Yesterday Juliana McDonald of Ottawa, Canada wrote, “I have been a prolific painter over the last 7-8 years and my older work, large and small, is piling up without much hope of display or sale. I would like to invite people to buy them from my studio at a discounted price (say half of the value, taking off what a gallery would take) so that they can be moved on to a new home, and I could recoup some of my investment of time and energy. My concern is I don’t want people who bought work previously to feel that the work is devalued through such action. Any suggestions?”
Thanks, Juliana. In professional circles the only person you sell to at half price is your mom. All others pay at or near the established prices. That’s what keeps you professional and dealers coming back for more. Sometimes painters find it hard to realize that all paintings can’t be sold, nor need to be. This may be because they are substandard, but not always. Perhaps they number too many for the market to bear. Apart from destroying them, consider making the odd discreet gift. Life is a gift, why then not art? Charities make noble recipients. Giving the gift of art is a chance to show your love.
Having said all that, a possible route is to auction the work. People understand that auctions often do not realize “realistic” prices. Auctions generally operate outside the gallery network. It’s important not to flood this market–you must still keep your work rare. Auctions are full of bottom-feeders these days, as well as folks with vested interests who want to push prices higher. Participating in the auction world, particularly with outstanding rather than marginal work, can actually have a beneficial effect on your career.
Another route is to assemble a retrospective of top quality pieces, perhaps thematic, and offer them to public galleries. This manoeuvre opens new friendships and adds legitimacy. If that fails, offering them on permanent or semi-permanent loan to any number of worthy institutions is also good business. Hospitals, clinics, tax offices, as well as the foyers of public buildings often have a need for art. While it can be expensive to frame and display such a project, the exercise can be worthwhile. Finally, if you don’t feel like lending, you might consider leasing to some office or other private space. Lessees often see art as an opportunity to deduct the cost of looking good.
PS: “Love has always been the most important business in my life.” (Stendhal)
Esoterica: Many countries in the western world are currently enjoying buoyant economic times. Art prices follow general liquidity, and abundant cash is being thrown at substandard as well as quality work. This is no time to lose your head. Good times offer the opportunity to raise personal creative standards and to learn to handle the market in a responsible manner. Markets fluctuate, but an artist should never forget that art is for all time. Day-to-day as well as long-term personal integrity is all-important — and that goes for moving your stuff too.
Keeping your work rare
by Claire DeLong Taylor, Horse Shoe, NC, USA
Keep your work rare — what a refreshing statement to hear! I am tired of the advice of those who say artists need to bombard every gallery/juried show/venue on the planet with their work to “get it out there.” Isn’t it preferable to concentrate on the quality of one’s craft rather than the quantity? I’d rather have completed 50 really good works in my lifetime than 500 mediocre ones.
Art’s intrinsic value
by Vita , Sutton, QC, Canada
Another way to see the “half price sale” is to consider that art is priceless and, as such, should not be affected by an assumed market value. By saying “half price” one should ask half price of what? Couldn’t it have been already half or double of the value when it sold the first time? Contrary to the mind of the investor, who uses art as any other form of speculation, art should be appreciated for its implicit meaning and when its meaning depicts well what our society can’t often express otherwise.
Connecting artists and patients
by Adria Arch, MA, USA
A Boston-based organization called The Art Connection (established about 10 years ago) places artwork in non-profit spaces within a fifteen mile radius of downtown Boston. I have given many pieces to this organization, and have felt so good about finding worthy homes for older, large pieces that are too good to get rid of. Places like the Boston Living Center, a community center for people living with H.I.V., has a stunning collection of art, and I am proud to have my work there, where people who could use an aesthetic lift can see it.
Paint for you
by Mikolean M. Longacre, Fernandina Beach, FL, USA
There is a tendency, I think, especially for artists, to believe that anything painted is worth saving and anything that doesn’t sell should be sold somehow. Not everything that comes out of your studio is worth saving or showing. I have canvases that have been painted over or saved to savor like a living journal of where I came from. What happened to the spirit and passion that brought you to art in the first place and made you work hard on a very difficult path? We all want to sell for income, for recognition or some dream we had as budding artists. But in the end, in reality, it is about the journey and what it makes you as a person and how you can share that journey with a collector who really gets it.
Key to success
by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA
I own an art gallery. While working with a client who was assembling a collection of art that will be viewed by the public, I volunteered to call and ask one artist if they would be willing to come down a considerable amount in their price on one painting, if I did not take any commission for the work. That painting would have been the only one by that artist in the collection. The artist told me that while they would like the additional exposure, they would rather wash dishes than lower their prices. Of course this statement came from a very successful artist who has a strong patron base. She has worked hard since the 1970s to build that patron base, and she has told me that key to success is to keep building strong client relationships, not lowering prices.
