Friday, 14 June 2013

a question for you

I'm pretty vexed at the moment about the issue of how I price the paintings in my exhibition. My overriding feeling is that it doesn't feel right for these paintings, coming as they have, out of the process and for the purpose they have, being exchanged for money.

My writing, music, movement, and painting, have come to me as a gift. They're not, as in the past, the result of a bargain I made with myself, specifically the bargain that it was ok to do work that didn't sit comfortably with me in exchange for money.

The gift of my art came back to me as a result of  a manoeuvre that I was unaware of at the time; the moment when I decided, unconsciously, that I was going to stop giving myself away at my own expense. To stop pouring myself into the world without ever stopping to replenish my resources, trying to fix the ocean of suffering and injustice wherever it crossed my path.

After more than two decades of such behaviour I was dry as dust. Empty and barren, though still determined - still trying to squeeze the strange mixture of creativity-for-money and creativity-for-meaning that was academic research for a sense of internal replenishment, to no avail. (Something that still foxes me about this is that it hadn't always been this way. You note that I say two decades, not three or four. I'm not someone who followed a conventional academic path, or the societally assumed path towards material gain. I rejected all of that, looking for something else, from a very early age. But my unseen vulnerabilities tripped me up nonetheless...).

The gift that came back to me when I gave up what I was doing and decided to lie down for a while was the gift of my abandoned self. Uninterested in therapy, judgemental about what I saw to be the self-obsessed ways of 'western' capitalist societies, I'd been blind to the complexities of my own biological, physiological, souliological, feelingological self. I'd been losing outwards, soul-haemorrhaging, for a long, long time.

The gift of the self is not a diving further into ego; into insularity, a sense of self-importance, external recognition-seeking. It's quite simple, in a way. Respect for basic needs, for air, space, food and water, both literally and metaphorically. Attention to what feels right, and what feels, in a certain way at least, easy, as opposed to accepting a constant battling with what I knew, really, felt quite wrong. Recognising that feeling of wrongness (such an old, old friend....), and deciding to stop ignoring it. Finding out what might take its place.

The space I made was immediately filled by my painting; by images and words, and then by music and movement. Those first, tiny, steps towards making space for myself prised open the edge of a strange, frightening, welcoming portal. Overgrown with weeds, rusty with disuse, the entrance to another way of being.

The gift of myself, of care, respect, food and space, gave me the gift of my art, which is the gift of my life. The natural movement of what now comes through me is outwards, to the world. But which world? It has to be chosen so carefully. I know it isn't the contemporary commercial art world. The means of sharing which chose me at the start was availability for anyone who chose to come and look, via the Internet. No promotion, no competition, just word of mouth.

There's been good feedback from this tiny, limited audience, and I'm content with that. My focus is to stay true to the process that wants to happen, protecting it as much as is possible from the outside-world-pleasing effects of feedback. Anything beyond that is a gift upon the gift, riches. If one painting touches just one person for even a moment, I'm blessed a thousand fold. And now I have an exhibition. Which is raising a lot of tricky questions. Not least, how, do I, charge for these paintings?

From the start I've considered the Amanda Palmer route, fully aware that 41 followers on a Facebook page does not an Amanda Palmer make. This would mean that people would pay what they wanted to pay in order to take an image home with them. I keep rejecting this, hearing all the objections to it, and then coming back to it even more strongly.

It would be nice to cover the costs of the show, which are considerable. An inbetween route would be to price everything very 'reasonably', but I see problems there too. I would possibly rather give a painting away, at my own expense, than allow money to change hands at a rate that possibly 'undervalues' the painting. And that's the issue. What is value here?

Do we sell lambs? Yes. Do we sell children? No. Do we sell gifts? On the whole, no. When I lived in the Tibetan community in North India I was very struck by a cultural principle explained to me as sonam chembo. Literally, if I remember rightly, it means, 'large luck'; it seemed to signify a principle of outward-flowing generosity. Watching this in operation, over and over, taught me a number of lessons which I never forgot (and which, come to think of it, probably fed into the psychic/emotional cocktail which would manifest not long afterwards as those 20 years of excessive outward flowing of the self...).

Amongst the folk I hung out with, one aspect of sonam chembo seemed to be that, in a refugee situation where most people had very little, any unexpected financial or material gains were shared out. When I came home and started doing this, people thought I was a sucker, or an unreconstructed female, but when the whole society is at least aware of this principle ( I can't comment on anything but what I actually observed in terms of its workings)  it has some notable effects. The idea that you share out what has come to you has never left me.

The gift that I now receive daily as my creative life wants to move outwards,  in its various forms. It came to me for free, like a child, bringing all that a child brings (joy, incredulity, expense, idiosyncrasy, willfulness, connection.....).  It seems to have a function beyond myself, in terms of (some) people's responses, and I want that function to continue, to flow, wherever it finds its path. I didn't go looking for a solo exhibition in a local festival, but it came.

The people who will walk in that door, however, are not my Authentic Artist/Discipline of Freedom fellow artists, or my friends and supporters. A little further into Lewis Hyde's book now, his discussion of studies of gift-exchange cultures suggests that gift-giving is usually limited to those in the immediate group, that it doesn't extend to people outside that group. That struck a chord. Perhaps it's ok to charge strangers if they want to take my gift home, at least to the extent that making, mounting and framing have material costs.

Context is all, though. I've had cards of my work in a very centrally-placed art/craft shop in Stirling for three weeks and have sold two. It may be that this work can appeal to people within my creative community, but that it will find no resonance beyond that. I'm ok with that emotionally and philosophically, and I need to keep that at the forefront of my mind as I branch out into this public experiment.

Right now I'm of the view that I will charge something, because of the expenses involved, but that I won't charge the 'more' that everyone says you should. Who cares if people who interact with the commercial art world say that I should charge more, or that I'm 'not valuing' myself or my paintings. These comments come from that world, and are not the point, for me. £50 for an A4 original watercolour, mounted and framed (cheap frame, but it looks quite smart; high quality, acid-free, white core mount...), £70 for an A3? Or less? If someone wants the painting, I want them to take it home. What the hell am I going to do with so many paintings on my walls, anyway?



  1. Hi Tamsin, this is a very interesting area,your true reward is in doing the work but putting it into the world requires a price tag. I don't think there is an easy option, too cheap and people don't respect it, too expensive and people baulk at it, so you have to find a price that ultimately you feel comfortable with. The whole pricing structure of art is totally crazy anyway and I have never come to terms with it pesonally, my only advice is don't make it too cheap because people that are passionate about their work tend to do that. What you wrote was terribly interesting and similar to my journey of discovery, you have got to the core of who you are and found a way of expressing your reality which is fabulous. :)

  2. Wow, thanks Eoghan, not least for battling through the impediments that Google seems to put in the way of people who want to comment here.... I don't even know what cheap/expensive is in this context, it's crazy!



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