This post has been rolling around in my head since yesterday afternoon, sparked, mainly by attending the Sugarloaf Arts and Crafts Festival for a few hours. For those who might not know, Sugarloaf is a huge gathering of artists and artisans from around the country, who come to demonstrate their trade and sell their creations. I try and attend at least one of the shows each year, and yesterday was the day.
In any case, as I was walking around looking at all the various items (and there was, truly, art for everyone), I began to notice two trends. First, the artwork which represented a unique or unexpected combination of techniques got the most attention, and, second, there was a lot of discussion around money and value- what I’m calling the vulnerability of pricing.
The first trend, that of unexpected combinations getting the most attention, was apparent in the designs of the artist Christina Nguyen, who handstitches paintings. I’d never seen this before, and so, to me, it was an unexpected combination. Her work looks like paintings, but, as you look closer, you see that each piece of the canvas is actually stitched. Her work was stunning.
Another unexpected combination was the combination of carved fine silver work and stained glass, by Lightwing Designs, from Vermont. (Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have a website!)- but their work, too, was gorgeous. They’ve been recognized by the Smithsonian for pioneering a technique of overlaying silver work on top of stained glass. I was incredibly impressed with their artistry, and bought a pendant, to have an example of their unique style for my very own.
What was interesting about the unique combination art is that it seemed to create a new category; and in this new category, consumers seemed less price sensitive. Since we don’t learn anything new unless we can compare it something else we already know, we are naturally wired to make rapid price comparisons when items are of a similar, known, category. But when an artist breaks the box of a known category, blending one or two new styles or techniques, our usual pricing ladder shifts, and we become open to a new pricing paradigm.
This has implications for all of us who sell services. As I’ve said before, we need to each find a way to make our services known and recognizable to our target market, while, at the same time, differentiating ourselves enough so that we aren’t compared as commodities with other businesses like ours. We have to find, and articulate our points of distinctive difference in order to stand out in the marketplace.
The second trend I noticed was around money and pricing- specifically- the vulnerability of pricing your work and putting it out on display. I was struck, over and over, by how visitors would enter the artist’s booth, and then rapidly, and loudly, make price comparisons and statements of value, as in, “Oh, this is overpriced. Oh, this isn’t worth it. Oh, this looks just like that picture we saw a few booths ago.” Each time this happened, I watched the artist, and could see a range of emotions shifting across the landscape of his or her face. In these moments, I became aware, over and over, of the vulnerability and tenderness in pricing.
In looking at a plain leather moccasin (handmade), it’s difficult to know how to measure the amount of artistry and time and materials and skill that went into constructing that shoe. More than one consumer noted aloud that they could get a similar pair at a big box store for half the price. Yet, to the artist, that moccasin represented an idea, and hours of labor, and a livelihood.
It became apparent to me, again, and again, that showing your art at a show like this is, as much as anything, a test of resilience and your capacity to withstand vulnerability. For most of us, we’re uncomfortable when asked about our prices in front of an audience, and few of us, I imagine, would want to hang signs on our websites, noting what we charge. Instinctively, we realize that pricing is a vulnerable subject, one that can open us up to judgment and ridicule.
So, while I’m not sure, yet, if I have a soundbite kind of point as a takeaway, I’m just noticing that when we can present distinctive value, price becomes less of a consideration, and, when we do have to state our price, we must realize it requires resilience. By understanding the vulnerability of pricing, and what impacts it, we can, perhaps, find a way to honor our future clients, and ourselves, in terms of our own artistry, talents, and the results we create.