Artistic time capsule
by Doug Mays, Stoney Creek, ON, Canada
Juliana’s issue with regard to ‘supply’ exceeding ‘demand’ is not uncommon for prolific artists. I’ve recently decided to create a time capsule for a good number of my watercolors. I plan to box them up in an archival way and print on the box that it is not to be opened for a minimum of 30 years. I figure that way my grandchildren, who will be in their thirties, will be able to unearth some ancient family history on or about 2040. Who knows, maybe I’ll be there to watch the unveiling.
by Doug Pollard, Victoria, BC, Canada
Making a donation to a charity is a satisfying way of placing art. I tailor the choice of charity to reflect my limited ability. Nevertheless, I have derived much satisfaction from seeing funds raised for local conservation groups. On one occasion the group was registered, and I received a receipt for value realized — a bonus equivalent to a half-price sale. Recently I received a solicitation from a charity who had found my name in the Painter’s Keys. I am sure I am not alone in this.
The legacy of art
by Sharon Specht, McGregor, IA, USA
My work is also piling up — literally piles of it! But my feeling is that I would rather spend my time painting than marketing my work — at least for the time being. I would add one suggestion: An annual or bi-annual show/sale of your work — either at your home or a rented storefront. Put normal prices on your work, but have a variety of prices available. Publicize the event. Other options include giving a donation to a raffle for a good cause, or a grand prize for some event.
Van Gogh sold only 1 painting in his lifetime. Does the fact that the paintings weren’t sold in his lifetime detract form their value? Not at all — you know the prices his work is selling for today. Consider art as a gift to the future — as are books, for example. They are your legacy to pass on.
The hazards of resale
by H Margret, Santa Fe, NM, USA
Most artists have problems like Juliana, and very few artists have many galleries showing & selling their work. In Santa Fe, top names like Namingha, Stroh, Biss and even Fritz Scholder sell at 1/3 of the primary market value when a collector wants to unload art and switch out their collections. There are four resale galleries in Santa Fe, not to mention the classified ads for top names being hawked at discount prices. So even the big names don’t hold their prices on the secondary & tertiary market levels. These levels, by the way, are the brokerage galleries which resell art and thrive in highly developed markets. And how can she easily do an auction? Artists in this market do studio sales and special studio pricing to solve the problem of inventory, especially in a softening market like this one. She needs to put her own comfort first. She probably doesn’t have 5 productive galleries who must protect their pricing… each artist must take responsibility for their own solutions. The system takes care of only the chosen few.
There is 1 comment for The hazards of resale by H Margret
by Susan McCrae, Brampton, ON, Canada
I sympathize with Juliana. I’ve been through this too and partially resolved it by only giving paintings to family and close friends, for Christmas and birthdays for about three years running. When I stopped seeing the latest ‘gift’ hanging on a visible wall, it was time to stop — that market had been saturated!
Although I still paint, my focus has been original printmaking for the past couple of years and if I thought I had a problem before, it’s just compounded with prints — mostly collagraphs. I’ve had to learn to be very selective for the ones I show — about 20 – 25% of prints from ‘viable’ plates I make, get exposed to public view.
Value your work
by Carole Dwinell, Martinez, CA, USA
It is important to value one’s work and to not give people the impression that they can just wait you out. I have found that, of all my work that’s up to standard, it’s often just that the right person hasn’t seen the work or that the location/ambiance hasn’t drawn the right people.
Failing to solve the problem with new people and new locals, one simply has to move on. My solution has been to donate to various causes or non-profits which hold fundraising parties with auctions and silent auctions or raffles. After which, the charity benefits from the sale, the work has a new and valued home and I don’t have to look at the damn thing anymore.
by Todd Reifers, Indianapolis, IN, USA
Personally, I have a “burn party” but I only invite myself to attend and I don’t tell anyone of the event. You can’t afford to fall in love with all of your work! Put the best work you can do out for sale and before it goes out ask yourself “Is this the best it can be?” There is plenty of bad work out there these days!
Cleaning out the closet also has a way of cleaning out the mind and soul for new and fresher direction for your work. I like to take one last long look at each piece before committing it to the burn pile and try to ask myself if I had done all I could to make the work successful… taking a few mental notes… then in it goes! Having work that hasn’t sold for quite a while in the studio drags your spirit down every time you glance at it! I do save a few smaller works to give away as gifts.
