection and pain. Most of us go through living hell trying to make a place in an impossible market because we simply have no choice in the matter. We HAVE to do art. We’d like to have security and a solid future but we just can’t do it because something won’t let us sleep.

Good luck to you, Dr. No. But I advise you to stay out of this and let your daughter learn from those who are traveling the same path. Many schools offer workshops for alumni to help them understand operating as a professional. If you want to steer her in the right direction, check into that. But it would be better if she made the effort herself. She’s going to have to learn to do a LOT of that and there’s no time to start like the present.


About Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Dr. Brilliant Cliché and the Granny Dr. are a fictional web presence and advice blog. Together we offer a joint perspective that is deep but not academic, entertaining but not fluff, and educated yet street smart. By joining the internet community we hope to share thoughts and stimulate insightful conversation around pressing issues that affect us all. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. (This is not a site for therapy nor does it intend to replace medical or other professional care. ) You can leave comments here or email The Dr. at and don’t forget to like us on facebook. Our facebook page is Dr. Brilliant Cliche
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