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How much should art cost?: a response to Lana Del Rey’s $1 poetry collection

Pile of U.S. $1

In a recent article published on Bookstr.com singer and songwriter Lana Del Rey announced that she would sell her collection of poetry for $1 (USD). According to quotes from Bookstr.com, Del Rey states the reason for the low price tag was because her “thoughts were priceless.” On the one hand, part of me was thrilled with the low price because it means that poetry—and art—would be easily accessible to a wide range of people. Del Rey is a famous and probably fairly rich artist who doesn’t need more cash. So, in a way, it is extremely humble for her to price her work so low and think of it in that way. On the other hand though, this made me extremely worried for precedent this sets for struggling and upcoming artists who already get told regularly that they should work for free and/or put low price tags on their creations.

So how much should art cost?

Cost and value are subjective things and hard to pin down. At the end of the day, something is as valuable as someone believes it to be. For example, I have a hand written card from my father that he gave to me for my 24th birthday. It was the last card he ever gave me and died later that year. A simple piece of paper with some words written by no one famous is, to me, priceless. So if the cost of things all depend on how we feel, how can we ever put a price on things? And why are the arts so undervalued?

Artistic endeavors are hard to quantify. They provide comfort, beauty, love, entertainment, joy, sadness, and much more. But emotions are not really things with dollar signs. The arts, a term I am using to describe almost anything creative, have been undervalued for a long time and I think it is because of their pricelessness and inability to quantify like other products. This means many artists struggle to make ends meet and it isn’t because of some struggling artistic stereotype, but simply because people refuse to pay artists what they deserve. Artists spend their lives developing skills to be masters in their fields, yet get little credit for it. Often they are asked to work for free, work for exposure, or simply to shut up and just be thankful anyone wants them around. The best way I can sum up this frustration is by inserting a clip from the comedy team Foil Arms and Hog, who perfectly address “working for free” in the arts:

Working for Free – Foil Arms and Hog video

All in all, I think we need to pay artists a livable wage. Of course there will be runaway success stories where those artists will make millions upon millions, but what should the rest of us artists waiting in the wings live off in the meantime? I don’t know if Del Rey’s price tag helps or hinders artists to get the pay they deserve, but I wonder if Del Rey shouldn’t have put up her price and then used that money to help fund other art projects and lift other artists up?

Do you think we have a problem with the way we ‘value’ the arts? What do you think about Del Rey’s $1 price tag? If you’re working in the arts, how have your experiences been with getting paid what you deserve? As always, share the reading love.