............................. being in tune with the marketplace.
Well first of all, I DO get around to exhibitions and "high quality" craft shows, and am reasonably well aware of people's pricing tendencies. Not only from being a working potter for a long time (1972 start after college)....... but also because I am charged with the responsibility to teach new ceramists at the college level, and I HAVE to be well in touch with the field to do that well. Professional responsibility.
So I am not "out of touch" with reality.
The "Minege-sota" concept was totally off-base in some sort of fantasy-land when the whole idea started to take hold in the USA. You covered the core issues there well. That whole philosophy did tons of pervasive damage to the field (I was a working potter back then and saw it firsthand),........ and for that impact I don't have great respect for Mackenzie. Great potter.....great teacher of ceramic work... poor businessman and teacher of economics. Living in some sort of utopian fantasyland that even Hamada and Shimaoka and the like were not. The serious and widespread "in-your-face pervasiveness of that was 'a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away'. It has diminished. But the fallout is still there in a more subtle way.
I am not "living in the past" relative to that situation. I am living with the perspective of time looing AT that situation.
I think the key line in this discussion is the item I quoted above. It is about the consumer's concept of perceived value.
You can't even begin to define the real meaning of that above quoted line until you establish what the general potential buying audience PERCIEVES is the "correct price" (in tune with the market). The "correct price" is what they will pay for it, for sure. But do the "correct market price" and the "core value" necessarily align? This is where I see the problem lies.
What I am saying is that the "correct price" in the market at this point in time is too low to really allow ceramists to eventually make a decent living. (So now we have to define the meaning of "decent".)
Yes.... you can "match" the current perceived value and sell, and sell many pieces of that object. Many people do this. If everyone is selling an XXXXXXXX for about..... $X.XX... then you do that too and you can and will sell them (assuming the quality is there). But is this really doing the FIELD a service? Or even yourself?
Well... it might be if you are making a REALLY good living off of it (relative to your efforts). But that does not fit most potters realities. A huge portion of the ceramists who are managing to get "decent incomes" are working very, very long hours and beating up their bodies (a non-renewable and non-depreciable resource) in the process.
It would be fine if potters (or ceramic artists, or whatever we want to call people selling their work made of clay) were making a Net overall living that was commensurate with their skill levels and the hours of effort put into their professions when compared to the general public. I get around nationally and internationally, I talk to people. There are few that I have encountered, given how hard and long they work, that have incomes and equivalent benefits (like employer-paid health insurance) that align with the rest of general US society. (Right now we are NOT talking about any additional income that comes from teaching, giving workshops, writing and selling books, consulting, and so on........ just selling ceramic art.)
If you look at the typical incomes of people who are at the 'top of their game' in other professional fields, people with 20-30 years in the profession, (we'll leave out people who are a bit of outliers, like doctors and lawyers) when you combine their typical salaries and benefits, they typically are in the solid "middle class" economic realm. A very good number are clearly in the upper middle class range. A few certainly are getting into the top 5% of incomes.
Having been in this field a LONG time, I know a lot of folks that make pots full time. I know a lot that make pots full time and ALSO teach part time and do other things to augment the income from pottery sales. Some of them are what we might call "big names". Many are "at the top of their game". We talk. As far as making pots go, they typically work long hours, many have professional educations in their chosen field (as in "letters after their names") and they make good stuff. VERY few make, after all expenses are deducted, Net Pre-Tax Incomes (the equivalent of getting a "salary" from an employer) on their ceramic sales that would afford them the same "lifestyle" as their professional equivalents in other fields.
So... why is that?
Well........ lots of pieces to that puzzle. Of course art work is not a "necessity" to the buying public like food, shelter, heat, and the like. But neither are a LOT of the things that people buy with their disposable income. A huge amount of things are purchased because people feel that they enhance their lives. They are willing to pay a certain amount for those things. A certain segment of the population buys some "artwork". Within that category, some buy ceramics.
