Yesterday, Brian Reifer of Velez Malaga, Spain, wrote, “On my website I display works that are not only available directly from me, but also with two galleries that represent me. My Spanish gallery takes works at 50% while my French one takes 40%. I am now in the process of arranging representation with another gallery in Spain that will take 20%. Each gallery, incidentally, takes different subject matter. How do I price for each gallery and for my own selection?”
Thanks Brian. Now, more than ever, it’s a worldwide market. Artists who want to be in it for the long run need to be “world-class.” Pricing, regardless of subject matter, should be consistent across the board. Unlike only a few years ago, people in far-off places now know exactly what artists sell for. Most often prices are published on an artist’s website. As well, dealers are generally willing to give out this information. Customers can and do monitor dealers on overpricing, and artists can call dealers on undercutting, discounting and profiteering. Furthermore, dealers have ways of finding out what artists charge for direct sales. More than ever it’s important for artists who make direct sales to stick pretty closely to their standard prices.
The Internet gives transparency and fairness in the art game. It exposes fast-buck dealers and levels the playing field for artists and dealers alike. Collectors who are not web-savvy these days are few and far between. It doesn’t matter what deal you cut with dealers, the end price should be the same.
In my opinion the main purpose of an artist’s website ought to be to empower those who believe in you. These are your friends and partners — without them you are just another artist trying to sell your work on the Net. And what you might sell directly is often just a bonus derived from those friendships. For the idealistic artist and the pure at heart — just take a few moments to consider your potential power. In a way the Internet’s the simplest and most beautiful thing — it helps to free creators to just keep on creating. Brian, many of your collectors will be travellers. It’s possible these collectors may go to your site for more art at a later date — from any corner of Planet Earth. Be ready, be fair, and be world-class.
PS: “Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Walk beside me and be my friend.” (Albert Camus)
Esoterica: A guy sitting on a sidewalk with a few watercolours is restricted to passersby. Looky-loos and licky-loos (ice-cream drippers) degrade both work and ego. Apart from spam, the Internet is drip-free. It maintains your dignity and independence. On the Internet, specialized creators meet up with specialized collectors. The Internet is brilliant at confirming prices. The value of art, being arbitrary, ranges somewhere between thirty centimos and thirty billion pesetas. Prices are largely determined by what other people pay for similar things. Apart from size, style, competence, genre, date and endorsement, your integrity is your biggest single asset. Look after your integrity.
by Rosa Vera, Washington, DC, USA
I just read your letter twice and still it is not clear to me. Does Brian then charge the same price for his painting (say 2000 euros) no matter which dealer sells it? I quote, “More than ever it’s important for artists who make direct sales to stick pretty closely to their standard prices… It doesn’t matter what deal you cut with dealers, the end price should be the same.” I would have understood that he charge 2000 for his direct sale and then 2800 for one and 3000 for the other, etc, depending on the dealer’s commission; what he takes home is always the same. I am curious to read your reply.
(RG note) Thanks, Rosa. I apologize for not being clear. What Brian takes home might very well always be different. What stays the same is what his collectors pay for his work. This will keep his values consistent, his collectors pleased, and his dealers working. See letter below.
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA
I see so many artists making the mistake of temporarily raising their prices when the paintings go into a gallery. This is a very bad idea, for many reasons. Whatever system of pricing you use, you should always be consistent. Why would you want to undersell your gallery? Why would a gallery want to represent you if you are in competition with them for sales? When clients see your prices fluctuate up and down depending on venue, they lose confidence that your prices actually reflect the value of your work. When a collector makes a high-end purchase, then later sees similar work priced much lower, he feels that he has overpaid, and rarely makes another purchase from that artist. The retail price of each piece should be the same, regardless of the commission an agent takes on sales.
Prices of art on websites
by Lynn Arbor, Pleasant Ridge, MI, USA
What are your feelings about having prices on your art on the Internet? My artist friends who are locally well known use their websites to display their work to galleries etc, and don’t want to show prices. It seems crass, they think. But then I see other, very talented artists with prices. What do you think?
