Sunday, January 29, 2012

dirty valentine money

Sometimes I wonder if just because I can sell something, if that means it's worth making.  I ran smack  into this recently as I pondered Valentine's Day.  Every year I think about scraping off some of that Valentine market, because it's a huge market.   Did you know that Valentine's Day is one of the major retail holidays, a billion dollar industry?  And I'm not talking 1 or 2 billion, I mean billions and billions. I want some of that action, but my head is usually still spinning from the Christmas holiday, and by the time I remember Valentine's Day, it's already February. Too late.

And I've been okay with missing out, because I'm conflicted about Valentine's Day.  I love the sentiment of Valentine's Day, but it's nothing but a vehicle for selling stuff.  The  idea of taking a moment to recognize the  love in our lives has been buried under a mountain of bad chocolate, half-dead roses, and stuffed bears made out of non-flammable nylon.  How do you make nylon non-flammable? I have no idea, but I'm pretty sure the process has killed a few rivers in China.  That's not Valentine's Day fault, I'm just saying, there are things that should always be able to burn no matter what.

Of course, you can easily say the same thing about Christmas, and I have no compunctions whatsoever about participating in the Christmas sell-a-thon.  So, this year I went ahead and put a bright red heart on a white bird cupcake stand, called it the "lovebird cupcake stand" and put it out there.   I've been feeling totally dirty about it, and I keep asking myself "Why?"  I almost did it as an exercise to see how it would play out, to see if it was worth getting a little dirty for some extra money.

Before I deliver the punch line, here's my little story about my Valentine's Day disillusionment. When I was in my early 20's, my boyfriend at the time brought me a Valentine gift that was totally forced because I made a big deal out of being recognized as the love of his life on this particular day.  The year before, when we were a fresh couple, his Valentine's Day gift was unexpected and spontaneous, showing a real sensitivity and thoughtfulness.   Now, our relationship was on the rocks so this was the perfect way for me to act out and manipulate him into trying to live up to the year before.

Once the deed was done, I felt bad because the gift was merely a symbol of how shitty things were between us. And I realized that had totally bought into the marketing message of Valentine's Day, which is "Show me you love me, buy me something."  From that day on, I may have thrown a few handmade cards around here and there, but I've never really participated in Valentine's Day again.  It just cuts way too close to the heart, and I ain't letting no marketing man get that close to me.

The question I started with was, "If I can sell something, does that mean it's worth making?"  The simple straightforward answer is it depends on how much you want the money.  This Valentine's Day, I wanted the money.  That nasty, dirty, pink and red money.


  1. Interesting post. I think this idea of selling because you can is a fundamental question and contradiction for potters (and, really, for any people who make and sell art or craft).
    I used to "do" art fairs and I struggled with this all the time. You can guess how I resolved this, I said I "used" to do art fairs. I make kinda strange sculptural work but what tended to sell was basic functional work or cute work. I started making some pieces that were easy to sell but I felt like it was a cop-out and I wasn't being true to myself.
    Of course there were plenty of people making interesting functional work and art that was cute, neither of those is bad thing, but it wasn't me.
    Today I teach for a living and make art too (I don't make much money on the art), but I still experience this disconnect when I am asked to donate something to an auction or a fundraiser. Do they want what will certainly sell or do they want what I "do"?

  2. boy oh boy, Whitney!...been there, done that ( about the boyfriend and soliciting a valentine part!) and exactly like yourself, realizing my own behaviour and need to 'fit in' I did a 180 on my thoughts about the entire holiday....

    ( still dont mind the extra holiday income though...I kinda figure its the same as X-mas! he he... in my own life I am much more about expressions of love and gifting 'just because'...the element of surprise goes so much further....)

  3. I was struggling with the exact same thing this year. The local college is having a last minute Valentine's day sale on the 14th. So for the past couple weeks I have been working on Valentine's day themed pieces. I felt like an a$$ making a bunch of cute little hearts and whatnot though, so I had to throw my own spin on some of it (anatomical hearts, robots, binary code, etc). That way I was still making stuff for Valentines day, but I didn't feel as bad about making things just for the money.

  4. Perfection, really. I know what you mean. I want to say that your little birdie heart is adorable, and a lovely way to say, "I love you. I think you are sweet." I would purchase him any day of any month, and if you happen to have him in your shop when people are looking for that "Extra special something" for that big day of hearts, all the better.

  5. Hi Whitney:)

    Oh.. I so agree with your thoughts and your struggle between making and selling. I constantly go from high on making a few $$ to the bad fellings that comes with being a part of a commercial circus. I have no awnsers.. but perhaps providing a opposit to the chinese factory made junk... making something with care of nature and people something that says something about yourself that others can relate to? Anyhow I'm very glad I'm not alone with the struggle

  6. The line: "there are things that should always be able to burn no matter what," completely made my day!

  7. Oh man, you are in my head! Yesterday, in asking myself why, the line, "Because I can..." came up (because I can... make things). Of course my inner-editor followed up with, "... does that mean you should?" In my Grandmother's voice, but that's another story. I totally get what you're saying (and yes, I went ahead and finished creating a Valentine's Day card for purchase, too. Thanks for your candor. xo

  8. I appreciate everyone's thoughts on this subject. It's something I struggle with in all of my work, not just holiday knick-knack stuff. It's very difficult creating art when we are so entrenched in a commercial, capitalistic culture that does not value you as an individual unless you are making enough money to cover your own ass. It's enough to drive any artist insane as we try to balance the judgement we put on ourselves and the pressure we feel to sell the work we make. It's not just a holiday problem, but a year-round problem!

  9. I've never been that much of a fan of Valentines as a holiday it's just never really been my thing. When I was younger I used to dread it since I never got any cards or anything!