The Value of Time


Time… I’ve been asked countless times, “How long does it take you to make a frog?” The answer varies. The problem here is that if I answer with the hours of labor in the work, this does not account for the value of time that has gone into all aspects of frog-making, including the time it takes to gather materials, handle sales and emails, make sure the bills get paid and customers keep coming…all the stuff it takes to run a business. And there’s the consideration of the many years I’ve put into mastering my craft. A surgeon gets paid not for how long it takes to do the work, but how good he or she is at his or her job. If that’s a farfetched example, then let’s say, a plumber. One hopes that, over time, having mastered a craft, one’s work becomes more valuable.

There is the story of the plumber who taps on a pipe. He fixes the problem and presents the bill. The client demands an explanation. The plumber gives him a bill that says it costs nothing to tap on the pipe. The amount demanded is for knowing where to tap the pipe. This is just a humorous story. But it makes a point. Knowledge and craftsmanship are valuable. One thing that makes a work of art a true work of art is that the artist can do something in an original way that no one else can do. Good advice often given to artists is to find something that one can do better than anyone else. Do that. (What if I don’t want to do what I do best? Get out of here with such questions. This is a short article.)

When asked, how long does it take to make a frog? The answer is that it takes different amounts of time, depending on the project. If I told you how many hours I toiled away at building the frog, one may not think I spent enough hours doing what I do. The truth is, frog work is labor intensive. It takes as long as it takes. I put in whatever time is necessary, which nowadays means I take longer but not as long as I took when I first started doing this work. That is to say, I’m good at what I do. Because I’m good, I have high standards. Also, I experiment. I do this even when I’m doing my best to approximate a piece of work I have done before. Experimentation, invention, discovery and originality come at a price: time.

The difference between me and the plumber, or mechanic or handyman or whatever, is that I don’t try to get the work done as quickly as possible. This is not true of many professionals. The idea is to get the work done as well as possible and as quickly as possible so one can maximize earnings. To a degree, the time/efficiency variant applies to my work. Efficiency is part of mastery. It is only one part. Other needs may outweigh the need for efficiency. The work takes as long as it takes.

If I were to say the average frog takes 20 hours of intensive labor, not accounting for all the other aspects of the work, just the actual creation of the work, this answer is deceiving. For, if a frog takes many extra hours, I really feel that labor. To the neophyte (and who isn’t; most people don’t make copper frog sculptures), 22 hours sounds much like 20 hours. Not to me. I feel those 2 extra hours. Which is to say, when I am working, the labor is intensive. Time goes by way too quickly. And I am tired from the work.

Then there is the stress of having to meet a deadline. Let’s also not forget that I must work more frequently than not at building a frog. Those factors have wear and tear on the body and soul. Those factors must be accounted for when pricing a piece of work. What is best is to have a rhythm and schedule that allows for maximum productivity and minimum waste. This optimum situation does not always exist.

The answer to the question, how long does it take to make a human-sized copper frog, is that it takes a 40-hour work week. Do the math. But realize that even this answer, which is closer to the correct amount of time it takes for me to make a large sculpture, is not what it seems because however many hours I put into the work, the work is more valuable than any amount of money I could get because I am not famous…yet, anyway. And if I ever do become famous, who is to say that I will be around to enjoy that fame? More than likely, I won’t. Moreover, even famous artists don’t get paid what the work goes for typically after they die. If the work stands the test of time, and my money is on this being true of my work, my sculptures will be more valuable years and decades and so forth after I am dead.

How long does it take to make a frog? I put more value into the work than I will ever get out of it. That’s just how art works. What matters to me is that I create work of value. The only reason it matters to me that I see some of that value is not only to put food on the table, but also to give money to worthwhile causes. Giving is important to me. That’s why giving sculptures will always be part of my work plan. I know that the value in the sculpture will only grow.

Oh, and the value that I get out of making a frog sculpture? I learn. I grow. I innovate, experiment and discover new ways to create. Making a frog is a creative process. The value I get is being able to create something beautiful, intriguing and wholesome. That's good enough for me.