Stories from middle America

While attending college in New Mexico I studied studio art. This meant I alternated between art history courses and a myriad of art classes focusing on mediums from painting to ceramics. I tried my hand at drawing with charcoals and pastels, oil painting, and photography. I was not good, but I wasn’t horrible. People didn’t have an urge to throw things at my work. But that’s just it; nobody really had a reaction to anything I made. The consensus was usually, “Eh”, and my work just sat there. I was forgettable and that is the opposite of what you want as an artist.

Fast forward five years and my husband and I bought our first home. It was a 1910 foursquare and I became obsessed with renovating and decorating it. I think my lack of formal interior design training actually served me well, because I approached (and still approach) design like I had been taught to draw. This meant using my technical skills–the knowledge of design principles, but at some point, trusting my hands, mind and gut to get me the rest of the way. Though it never really worked for me in any art class, something about this medium clicked. I could design. All of the times I struggled to create the images I saw in my head were now in the past and those images–color, texture, pattern–were coming to fruition in a three-dimensional way.


Golly Janet, there are just so many shapes. Image via Cureeo.

Once I opened my interior design company, I noticed a pattern of clients, and the general public, not valuing original art. I kept hearing, “That’s too expensive”, “I could do that”, or “I’m not really an art¬†person”. I kept wondering why they would want to put anything on their walls at all. If you aren’t an¬†art person, what are you? A blank wall person? And I certainly kept thinking, while showing someone a lovely, complex and skilled piece, “I can’t create that, believe me, I’ve tried, and neither can you.” Then I realized their reactions were based on a lack of understanding and intimidation to a culture than can shun those who don’t frequent galleries or have the budget to drop thousands of dollars on multiple pieces.

After reading this article the other day, I was introduced to Cureeo. I read The Buyer’s Guide: Art, Understood, and simultaneously squealed with delight (ok, not really, but I thought it was awesome) and scornfully shook my fist (again, that didn’t really happen, because that would be weird) because I was incredibly jealous that I hadn’t been able to communicate these sentiments in such an articulate way.

These are some factors that play a role in why different artists’ pieces are priced differently and why you might gravitate toward certain artists over others.

  • Consistent Production
  • Critical Acclaim, Awards, & Grants
  • Exhibition History
  • Education
  • Clarity & Resonance of Mission
  • Collections
  • Number of Editions
  • Composition & Mission of Piece
  • Price Appropriateness

Let’s be honest and say that most artists have to keep a day job to pay the bills because very few people are making enough off of their art to support themselves. However, there is a difference between someone’s hobby and a skilled person’s passion to their craft. Though you can find a plethora of lovely pieces on Etsy — and I do! — you will pay more for an artist that tries and successfully books shows with galleries. That’s fair, right? If I’m hustling and continually am putting my work out there, getting rejected, going back and making it better, then dedicating hours to a collection of pieces, trying again and again to finally get it right with great work, I should get paid more. It’s similar to when job applications read, “salary competitive, based off of your experience”.

Then, there is supply and demand. If an artist creates one amazing piece, and no others like it, chances are more people would like to own it. That means, it is more valuable when you finally get it. Limited editions are great and are slightly more affordable because a few people are paying for the time and quality of the piece instead of just one person. Finally, that’s why mass produced pieces are so cheap, because there are endless supplies.

Now, remember what I said about my art being forgettable? This is a good barometer in understanding if art is good or bad. The more you practice looking at art, the more you will see the finer elements that take pieces from good to great, and great to extraordinary. But, from a beginner collector’s position (which I would consider myself), your initial reaction to a piece is a good place to start.

  • Do you really care about the art after you have stopped looking at it?
  • Does it invoke a response?
  • Does it feel unique to you?
  • Does it make you happy?
  • Does it feel like a fair price? (Based off of the criteria above).

This is how I view art in regard to interior design and placing art in your home. It doesn’t really serve a person to just put something on the walls because it matches your room decor. Or, because it is cheap. I like the idea of surrounding yourself with things that are important to you, that you will have for a long time, and that represent your personality. I know we focus on budget-friendly ideas a lot, and I’m all about that. Yet, there is a difference between accessibility, which is knowledge that empowers one to make an educated decision, and an unwillingness to value things appropriately. I would venture to bet that the piece you purchase from Hobby Lobby with the flat flowers on front will get thrown away in a couple of years. That’s certainly not sustainable. It hurts you; because what joy does it really bring to your life? It hurts the environment; because it’s just one more thing tossed in the trash and put in a landfill. And it hurts the artists; because the only way they can compete is to lower their prices to the point they actually lose money for each piece they create.

At the end of the day, everyone deserves to be valued for what they work hard to do. I might not like it. I might not understand it. But, I’ll respect it.




  • Christina Renfer Vogel

    Great to hear your perspective. It’s like anything else, right? The more you learn about something- any topic- the more you appreciate and value it. When I was younger, TGI Fridays- and other chains- was my speed. Now that I cook more myself, have taken a great interest in learning about food, and have traveled more, I have no problem paying more than $7.95 for dinner. I understand and am more than willing to pay much more for food prepared locally, by chefs at independent restaurants. Another example, I’ll pay more for well-made boots that I know I will wear all the time, and for years, rather than paying $40 for disposable boots at Target, which might get me through a season. For most people, original art is not something to buy all the time. But like a new couch or a special trip or a beautiful meal, it’s something that I think is worth saving for- and it lasts a lifetime.

  • Jessica McKay

    Thanks, Christina. I was really curious about your opinion as an artist. I totally agree with both your points. When you want stuff to last, you pay more and when something is more unique, you pay more. But, to me, it’s totally worth it.

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