(RG note) Thanks, Lynn. The Internet is brilliant at giving information. People logging onto an artist’s or a dealer’s site want to know what’s available and how much. Individual prices next to illustrated paintings need not always be priced — but a current price list ought to be included somewhere. However, when an artist has little or no track record, or as yet no dealer representation, or where prices are up in the air, then prices might be left off until they are firmed up. At RobertGenn.com our stats tell us that there are about 100 unique visitors a day — not a lot, but enough. Forty-two percent of these find their way to the price page. Eighty-seven percent of site visitors check through to one or more of my dealers.
All artists now world-class
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA
The Internet is a great marketing tool for all artists. It’s a “must have” for the self-marketing artist. The downside to the Internet is that it has made every artist in the world — world-class — flooding the market with art and artists alike. Sales are possible through the Internet, but mostly it is a promotional tool for the artist to get their work in front of potential buyers and galleries. The Internet is a portable portfolio that can be left or sent. The exposure is great, but sales will not come as one might hope — you must still get your work in front of people.
What the market will bear
by Janet Toney, Greeneville, TN, USA
Should prices be based solely on size with no regard to subject, market, or how well I personally think a particular work came out? There seem to be so many variables. Subject matter, it seems to me is regional — one subject is more popular here than others, and I know if I paint it, the price ought to be more because it will sell. If I paint something, and paint it well, but it’s my favorite and not particularly the favorite of people where I’m able to show my work, should my price be lower? In most cases pricing for goods and services is based on “what the market will bear.” How should art be valued for sale? What guides do you use?
(RG note) Thanks Janet. The simplest, easiest and most expedient system is to price by size rather than subject matter or time taken. This gets collectors collecting “you” — your total opus — rather than, let’s say, your “flower series.” Subject matter fluctuates in popularity and the market is fickle, but you, Janet, ought to be solid — and as far as the practical collector is concerned — a known quantity. There are lots of other ways for artists to be eccentric. Roberta Shapiro’s “Same size” pricing and other letters on this subject can be found in the clickback Principles of pricing art.
Pricing by size
by Ron Ukrainetz, Great Falls, MT, USA
I’m frequently asked the same question by many of my students. The retail price should be the same no matter where the piece is sold, or how much a gallery percentage is. I have galleries that take anywhere from 25% to 55%. The worst thing that a potential purchaser could find is that an artist’s work is cheaper when bought directly from the artist, or some other source. Larger and more prestigious galleries tend to drop those artists like a hot rock. As artists, we are already standing in front of the public with our soul bared. Keeping our integrity intact by “across the board” retail pricing suggestions will not harm us in any way. What works well for me is my standardized-per-square-inch pricing. I will figure in the retail price of any framing, shipping, insurance (if necessary), and return if not sold. That is the price. Naturally, if the works lean toward larger sizes, the price per square inch also grows. After twenty-two years, this is a proven method for me. Hopefully it will work as well for others.
Selling to free up studio space
by Carol Kerner, San Francisco, CA, USA
I need to sell paintings to free up studio space for painting. I’ve been told if I sell these “lesser quality” works for less than regular pricing I would be devaluing previously sold work. So do I try selling them for regular prices, donate them to charity, or destroy them? My typical price is $250 for a 9″ x 12″ oil on canvas.
(RG note) Thanks, Carol. Destroy them. If they are “lesser quality” in your eyes you need not inflict them on the world. If, on the other hand, they have sentimental value for you, or you feel you can still someday learn something from them, put them out of sight in storage for the time being. There are ways that you can condense the volume of paintings. For example, stretched canvases can be stripped off and rolled up — and stretchers can be reused. Sometimes, though, it’s just better to chuck them. I always remember my father standing in my studio and saying, “You can either throw this out now, or you can wait a year and throw it out then.”
Not going to make it
by David Wayne Wilson, White Rock, BC, Canada
As your letters go by, I am increasingly appalled by all the smart stuff Bob has to say. And after much questioning of myself, I have concluded that I haven’t a hope in hell of ‘succeeding’ as an artist. I am most unwilling to apply all the advice that I encounter in these twice-weekly letters — never mind the additional clickback wisdom. I am a ‘disinclined business-person.’ It is too much info and too ominous in extent. If I want to charge less, because I’m hungry (i.e. wet copy of Rembrandt for $20 and 7/8 of a pizza) or more, because I really don’t want to part with a work — that is all part of who I am. I have spent my life trying to get over the pathetic effects of regimentation that I was born into. What I ‘charge’ today has nothing to do with yesterday or tomorrow. It has to do with “now”! If it’s okay with you Bob, I will just do what I love to do. In fact, I think it’s high time I got back to doing what I love most — absolutely unacceptable and inappropriate perverse compositions — ones that reveal the machinations of the human psyche!
