Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Picasso Got It Right: Sustainable Production and Profitable Consumption

By CCA LiveE

The following post is part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. The rest of the posts are presented here.

By Maya Joseph-Goteiner (CCA)

If you want to see artist Claire Baker smile, buy her a 150ml tube of Cadmium Red oil paint for $50. That is the “luxury” item that Baker has had to sacrifice to keep her work “large.”

While the $8,000 price tag of one of her 60” x 70” paintings may sound expensive, Baker’s net revenue isn’t much at all. I asked Baker to itemize the cost of one oil painting.


150 ml tube of paint per unit is $50. Cost of 5 tubes-10 tubes $250-$500
60” x 72” stretcher (from a custom frame shop) $100-$350
60” x 72” stretcher (home made) $15
Canvas (expensive linen) $70
Canvas (inexpensive in bulk) $30
Studio space in Los Angeles, cost per month $500
Two-four weeks of time spent painting (@ $25 per hour. 40 hours per week) $2,000-$4,000
Min Overhead Cost: $2,795
Max Overhead Cost: $5,420


With the typical 20 percent discount that galleries give preferred collectors, Claire’s 50 percent cut ends up being a mere $3,200. Baker would be in debt without her adjunct professorships and $25,000 Pollock Krasner grant.

Baker is one of the 1.99 million American professional artists, of which 10 percent are fine artists, according to a NEA study. As an artist and curator myself, I’m deeply concerned that America’s cultural relationship with the arts is waning. One of my aims in pursuing a DMBA is to figure out ways that arts organizations, and artists specifically, can be more sustainable. 

I see potential in integrating the arts into the fabric of daily life, but first we need to rethink the business model for organizations and individuals in the arts. Business exposure is a misnomer in art school, and that’s a shame.  Without entirely compromising the integrity of the artistic process, I think there are opportunities for visual artists to maximize profits and reach a new audience of collectors. The process of creating editions is one approach towards sustainable production and profitable consumption.

To make a reasonable income that compensates her time given the gallery’s profit share, Baker would have to price each painting at over $20,000, but Baker can’t control her pricing points. Much like any market, Baker’s bracket is determined by the social politics of supply and demand. And although Baker is an Ivy League grad and an alumna of a top tier MFA program, she is not an elitist. She wants her work to be accessible, and this is why Baker is considering producing editions of prints.

Visual artists have much to learn from musicians, who need and cultivate an audience. Beyond cultural values, musicians instinctively consider the experience and needs of their audience, continuously gauging the popularity of their music in order to capitalize on their success. Few visual artists consider their “product” and the market in the process of making art.

What is an edition?

Editioning is the act of making multiple impressions of a single artwork. With its roots in printmaking, it first appeared in the form of a woodcut in China around the 9th century and made its way to Germany along with the technology of paper production in 1400. The first prints on paper were supposedly playing cards. With a woodcut or etching plate, you could only get so many impressions before noticeable signs of degradation. The prints produced are numbered 1/5….5/5 or 1/500….500/500.

I’ve always had a passion for collecting prints. The exceptional thing about printmaking is that the artist cannot erase or fix, cover up or mask, in effect it is the closest you can get to the process and hand of an artist. 

Sustainable art

While you may not be able to afford a Picasso painting which ranges from a few hundred thousand dollars to $105.4 million, you may be able to afford one of his prints for a few hundred dollars. As master printmaker Thomas Wojak said, “Printmaking is democratic.” The veteran Bay Area artist who teaches at CCA has screen-printed projects for artists including the late Larry Sultan and Carrie Mae Weems. He has produced editions for numerous clients, including the estate of Jerry Garcia and he has exhibited his personal work nationally and internationally. Wojak sells his editioned prints starting at $250.

  Why is editioning sustainable?

  • Artists often sell the edition over a longer period of time, and so they continue creating revenue after breaking even.

  • Editions are often produced by a master printer, creating more stakeholders.

  • More people are likely to see the work of art given that it is likely hanging in multiple homes. It’s an opportunity for an artist to work on his or her brand identity.

This value proposition predicament is nothing new. When Jackson Pollack was tight on money, Arnold Newman who photographed him for a feature, was offered a 12 inch x 12 inch square for $40. Making money as an artist has never been an easy feat. And from that economic reality grows the common assumption that artists were born into or married into the upper class, that 1 percent which is now infamous as the target of the Occupy Wall Street movement. 

People who think artists are wealthy people who dabble in the arts and live comfortably are wrong. According to the latest NEA report, artists struggle. “The median income for artists was $34,800” which is low, especially in cities such as New York or Los Angeles where rents are easily $1,000 a month. 

Collecting prints

One of the reasons that the median income for artists was $34,800 (latest NEA report) is the dearth of collectors.

Art Tactic director Anders Petterson noted in a 2011 interview that there are only 60,000 art collectors internationally and those who buy art out of passion are being bought out by investors eager to turn a profit.

Who then collects prints? While some would say “those who can’t afford drawings or paintings,” Kobi Ledor, a Picasso dealer in the Bay Area, disagrees. He notes that the late Norton Simon owned 710 Picasso prints and only five Picasso paintings. And although no print has sold for $105.4 million, on October 31st  2011, La Femme qui Pleure 1, a Picasso etching made in 1937 sold for $5,122,500. She may no longer be crying. In Ledor’s estimation, this print most likely sold for about $100 in 1937 (about $1,000 in today’s dollars).

Even today, you can buy a Picasso print for a few hundred dollars. And although you may enjoy trading stocks, with a piece of art, whether it’s a Picasso or a Claire Baker print, you will see it on your wall and enjoy it every day, so why not buy something aesthetically magnetic? Who knows whether your pick may exponentially explode in value. As Ledor notes, it’s not predictable what will turn to gold.

Maya loves talking about art and business. You can reach her at mayaelise@gmail.com or find her on Twitter  @365daysofprint

image: p*p via Flickr cc

These articles were created as part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for <a href="https://www.triplepundit.com/category/cca-livee/">The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts</a>. <a href="https://www.triplepundit.com/category/cca-livee/">Read more about the project here</a>.

Read more stories by CCA LiveE