Why Is Calligraphy So Expensive? (Part 1)

Updated: Dec 2, 2019

I've heard it many times before. It doesn't offend me, so let's get really honest for a moment: have you been wondering why calligraphy is so expensive? Are calligraphers just taking advantage of the fact that pretty writing is popular right now? What exactly do we do all day that we can justify writing a few words and charge so much for it?

I understand the frustration behind these questions, and I want to help! I’m right there with you - we live in a culture that trains us to look for the best "deals" - how we can gain the most value from something, at the least amount of cost. But sometimes the value we gain from certain things (like art) is more intangible and difficult to measure, and at first glance we may mistake it for having little value and high cost…not a good deal at all.

In this series, I hope to clear up some misconceptions surrounding calligraphy, offer some transparency into the behind-the-scenes process for a project, and provide some idea of the value in purchasing calligraphy.

Please don’t mistake me - this isn’t a sales pitch. Instead, this series is meant to be an honest conversation about a topic that many people feel uncomfortable asking out loud.

First, let's take a quick moment to define what calligraphy is. The most common misconception about calligraphy is that it’s just pretty handwriting. But calligraphy is so much more than that, my friend!

I tell my students at the start of every class that calligraphy is more like drawing than it is like handwriting. We purposely and slowly create each mark made on the page before continuing on to the next, considering each stroke both on it's own and as part of the whole. There's a focused rhythm involved, and methodical care given to every letter. But even within the methodical care, there is constant creativity at work as we carefully choose the character and shape of each stroke, each letter, each word, each line, and each ornament....so that in the end every small part of the whole works in harmony, like an orchestra playing Mozart. Because of this creativity at work, my calligraphy is completely unique, reflecting both my personality and my emotions on the page.

If we think about the traits of calligraphy just described (deliberate mark-making, care and intense focus on each line of ink, constant creativity, emotions and personality reflected on the page), we can see that calligraphy resolutely falls in the category of art, rather than utility.

I don't want to try and tackle all the feelings and arguments surrounding original artwork and its cost, but I will say this: People buy art because it makes them feel something. It's not a necessity in life, like food or shelter....we don't need it to survive. But when I connect with a piece of art, it gives me an intangible joy in that moment and it becomes so much more than materials and a canvas. It moves my soul, and I believe that in owning that piece of art I am gaining enough enjoyment and value to pay the cost to own it.

I believe people are drawn to (and purchase) calligraphy for the same reasons. The design and the words combine together and have the unique power to move us deeply and in very intangible ways. A bride might hire a calligrapher to address wedding envelopes to share the beauty and excitement of her wedding day with her guests, before they ever arrive. Someone may ask a calligrapher to design a piece that celebrates words often said by a loved one now gone. Another may bring a love letter to a calligrapher with a request to add beauty and emotion to the words through design. These stories, and so many more, hold an emotional value that goes far beyond any monetary price.

Next week, we'll take a peek behind the curtain into a typical day in my studio and discuss what goes into the final price of any project. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts -- comment below and tell me about a piece of calligraphy or art that has really spoken to you!

(Click here to go directly to Part 2!)

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