What flakes artists can be
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada
It never ceases to amaze me what flakes artists can be. They want to be taken seriously and they want to have all this integrity. Yet, they make stupid mistakes like change their pricing from clients, to galleries back and forth like it should not make any difference. This would be the one area where artists can have a voice and make their careers have a solid starting point. This is also the one thing galleries want to know when they are looking at artists; what is their work worth? Some artists start their paintings at $50,000. Then they wonder why they have never sold anything. Other artists get a little ink in the press and their prices suddenly quadruple overnight. These are very difficult bells to un-ring. Artists need to think long and hard about what their work is worth. Increasing their pricing at a steady and conservative 10% a year gives the work increased value. This also lets clients realize they have a solid investment with an artist rather than a flash in the pan. Give a deal to your family. The rest of the world should have a solid price list across the board.
Unique method of dating paintings
by Jeff Schaller, Downingtown, PA, USA
Two years ago I came up with a unique way of dating my paintings. After signing them on the front, I silkscreen an image of my children on the back. For people that know me personally they will know that paintings from last year have two kids on them and this year’s paintings have three. I do the first print on my studio wall for my records then date it for future reference. The idea came from talking to a ceramicist about signing his work. He signs his work with a shell. The story is that in early Japanese culture the potters would sign their pieces with a shell. Over time the ridges on the shell would wear away because of constant use and there would be no imprint left. The idea being that once you became a master potter you and your artwork became one so there was no visible sign of the creator. I thought it was an interesting concept and decided to adapt it to my paintings. I chose to use an image of my children because they bring me so much joy and I know watching them grow up is going to happen so fast. The idea is by the end of the year the screen will be so worn down that the image will be either completely washed out or just pieces visible.
Dating of paintings
by Charles Morris, Grand Junction, CO, USA
Dating is such a good way for me to catalog and record my output that I use the date as my numbering system of works painted. On the day of completion, I write the number (for example, today’s date 9-28-05) on the back or edge of the work (I usually paint on stretched canvas). I put the same number in a chronologically organized logbook that also notes the working title (that might change), the size, a simple thumbnail sketch of the image, and anything relevant to the image such as why I wanted to paint it. Later, I will go back to this same logbook and note when I apply the final varnish and what type it was. I also put this information on the back of the painting next to the number assigned for possible historical or conservation purposes (all this will be concealed under backing boards so dealers and buyers won’t have to be bothered by it). Who knows, it may be helpful for someone someday.
Magnificence of drawing
by Mary Aslin, Woodinville, WA, USA
I feel, and have always felt, very strongly about the magnificence of drawing as a means to an end and as an end in itself. I have been musing about “art lessons” for children, and have concluded that I can teach everything that I believe is important about art with a pencil and a piece of paper. That isn’t something that goes over too well with parents, who, even though they might say that they want to enroll their children into art lessons with the intention that they hone their drawing skills, would actually like something more “finished” looking. Edgar Whitney, the brilliant watercolor artist and teacher on the last day of classes with his students, took a piece of charcoal and drew a line from the top of one wall, across the floor, and over onto the next wall, finishing with the word “draw,” indicating that it was of singular importance in becoming a better artist. I believe this to be true also. When looking at the work of the Masters, I enjoy those pieces that reveal the hand of the artist. They tell me more than some of the finished pieces.
by Coulter Watt, Quakertown, PA, USA
The Dick, get ready for Rita! original painting that appeared in the last clickback, is actually a totally digital image that I produced with a digital photograph of the diver that I took, a picture of G. W. Bush, another of Dick Cheney and yet another for a holiday resort pool bar, all put through Photoshop for the joke. But, what’s great is that it doesn’t matter what the medium is or how the image is produced, it’s all about content. Ideas matter most.
The Western Story
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