I think one of the most fundamental misapprehensions people have about the value of commissions is that no one really gets told how mass production defrays costs to the consumer. So, when they see the prices for custom artwork online, they expect the retail prices they see in stores, and it doesn’t work like that.
You go to the poster section at wal-mart. There’s an amazing poster there. It’s got dragons. It’s got wizards. It’s huge. It’s, what, 12 bucks? Awesome, good deal. You can afford that. It’s as much as three or four cheeseburgers, dang, that’s some serious amounts of art.
You go on the internet. Some asshole wants 12 bucks for a crappy sketch of one character sort of standing there. What the fuck? It looks like crap. It’s nothing compared to the poster you just bought from a store. If that dragon poster is worth 12 bucks, this dumbass sketch should be one buck. Maybe fifty cents. That’s if you’re being generous. You don’t even get a print, it’s just going to be a file on your computer, it’s not even actually real! What a rip off.
The thing is, that sketch took an hour, or two hours, or maybe even four hours. The artist drew it for a fraction of minimum wage. Drawing is hard. It took thousands of hours and a really special kind of dedicated self loathing to learn to do that. It might have taken thousands of bucks of tuition money, which means semesters, which means years of early mornings and late nights and maybe even some crying here and there.
Your dragon poster was not made by a guy who got paid 12 bucks. Your awesome dragon poster was made by a guy who got paid hundreds of bucks. Maybe thousands. Because a company paid him, and then turned around and made even more thousands of dollars off that artwork, by selling instances of it to multiple people, 12 bucks at a time. It’s called mass production, and it leaves the general public with no real clue as to the sheer amount of time and effort and skill that goes into every single thing they can buy for the price of a couple cheeseburgers.
Artists who work on commission don’t generally have the advantage of mass production. Every picture is made new and custom for each client. Instead of charging the hundreds of dollars an hour a professional artist could ask for from a company, we’re asking for just enough to get by, and sometimes a hell of a lot less than that. Because it’s what people will pay, because it’s what they think art is worth, because it’s what a lot of young, naive, desperate artists are willing to agree their art is worth, and because there’s always going to be some kid who thinks they’re being ripped off because they don’t really get what they’re being asked to pay for.
I should have some pithy and clever thing to say here to wrap it up but all I can think to say is basically the whole situation is sad and scary and I hope eventually we’ll all have a better way to deal with each other, and everyone will be a lot clearer on what it takes to do art and to get art.