$100 socks

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socks

I’m going to go off on a bit of a tangent, but bear with me, it all comes around to art in the end (doesn’t everything?). I remember my mom teaching me to knit when I was younger. I also remember not sticking with it for too long. But, about eight or nine years ago I gave it another try. Mostly to make small toys for my children; the oldest of whom was about four and the next in line one. A few years passed, and I wanted to branch into something more practical. However, I still didn’t have much time, especially as we now had 3 children! Socks seemed like a good idea. Knitting was kind of passé when my mom was raising us, but it has made a comeback and you can find all kinds of trendy knitting stores now with lots of designer yarns. There are some pretty cool possibilities for socks. I was hooked. Not that I’m knitting at all hours, but in the winter when the evenings are long and dark, and the gardens are all frozen, it makes for a relaxing, meditative kind of time. I like that I don’t have to think too much about what I’m doing; no creative angst.

Right, you’re still wondering what this has to do with art. Well, first off, a funky pair of hand knit socks are like a little work of art to me. They certainly make me smile when I’m wearing them, as much as passing in front of one of my favourite paintings. Of course they’re a bit more ephemeral than an oil painting, but maybe that is a bit of their charm. The point that I really want to make though, is about how we assign value to things, and art in particular. The material cost for making a pair of socks is about $10. That alone already makes them pretty expensive socks. I like to knit with sock yarn, which is quite thin and produces a nice form fitting sock that I can actually fit into to my boots, and even some of my shoes. It’s hours of knitting; easily six, probably closer to eight. If I was paying myself even only minimum wage, then these socks end up close to $100. Who pays a hundred dollars for socks ? I wouldn’t. So why spend my time ? To start with, I can end up with something of value, made in minutes stolen here or there, or late evenings on the couch with my husband. But most of the value really is in the intangible qualities; the effort in the production, the quiet joy in the process, the gratitude of family and friends for a meaningful gift. These things are all of value to me, but how would they be conveyed to a stranger if I were selling these socks ? What value beyond the physical would they ascribe to a pair of socks ? Not much I think. Especially when you can pick something up from the nearest chain store for a few dollars.

All of which brings me (finally) to the question: How do we put a value on art ? I’ve seen formulas that take your material costs, add so much for hours of work,  and then multiply by some factor so as to include things like marketing and insurance. That gets you a price, but does it tell you anything about what it ‘s value to someone else is ? As mentioned before, I feel art’s appeal lies mostly in the intangible, or to corrupt a common phrase, the value is in the eye of the beholder. As an artist, I have to figure out how to communicate the value (if it has any) of my work to the rest of the world.   Of course, the world might communicate back, that like my $100 dollar socks, it’s just not worth what I think it is. I still haven’t made peace with the idea of selling art (although I happily buy it when I can afford to do so), and this has derailed previous forays into  making art a more “serious” part of my life. Maybe I’ll figure it out this time. Maybe I’ll just keep knitting socks.

PS

For all kinds of parallel thoughts along these lines I’d recommend the much more polished writing available here:

Ben Hewitt: Who Can Say, Free and Easy, Whole Lotta Good Livin

or the inspiring performance here: Amanda Palmer The Art of Asking

And this says something to me about man vs machine: Glas

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