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada
I agree, never reduce the price of work. An artist’s work is always about integrity and reputation. The hardest thing is to maintain an even keel when marketing and selling works. NEVER reduce your prices, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER! The thing I would recommend artists in this situation do is have a “retrospective” of their works. This could be done in the artist’s studio, a small gallery space, a coffee shop or restaurant or even a home page on the Internet. Showing some of the previous collections of an artist is not only nostalgic, but shows the journey and the place they have landed today. Sometimes revisiting older works shows a stronger connection to the voice of an artist’s current works. Some works just don’t sell and the best thing to do is let them go. Although putting work away is a good thing to do, maybe the Guggenheim will want them in 50 years!
Charitable gifts reduce clutter
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA
Twice a year, I take all my unloved unsold paintings to small local charity fundraisers. In the summer it’s Art4TheSenses, to benefit Altrusa House, a senior day care center, and in the winter I participate in the Holy Trinity Holiday Bazaar. I usually donate a couple of paintings outright, and lower the prices considerably on my other work, 50% of which goes to the charity. This is a great way for me to keep the flow going. If I’m surrounded by old work, I seem to be less productive. And now that my prices have gone up, it gives my friends a chance to pick up an original painting for an extremely reasonable price. Best of all, my studio is always full of consistently priced new work, which attracts repeat visits from collectors. This wouldn’t be practical for artists that work a long time on each painting, but I’m prolific, and storage would become a problem if I didn’t have a system for clearing out the old stuff. I’m very lucky — most of my paintings sell within a few months — why not share the wealth?
Find a worthwhile cause
by Joy Gush, New York, NY, USA
You have touched on just what I have been examining in the slow sale of my paintings in this terrible economy. Yes, I have had to turn away from dropping my prices too, as I promised my agent. My agent in the 1980s told me an artist must not deal directly with the public. Prices must not be “juggled” he told me. “Joy’s values always go up!” Paintings are investments. Of course my collectors would be upset with 50% off sales.
I was also advised not to lease my paintings. My agent told me that 30 paintings had been lost that way when offices filed for bankruptcy and paintings were seized by the Court.
I have now found a very worthwhile cause in regard to medical research work done over years by a family that is involved in finding the cure for paralysis — they are close to it now, and are in need of funds. I have offered 17 of my unsold paintings for them to auction to bring the highest prices over my base price, as a donation. All the money goes to this wonderful group of professionals which includes 200 scientists from around the world.
Healing through art
by Esti Mayer, Montreal, QC, Canada
There is a wonderful foundation in Montreal called Art for Healing which seeks donations of art works for hospitals and hospices in the city. I am in the process of donating some of my works for a hospital here and my friend just gave a lovely painting to the children’s hospital. It is a very worthwhile cause for the sake of art, for artists, and for healing the world, one brush stroke at a time.
Soothing Art in hospitals
by Nancy Stewart, NY, USA
I am chair of the Healing Environment committee at Crouse Hospital in Syracuse, N. Y. We are placing meaningful, soothing works of art in many different areas for patients, staff and visitors to appreciate. The supply does not begin to keep up with the demand. It has been conclusively shown that art and design can lessen the stress levels for everyone. Any given hospital has miles of corridors, lounges and rooms where people may be spending very significant times in their lives. Having the involvement of the art community is one of our goals, as we cannot do it all ourselves. We clearly identify the artist who has donated work, so these contributions are also a way for artists to have their work on display to people from all walks of life. One caveat is that the art work should be appropriate for the institution and that the style is in keeping with the general decor of the hospital. I would love to hear from others who are involved in similar programs.
Conceptual art — art?
by Jeanne Rhea, Raleigh, NC, USA
I am interested in your thoughts on conceptual art and the popularity of it. I have always thought of myself as completely open to all kinds of art, but recently I picked up a dozen issues of the magazine, Art Papers. I had also always thought that I “got” conceptual art at least enough to appreciate much of it. But now I am wondering what has happened to me or to them. I have been reading the above magazines, checking out a few exhibitions and for the most part, I walk away scratching my head and going, “What the #&*! was that?” and “What a waste of resources and energy!” I know there is always someone out there who likes any particular piece of art or art style, but I wonder how do these types of exhibits and artists support themselves? What would one do with some of it — even if free? Unless some of the exhibits are photographed, then they are gone. Still, I keep coming back to the craziness of it all when an artist could make something to be enjoyed or at least preserved for generations. Some of these exhibits have become so far-fetched that one could even paint a gallery stark white and put one black 1″ dot in the center of the floor and the visitors would walk around the dot exclaiming how perfect, how it was placed 1/100th of an inch off center and the reason why and why black was the perfect color rather than yellow, etc.
