A friend of mine makes exquisite jewelry. I make jewelry myself, and part of me looks at her earrings (not her pendants so much) and says, I could do that. I could do that for less than she charges.
Except I couldn’t. Nor could you. Nor could any of the people that tend to dismiss the work of artisans as not being worth what they charge for it.
The reasons I can’t do the work of my friend is because she designed these earrings. I would not have thought to put that particular arrangement of stones together. I have the know-how to copy her designs, but that would be unethical. I don’t pirate music; much less would I pirate the work of a woman who creates beautiful jewelry.
Nor do I begrudge what she charges for them. She is an independent businesswoman, who has expenses beyond the actual silver and gemstones: her time, for one, and the overhead needed to run a successful business. (Like many things, jewelry making requires bulk materials on hand — you do not go to the bead store and buy individual beads.)
The craft explosion in America has resulted in far too many people who trivialize what it takes to be an artisan. It takes more than skill, it takes determination and love of craft. There is a world of difference between knitting a sweater for your boyfriend and selling hand-designed pieces for a wider audience. I tried to sell my work for a while, but came to the realization that I lacked the doggedness necessary to make a go of it.
Gifted amateurs exacerbate this problem. They undervalue their own work, undercutting prices for more experienced professionals. The rise of Etsy and other online marketplaces give them a forum for this. A few years ago I was selling jewelry to people at church and my workplace, and I was fortunate to have customers who were knowledgeable and insistent on paying what my work was worth. In one case, I showed one of my Christmas trees to a professional artist. She loved it, and asked me a few questions about its construction, and then what I would charge people for them. I told her, and she bluntly replied that I would be charging half of what I should be.
I was reminded of all of this recently by a John Oliver rant about “fast clothing.” We look for cheap, rather than good, and the result are workshops in Bangladesh and Vietnam. Then when we view artisan goods, we are shocked by the prices, when we should instead be appalled by how our acquisitiveness damages not just those who would make a living by their craft here, but the poor people in other countries. (There is another rant about the dropping purchasing power experienced by the 99% in this country, but that is for another day. There are poor people for whom buying cheap is a matter of necessity, and I do not begrudge them, any more than I think poorly of people who shop as Walmart because they need the low prices.)
The “locavore” movement needs to apply to more than food.
By the way, the friend who makes jewelry is Rain Hannah, and her website is Honey and Ollie, and her Etsy shop is honeyandollie. Check her work out. Oh, and members of my family? There are these lapis lazuli earrings….