Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Value of Art

by Armand Cabrera

I was painting the cherry blossoms in the tidal basin with my friend Palmer Smith. We were having a good day; we both had sold paintings off the easel. We had started in the morning and worked all day. I was on my fourth and last painting of the day when a group of ten Amish children came up to me to watch me paint.
Soon an Amish man in his late 50’s joined them and all the children became quiet and watched him as he stood there looking at my painting.
“How long does it take you to paint one of those?”
“About three hours” I said
“How much do you want for it?” he asked sternly.
“I get 1300 dollars for them framed” I said

All the children were impressed, “ooh 1300 dollars” they were all saying.
The man eyed me with a cool smile “1300, that’s too bad, I was going to give you a thousand for it, but you said thirteen hundred.” He turned and continued walking, ending the conversation.
The children lingered for a moment s looking at me and the painting. “Is he always like that?” I asked. They looked around me to see where he was and then quickly shook their heads, yes.

The children ran to catch up with the man and I was left thinking about my brief conversation with him.
In a few sentences he showed them how to do business and the value of a thing is not fixed. It is only worth what someone will pay for it. It was sound advice for most businesses, especially for someone farming or ranching. What a great lesson he had just taught them.


Of course art is not a field of corn and I have an ethical obligation to maintain my prices, a farmer doesn’t. He gets as much money for his product as he can as quickly as he can since he is dealing with perishable goods. If I undercut my galleries by selling cheap paintings on my own the galleries would drop me. Still, the value of a thing is never fixed, it is only worth what someone will pay for it. In a good economy a lower offer is met with disdain, in a bad economy a lower offer is usually welcomed. It is a lesson worth remembering.