(RG note) Thanks, Jeanne. All art does not have to hang on walls and be about something. Art can push any buttons, including angst, anger, social comment or nihilism. Current art also serves as mind-bender or entertainer. Some think it has taken the place of the freak shows of the 19th Century. To some curators, traditional art is boring and has now chugged to the end of its line. It’s a free world. The way to look at conceptual art is to drop your lofty standards. Just let your mind be flexed or amused. Never mind who pays for it — it costs the taxpayers pennies. You probably paid to get in. Enjoy. As Marshall McLuhan said, “Art is what you can get away with.”
The value of originals
by Pamela Haddock, Sylva, NC, USA
I paint every day and the paintings are stacking up and even gifting, giving to charity and donating for empty spaces in church and office does not diminish the stack. When I do outdoor shows etc. I have some in frames and some in mats that are in shrink wrap — I discount the shrink wrap pieces by the cost of the frame — yet people always assume because they are in a “print rack” that they are prints. I don’t have time for prints — I have too many paintings I explain — maybe not in those words — but I try to make it clear that everything is original and one of a kind. So many folks are printing their work on note cards and smaller-sized reproductions. I find it a battle sometimes to help people understand that original artwork is affordable and desirable. How do you educate your potential buyer?
I need to consider the idea of an auction. We have a local auction and I wonder if I were to approach the person who runs it with the idea of an art auction and did publicity in the local paper to generate attendance, then a portion could go to pay the auction and I could donate a portion to the local soup kitchen or other charities I like to support while still recouping some monies for paper, etc.
Don’t settle for less
by Lois McCurdy
I’ve been an artist since 1942, and received my first commission in 1947 for 75 cents. That was quite a bit of money for an 8 year old. After all these years, in spite of having sold a few thousand originals and prints (which I’m happy to say have increased in price about 7000%) there are stacks of paintings left – some 30-40 years old. In attempting to sell on eBay, I was told to sell for 99 cents — and refused. It’s unfair to collectors to cut prices, and I feel better knowing that you agree. My eBay motto is “better to sell one painting for $1000 than to sell 10 for $100 each.”
I do use many as gifts, and tell my kids that the stack is their inheritance when I move on. It would be nice to sell more, but I’m not sociable enough to really get involved in the shows. I tried a couple when I was much younger, and hated it. I also tried teaching — drawing classes — spent the whole time wishing I was alone at my easel instead of telling someone how to hold a pencil or make a mark larger than a quarter inch on an 18″x 24″ page. The only class I really enjoyed was one I set up for a Special Olympics basketball tournament — those kids are amazing! What uninhibited freedom of expression!
Cheap auction sales reduce value
by Pam Craig, Memphis, TN, USA
Many organizations around here call on visual artists to donate their work for fundraisers. It looks good, it shows well over certificates, and would draw many people to an otherwise boring affair. These organizations accept anything and everything from ‘substandard’ to the sublime, mixing all together into one big event. I, at one time, donated older pieces that were not moving well to such events thinking how nice to participate, but have reassessed this process when several people came by the gallery asking if any pieces of this year’s series would be donated, they really liked getting a “bargain.”
I felt that maybe these charitable donations weren’t such a good idea for the artist. If people became accustomed to the work going up on the block then is it a possibility that potential customers would look for the “bargain” as well and stop buying at full price?
I also feel that the lower price would make the full-paying client feel the possibility that they were “ripped off” by having paid full price. So, I have recently declined to give work to charitable organizations for this very reason. I will donate my time and my energy to their events but not my work. I do donate my work to selected private collections of colleges and museums where I know the pride they show for such a donation insures that my paying customers will be protecting their investment. I haven’t drawn up the courage to give my work as gifts to people, mainly because I fear it could end up in a closet because it might not match the décor or donated to a charitable organization on their behalf and not mine.
Unsold work marks progress
by Faith Puleston, Herdecke, Germany
The few painters I know personally all have a whole stack of unsold stuff representing their artistic development. Actually, I read somewhere that the first 200 paintings should be destroyed, so your advice was actually very kind! I was initially a bit horrified about that claim, but having perpetrated many more than 200 canvases in the meantime, I have to admit that the comment was pretty much on the mark! Looking at some of my old stuff makes me shudder… I have a cellar full of paintings, some huge, a number of which are really not bad, but probably not saleable, and I have a stack cluttering up a corner of my studio, which is not really big enough to double as a storeroom.
