Carolee S. Clark
Newsletter July 2013

The Question that Artists Love to Hate:  "How long did that take to paint?"
"Sunny" painting by Carolee Clark
© Carolee Clark, "Sunny" 10" x 10", acrylic

 “How long did that take?” is a question that make many artists cringe.  They feel it is loaded with judgments. 

However many viewers are genuinely curious about this painting that hangs before them.  They don’t understand how it was made and might not know the correct
question with which to begin to ask about the process.

True, some people are trying to gauge how much you make per hour.   “Let’s see, it
took you five hours to make this and you are selling it for $1000 so that means that
you make $200 per hour!”  They don’t calculate the commission the gallery or show
will take, the time that it took to think of the ideas, to order the supplies, keep the books, clean up after the bouts of painting, frame and drive to the show and set up the work.  Plus there are the hours it took to make the stacks of paintings that didn’t work out before and after the one that will actually sell.

However often “How long did that take?” is just a simple question and we (artists) need to respect the question as pure innocent interest.

I find myself on both sides of this situation.  I have found myself wondering how long it took to make an intricate or fabulously detailed image or see an incredibly creative work of mixed media and can’t imagine the hours that went into its creation.   However, the how long isn’t really the question that matters to me.  It is the how, what and the why that are more interesting to me.

So when I find myself on the receiving end of the question I try to answer honestly.  At times the question, “How long did that take to paint?” is straight forward.  I might know how long it took me to come up with the idea, sketch and then paint it.  Some of my smaller paintings are this way.  Often though, it isn’t such an easy answer.  I will work on a piece for a few hours here and there for weeks, or even months so it is much more difficult to determine.  In this case, I try and explain how this piece came into being.

I want the opportunity to talk about my work.   If the person is asking questions they are interested in my work!  I want to talk with them.

Some artists come back with the quip about “the painting took five hours and 40 years to learn how to paint it.  I don’t like this answer because it is very harsh to answer to someone who is expressing interest in the piece.  Now they feel small and stupid.  I would never want anyone to feel that way.

And yes, there are those who want to know how much money you make an hour.  But rest assured, they don’t understand the art business.  Look at it as an opportunity to talk about our process, our business and our work.   I wish it were all $200 an hour!

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