the work of art

The function of your organs is not dependant upon a Picasso centered above the sofa. You will, indeed, breathe without a bound set of pages filled with well-constructed lines of words about a wheelbarrow and chickens.  Your heart will beat, albeit more slowly and evenly, without having ever heard the greatest rock and roll song of all time—whether that song is Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” or Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” or Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” You certainly don’t need movies to make your blood flow.

But try living without art. You can’t. I am willing to bet that not a single room in your house, including the bathroom, is devoid of it in some form.

In my small bedroom, I have eight original paintings, a mosaic, a silkscreen, a print, a photo, two lithographics, and a blown-glass vase made by an artisan. Some were gifts; some were purchases; some are the work of my daughter or me.
These are the things I value not only because they bring me joy when I look at them, but because I know how much heart went into them, how much work. When we buy something from an artist, sometimes what we pay for is the time spent on that single piece, but most often we pay for education, experience, practice, tools, materials, inspiration, and all the things that led to the creation of that piece of art.
It’s the same thing with accounting. You pay not only for someone to prepare your taxes; you pay for the education that taught the preparer. You pay for a roof and walls and materials and utilities.
So a photograph, simple as it seems, is not just a quick capture of a moment in time.
The other day, I took a walk down the street with a friend to shoot some of the pretty flowers we saw on the way home from dinner.  I grabbed my camera and two lenses—about $3,500 worth of equipment—and we spent about 30 minutes walking, examining the flowers, composing our shots, and pressing the button that seems to determine the photo’s value in the minds of some. 
My card had more than 60 images when I returned. I previewed each, selected the ones I thought had potential to be beautiful, and went to work.  While flowers are pretty without makeup, my goal is to convey something more than an exact two-dimensional replica of a three-dimensional flower. I want to show you a world, a place you don’t often notice. I want that picture to swallow one of your breaths.
The beautiful zinnia you see at the top of the page didn’t look exactly like that in my camera. It was planted in a box in front of a neighbor’s house, and you could see a blurred-out background of mortar and brick, but it was a little too pronounced for my liking. When you’re looking at a flower, you’re looking at the flower; the background shouldn’t detract.  So I blew up the bloom. 

Next, I adjusted the color, clicked the Auto Tone button, adjusted the color again, clicked the HDR button and fiddled with those adjustments, pasted the previous version on top of the HDR version and erased the parts I wanted crispier before merging those two images.

Finally, I add a watermark in an inconspicuous place—not because I want to protect the image from theft (anyone with an iota of initiative can blot or crop out my watermark) but because it’s mine.  I sign my work.  It’s a pride thing.  I didn’t spend thirty minutes editing a single photograph so that my picture could be another of the millions of anonymous images floating around without attribution.

Sometimes I’ll post that photo on my Flickr or Facebook page. If you like it, you will leave me a comment saying it’s beautiful. But the truth is that I want you to buy it. I want you to hire me to shoot your kid’s senior portrait or the headshot for your new book or your party. 
And when I tell you that I charge $250 to $350 for a one-hour photo shoot, which includes 25 to 50 images on a DVD, you should understand that I took eight times that number and that each of those 400 images was scrutinized, that the final images were each opened and tweaked, that zits were blotted out, that skin was smoothed, that, ladies, your mustache was softened, your eyes were made to sparkle more, your tie, gentlemen, was enhanced.  What you get is hours of work that’s hard on the eyes and the hands and the neck. 

I want you to find the exchange of art for money a valuable, mutually beneficial one that will bring you joy for years to come.

So even though I have that photograph lying around, collecting pixels, taking up disk space, it’s not free. My name and a link to my website are not a fair exchange for the work that makes a work of art.

I don’t work for free. Period.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized.


  1. Kimberly Hosey June 21, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

    Thank you. Art is work. Art is hard. But also (or because of that), it's way, way worth it. I wish I could convince more non-artists of the fact. When we write, even nonfiction, we carefully craft our words so readers will see the scene how we saw it — how the clouds hang low, myopic focus on one small detail, a trail unspooling down a mountainside, whatever. We're guiding them to see our vision. I think your photos (hopefully mine too, sometimes!) do a very similar thing. I love how you see things, and I love seeing it in your photos. I see you in them, in a sense.

    The countless detailed steps you listed are the most important for potential clients to understand. I'm really glad you laid it out in such a concrete way. (I spend so much time on steps that get me no extra money. I don't think anyone but another artist tends to realize that.) Still, your vision is definitely what I like best. It informs each one of those steps, and the result is unfailingly gorgeous.

    Also, now I'm hankering for some Springsteen.

  2. Kristi Lenz June 21, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    It's sad that we have to keep saying these things over and over. I had to explain it to my husband the other day when he saw a payment I'd received for my work and again when we were looking at some original artwork he thought was priced too high. Value is not put on time anymore.

  3. Kevin Stanley June 21, 2013 at 7:16 pm #

    I think you could switch out the word art (physical form, like paintings and other such things) for the word music, and all your points would still be valid. It's tweaked, we all take shitty pictures and write shitty songs but we pick the good ones out and really work on them. Art is everywhere in the visual form, but art in the audio form is everywhere too. It might be more on electronic devices than in real life, but its still everywhere all the same. and really, they're both art forms, so it's basically the same topic.

  4. Leslie F. Miller June 21, 2013 at 7:17 pm #

    @Kevin StanleyYup. Art.

  5. Elaine Dudzinski June 26, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

    Art is treated like a non-necessity, when in reality, it's what holds humanity together. Art is in the eye of the beholder too, and depending on a whim of some art dealer, you become valued or are struggling to make ends meet. Then there is the whole consumer market which is constantly trying to undermine your work by underbidding or sayiung they are Photographers and taking crappy photos with a full frame D-SLR.

    Most of the time, artists are struggling to make that buck and it's not because their work isn't beautiful. It's all a game of making the sale and creating the image of the artist too. Eventually the work becomes known and sometimes that makes it more valuable. It's a way of marketing yourself to attract, then give a product that is absolutely wonderful.

    Clients and customers are always trying to get something for nothing. I found that if you command a price and value your own work, the clients and customers usually follow thereafter, but only if you can deliver that product. It's a tough business out there. By the way, your prices are extremely reasonable.

    I sometimes wish digital wasn't invented. We'd not be having this conversation as most people didn't know how to expose film properly so it was a moot issue.

  6. Richard Gilbert June 28, 2013 at 9:25 pm #

    Love the zinnia photo, even though in real life I find annual flowers insipid. And the panel of all the photos is a frame-worthy piece of art itself.

    We once went almost four years without hanging our pictures and got steadily more depressed. When we finally put them up, wow, what a difference.

    Of course it's Hendrix's VERSION of "Watchtower"! Dylan may have liked Jimi's best, but in the spirit of your post . . . giving the content provider his due.

  7. Aunt Teena June 28, 2013 at 9:26 pm #

    Your photography is beautiful. Your words are beautiful. Well worth paying for.

  8. Leslie F. Miller June 28, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    @Richard Gilbert I can't believe I left out the word version. Dang it. Let me add.

  9. Leslie F. Miller June 28, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    @Richard Gilbert And what the hell is wrong with annuals? They are beautiful! And they grow like weeds. I don't buy a lot of them, but I love a bunch.

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