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 $1,300 dollars for them framed” I said

All the children were impressed, “ooh $1,300 dollars” they were all saying.
The man eyed me with a cool smile “$1,300, 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.


4 thoughts on “The Value of Art

  1. Hmm, sounds more like that guy was just an asshole.(can Amish people even BE assholes?) I wasn't there of course, so I cant sum up his body language and such, but once in a while I get those kinds of guys saying similar things, and in my opinion it boils down to them wanting to put the painter down somehow (because he´s used to being the center of attention, and now all of a sudden you are)and not lose face in front of whomever he wants to impress, (be it 10 kids or a girl or his band of buddies) and it usually revolves around financial matters concerning the painting.

    Hmm, have I already become cynical?

  2. Tim,

    I don't think there was any malice behind it although maybe he saw a chance to get in a good one at my expense. As a guy I can totally respect that, and I actually got a laugh out of it. He taught me something about negotiation too; something I will always remember.

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