Painting; the time and the price

How do you answer the question, “How long does it take you to paint a painting?” Most often this question follows close on the heels of, “How much do you sell that for?” I suppose that the two do go together quite often. We pay the plumber by the hour (on top of whatever the house visit is). The cost of services like yard work and house cleaning are all determined by how long it will take to perform the job. But should that determine the price of art?

My standard answer is that the time is irrelevant. We pay a brain surgeon for his skill, not his time. In fact, the less time he spends in there the better. We want the best, and the best will only spend the time absolutely necessary to do the best work.  Art is like that. James Whistler (one of my favorites) said, “An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision.”


I love the story of the Chinese master who was approached by a new client. “Can you paint me a painting of a rooster?, asked the man. “Yes, I can”, the artist replied, and told him the price. “Return in one week and I will have it for you.”  The man agreed and returned one week later  for the painting. “Ah yes”, the rooster.” said the master, and picked up a brush and paper. In five minutes he had painted a beautiful rooster and handed it to the client. The man stammered, “You expect me to pay that much for something that only took you five minutes to paint!”  “Oh, but you are not paying for these five minutes”, replied the master. “You are paying for the week I practiced so that I could do this right.”

I am not sure where the vision comes from or even how it comes. I do know that without hard work it seldom comes. That vision is part what the heart feels, what the brain sees and something else we don’t really control. But it is that something else that links us to a larger force than just us.

Andre Gide, the French writer said, “Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.” More often than not it is the painting that took me the least amount of time that is the best. The ones I labor on (leaving God out of it) l always end up looking worse for the wear.

So perhaps the price should go up as the execution time goes down. What would clients say if we replied to that question of time v/s price with something like, “Well, this one costs a little more because I spent less time on it. I got out of the way sooner and let God finish it.” I am including a 14 X 11 painting that was one of those that just came together from the first brush stroke. The magical feeling that comes when I am both the painter and the observer is a true high. No drug could ever replicate it. And the price is really not relevant.

What actually caught the wind was may spirit as I did this one.


You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.