One important factor here is that the "market price" that the public is WILLING to pay for a given type of artwork object and quality of object and the price that the potter would need to obtain for that object to have that above described level of Net Income don't necessarily work so well. It is that comparison that I feel is very important to address for the future of the field.
One potential example:
I see people with work in National and International level juried exhibitions underpricing unbelievably. Theoretically, this is "top quality" work... some of the best that they make. Cream of the crop. So what do I mean by this?
Entry fee $30.00. Packing mats. to ship $20.00. Shipping fee there $30.00 (shipping back if not sold, $30.00 more too!). So just getting the piece into the show, not counting time and materials and other cost to MAKE and photograph the work itself, is coming to $80.00. Then there is the 40% commission the exhibition takes from the sale price. The work in the show is then priced something like only $200.00. 200 minus 80 minus 40% equals $40.00 back for the artist if it sells. (And if the piece does not sell.... shipping back brings that down to $10.)
Now lets say that piece took 1 pound of clay and a few grams of glaze and a bit of firing costs. And only 1 hour to make. So a COG of about $5.00. So the artist got a pre-tax net of $35.00 on that sale. Being self-employed tax-wise, that is about the equivalent of $13.50 earned as an "employee" for that hour to make. Opps.... we didn't count the time to photograph, pack, and so on! That brings it down to McDonalds burger flipper wages.
Yes, you can say getting "exposure" from the exhibition. Well...yes...maybe. But I see the same people doing the same kind of thing over and over.
If you are happy to be a "top of your game" person making $13.50 an hour... well........ that is pretty low reward for your skills. Right now..........that's below the level in most parts of the country to live on. (The whole Minimum Wage $15.00 an hour movement business.) For perspective, Median Household Income in the US is about $52,000 a year. For most, that # also does not include the addition of some form of health benefits (and maybe some other stuff).
Some of this discussion has geographic context. The Pew Research Center defines "middle class" as earning 67%-200% of your state's Median income level. NH's Median income level is about $65,000. So here....... middle class is about $43,500 to $130,000. In Alabama that Median Income is about $43,000. So middle class there is about $28,800 to $86,000.
But within that geographical context... I bet that the pricing of ceramic works being sold is commensurately undervalued in the local market. Meaning the price for a given type and quality of piece in Alabama will be lower than one in New Hampshire.....but both will be "low" compared to earning a solid middle class income for a "top of the game" ceramist.
Go to a commercial US department store. Look at the prices that the commercial manufacturers of ceramic wares (Noritake, etc.) charge for functional pieces of table ware. Work that is produced en-masse mostly without the touch of a human hand and benefits from economies of scale. How does that compare to the prices you typically see for handmade work? Yeah,......
We undervalue our work all the time.
And, over time and repeated exposure, ........over and over and over....... this creates a subliminal message to the buying public about the "real value" of our handcrafted work. It establishes the "norm" in their minds. Perceived value. If I go around to places and see mug after mug after mug priced at $20....... when I get to a store or a gallery and I see a mug priced at $40, I will instantly say to myself, "woah......expensive". If I am a bit exceptional, I will look to see WHY this mug might be twice the price as what I've come to expect. But for a lot of people, the term "expensive" will end the story. It places a barrier that needs tobe overcome before any purchasing decisions. It has nothing to do with whether I can actually afford to spend $40... it is how I "position" that situation in my mind. It is psychological. Selling/marketing is heavily based in psychology.
But If I've been seeing mug after mug after mug at $40....... this new mug will get evaluated on its merits without the initial and involuntary off-putting "expensive" reaction.
No... sorry Mea...... I stand strongly by my original statement: Underpricing for our work hurts us all in the field. And the better you are at this work..... the more that your underpricing hurts. Not in the short term..... Bob's pots versus Jim's pots at a specific single show...... but in the larger "big picture" arena.
"A rising tide raises all ships".