When I was writing yesterday’s blog post Best Questions to Ask an Artist, I didn’t include one very popular question. I decided it needs it’s own moment while I express my unsolicited opinion. I want to share my thoughts on the question that every artist has been asked:
“How long did it take you?”
Ooo… a touchy question for many artists. I have pretty strong feelings about this one. Many artists seize up when they hear this question. One video-blogger said it’s the one question you should never ask an artist. Why? Because it’s assumed that if an artist didn’t spend that much time on a piece that it isn’t worth as much. That same video-blogger made the point that an artist could answer the question with how ever old they were when they finished the piece, because art involves life experience and exposure. Her point being that a piece of art isn’t completed in the hours, days, weeks, or years it takes to physically paint it, it involves a countless multitude of moments of creativity over the artist’s lifetime. Pretty good point! And I agree… to a certain extent. I think the same argument could be made for any piece of work that requires human involvement. For example, a businessman giving a presentation:
“How long did it take you to create this presentation?”
“My entire life.”
Hmm… it better be a damn good presentation.
My opinion? People aren’t asking this question to determine the worth of the piece of art. They are sincerely curious how long it takes to paint a piece like it. As an artist, I’m always surprised how many people “aren’t creative” or “don’t have a creative bone in their body”. It isn’t an intrusive question when they really have no idea how long it would take.
I know some artists argue that “non-creative” people have no idea what’s involved in creating art, so when an artist says “three days”, the worth of the piece is related to time instead of creative investment. This might be true… but they may also be very impressed that you’re able to complete something like that in three days.
Not that anyone has asked, but I feel that if an artist is so uncomfortable with this question, he or she just needs to learn how to answer it. It’s an inevitable question that will always be asked and the asker shouldn’t be condemned for it because, let’s be honest, it’s a legitimate question. And it isn’t common knowledge that it’s considered a “rude” question by some. I say get over it. Too many people are afraid to ask questions about art as it is without artists making up rules. There are no rules in art, remember? THAT being said…
I got asked this question a lot. I understand the way it sounds to people. But I found that an artist can educate people about the piece they are asking about at the same time the question is answered. They aren’t asking, “How many hours did you physically spend painting this?” They are asking, “How long did this take?”
Here’s my answer to my painting Chess, which took me the longest of all my paintings so far:
“Well, I started with a small sketch just to have an idea of what I was going for, then I set up a little photo shoot to get the perfect perception angle. The whole painting is done from a photograph I took of a chess board and pieces. The actual sketch of the board took me a couple days because it involved so much calculation to get the perception right. I had to redo it a couple times because even math failed me in a few spots. The painting took about three weeks of scheduled work, then about two more weeks of touch ups because the more I looked at it the more picky I got about the board.”
Sounds so much better than:
“About five weeks.”
Many artists seem to have the tendency to want to make it sound like they took longer to complete a piece. Chess took me a this amount of time, so it sounds like it should be worth about X amount of money. But on the other side of the coin… it took me five whole weeks to finish that thing??? There are artists out there who could complete that piece in less than one week! But the reality of it? I had to create it from nothing. It was a process and no one could’ve done it but me, with was clear in my explanation of how long it took.
“The dead chess piece didn’t originally have a crack in it.”
“The background wasn’t originally going to represent the kingdoms.”
“I nearly didn’t add the chess pieces because I liked the background so much.”
These are explanations I could throw in with my answer to their question about time. Details balance the picture of what’s involved in a painting. Details explain why it took so dang long, OR how much longer it really took than the three days (give or take a year, right?) I spent painting Hangman.
So, to all my fellow artists who are afraid of the question “how long?”, I leave you with this one thing to remember:
“Details are an artist’s secret ingredients, but time makes it a recipe.”
I know, right? I make so much sense for an artist.