About a month ago, I posted an entry What Took You So Long? In it I examined the reactions that people often have upon finding out the incredible amount of time that I invest into each mosaic piece, and sort of touched on my reaction to being asked the question in the first place. Apparently, this is an issue for a lot of artists, as I have run across a number of similar discussions since I wrote that. I think many artists feel as if people are trying to make a value judgement - weighing the amount of money you are asking for a piece with how long it might have taken. I'm not sure that's really an accurate perception, but it seems common enough to need to be addressed. After all, if you need to have your appendix removed, the fact that the operation only took a couple of hours isn't going to devalue the surgeon's work, is it? You will be grateful that the surgeon had the education and the skill to perform it well and in short order.
In one of the online conversations I ran across about this issue, I found a new perspective that I think probably comes closer to the heart of the matter than any other I've seen. Alyson B. Stanfield is a business coach for artists who offers seminars and a blog with lots of helpful tips and discussions. On her blog she asked for artists to contribute their best response to "How long did it take you to make that?" Several of the responses were variations on the classic "About *(insert age here)* years". Now I don't know about you, but that sounds flippant to me, and disrespectful of the questioner. If someone doesn't like or respect your art, they won't even bother asking you how long it took, because they won't give a crap. So it seems to me that they deserve a thoughful response, and yet I know artists are very often struggling to find acceptance for what they do, and therefore can be overly sensitive. And answering questions from a defensive frame of mind ALWAYS leads to trouble.
One of the things that I think is worth mentioning for artists who happen to work as I do on several things at once, (see The Twilight Zone of an Artwork) is that it can be really difficult to quantify the time spent simply because pieces are never produced start to finish, one at a time. Even if a piece languishes in the corner for a couple of months while I work on something else, it is never far from my consciousness. I spend a great deal of time thinking about the reason it was shelved, which is usually because something didn't go according to plan, or I have reached a point where I'm just not sure what to do next. So do I count that as time spent on the piece? It is part of the process and the planning, but there are no visible changes made on it during that time. Should I possibly count 50% of that time? None at all?
But the most interesting thing that was mentioned in Alyson's blog was that sometimes, maybe "how long did it take" isn't really even what the questioner wants to know. Maybe that person is terribly interested in what you do, but doesn't have any idea how else to start a conversation about it. So although I think they deserve an answer to their question, even if it's not what they really want to know, maybe the best answer is "Well, I don't really know. What is it about the piece that you like?" And then by making them focus differently, you can have a conversation that feels valuable to both parties. If time is really what they want to know about after all, they'll probably say "what do you mean, you don't know?" and then I can explain the stuff in the previous paragraph. If you would like to see how some of the other artists responded to this question, you can find them here: http://www.artbizblog.com/2009/03/deep-thought-thursday-how-long-did-it-take-you-to-make-that.html