I’ve hesitated even trying to sell my work, as it all represents a learning curve, though now and again someone does purchase one, I’m happy to say. Whether I will ever recoup the enormous investment in materials is doubtful. But painting is a passion and its own reward as far as I’m concerned.
One more thought on this. We all know that every work made by a (dead) painter who has been declared immortal is catalogued and exhibited (if not hidden in a vault). I’m sure these painters would turn in their graves if they knew that all their rough sketches, workouts, experiments and just plain bad work are objects of reverence and a sound commercial investment if deemed so by the “experts.” This phenomenon of the Emperor’s new clothes is unfortunately an important aspect of the art trade.
The poker game of art
by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA
The half price sale question gets to the heart of what is the danger for an artist who enters the gallery system. Every artist will face this dilemma in the poker game of being a professional artist.
Fairfield Porter, a late blooming American painter, had a large cast iron furnace in his summer studio that he stoked with older and unsuccessful (in his eyes) paintings. Monet was said to have kicked a hole in an old painting of his that a dealer brought to him to trade for another. When you sign on with a gallery, you trade off your ‘freedom’ to sell as you wish at what price suits you. You are gambling that the gallery will earn their 50% commission by building a market for your artwork. You are gambling they will do a much better job of marketing than you will. Buyers know about gallery commissions and like Satan, will tempt you to sell cheap. When you sell for half price, you are destroying the value of your work in the market place and being unfaithful to your gallery commitments. Word gets around quickly and your credibility will be permanently damaged. Every product has a pricing system.
Beginning artists are often too eager to get into galleries before they have built up sufficient skills to produce consistently high quality work and new galleries in small towns accept lesser art that they mistakenly believe they can sell. The end result is a devaluation of our product and a public perception that there is a ton of overpriced artwork. Wal-Mart and their many imitators have created a business model the public has enthusiastically adopted. The goal is to acquire everything on the cheap. The art market is often the first to take a hit when the economy goes sour. The end result is that most every artist will have periods when they have lots of paintings in their studios and in galleries and no paintings being sold. The good poker players will find a way to hold on to their cards and stay in the game… but it will never be easy!
Enjoy the past comments below for Half price sale…
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Dennis Marshall of Paterson, NJ, USA who wrote, “People will remember the bombs rather than the really good ones… Some paintings do not make the grade and others are the ones that indicate a new direction and are needed to generate more work.”
And also Merilee Sawusch of Libertyville, Il, USA who wrote, “Our local library has art work that people check out for a period of time to hang in their homes or offices. It would get the work seen and if someone has it hanging in their home and fall in love with the work, your information could be available to them to purchase more.”
And also Janie Prete of Clayton, NC, USA who wrote, “I was just preparing for an outside art festival and was debating whether or not to have a bin labeled “discount bin.” Apparently I was unsure if this procedure devalued my art (having many leftover paintings) and after reading your letter, I decided not to proceed.”
And also Margie Guyot who wrote, “I think all of us have paintings sitting around, wondering what to do with them. Here in Michigan, with our economy shot to hell and half the population losing their jobs, the joke among us artists is the only art that sells in Michigan are Kinkade prints and yard tchotchkes! Now I have some ideas about what to do with all my paintings that are collecting cobwebs in the back room.”
And also Lucille Norella who wrote, “Another venue for selling artwork would be Connections Magazine. The distribution is 25,000 families. The cost is $90 and the artist would be featured in three separate issues of the magazine.”
And also Edna Hildebrandt who wrote, “To me even just the ‘scratchings’ I make I keep. It is sometimes a bone of contention between me and my husband because he can’t stand what he calls clutter. To me however they are valuable because they are my creations.”
And also David Jane Arnold of Washington, MO, USA who wrote, “I’ll add my two cents. I have an artist friend that has what he calls a ‘Vanity Affair.’ He basically has a huge party with all the works he wants to sell out and priced. He has food and music and of course drinks. It’s a great way to sell some art, have fun with friends and clients and also deduct the event on his taxes.”
And also Tom Charvat of Westmont, IL, USA who wrote, “I liked the framing of the piece. Many times I put the frame of a canvas right up to the painting and it looks deadly. I like the freshness of the off-white border. Is this a linen insert?”
And also Jean Chambers of AZ, USA who wrote, “It took me years to learn that if the old, bad or questionable work was hanging in my studio, I dwelt on it rather than something new and fresh. Just move on!” www.jeanchambers.com
And also Hap Hagood of Clover, VA, USA who wrote, “In the U.S. there is a State Department program called Art in Embassies Program. American artists can submit works for placement in U.S. Embassies for a 2 – 2 1/2 year period, giving each artist exposure he/she would not get otherwise.”