You don’t need an economics degree to understand the pricing strategies of art galleries. One of my former dealers — no longer in the business — noticed that a very high percentage of gallery visitors just came in and went out. Painting sales were so infrequent he had to do something about it. Thinking price was the problem, he introduced a lot of cheaper items into the gallery — ceramics, souvenirs, knick knacks. The number of sales rose but total dollar values declined. The few “anxious wallets” who did come in simply satisfied their need with less expensive items. This situation is called “Collapsing Floor Syndrome.”
On the other hand there are galleries that test the high end. This generally involves “name” and “dead” artists as well as “investment” art. Dealers may even compete with one another to see who can get the highest prices. Supply and demand play a part in this environment, but it has to be said it’s good for living artists to be associated with the high-end artists. Simply stated, this implies that someday your work will also be worth more. The downside for artists who work with high-end galleries is that a gallery may lose interest in the promotion of less expensive work. This situation is called the “Sky-High Ceiling Syndrome.”
There’s lots of gallery talk these days about “price points.” This generally implies a range of prices in a given gallery to suit all wallets. Many clients come into galleries with an idea of how much they want to spend, and it’s the gallery’s job to show them something in their chosen range. The variation in gallery capability in this matter is astonishing. Just as some artists have no business selling their stuff, some galleries show little or no natural talent as to how art placement works. This situation is called the “Haven’t Got a Clue Syndrome.”
From an artist’s point of view, it’s probably best when an artist’s work is in the middle range of a gallery’s prices — neither falling through the floor nor pushing at the ceiling. Beginning artists are better off at the lower end, while mature ones can be nearer the top. It’s all to do with provenance and confidence. Ignorance of this understanding can be detrimental to galleries as well as artists. Perception of quality aside, proper pricing in a gallery and consistency across your stable of galleries is vital to your continuing to thrive.
PS: “Artists live in an imperfect world where affairs of the heart must sometimes be compromised with business.” (Sara Genn)
Esoterica: What has this got to do with the joy of making art? For those of us who also choose to make our living out of our joy — everything. Without a significant cash flow, an artist simply cannot travel, grow, learn and maintain the day-to-day peace of mind to continue. It’s a good idea for those of us at the creative end to re-examine gallery relationships from time to time and favour those who meet our current needs. Loyalty works both ways in all seasons, of course, but an understanding of basic economics and the wisdom to make small commercial decisions have a lot to do with keeping us happy.
The right price
by John D. Stevenson, Gatineau, QC, Canada
I am in three galleries across the country and they seem to have different percentages they offer their artists. One takes 30% of the sale price, the artist frames the work and includes in the selling price, another takes 60% and they frame the work. Is there a standard break down or is it just the deal each gallery works out? The price points in these galleries are different as well. One with a price that I have set and the other sets the price. It seems it works on both fronts. Any thoughts as to the right price?
(RG note) Thanks, John. The standard these days is 60/40 in favor of the artist. 50/50 is becoming more common. I give 50/50 to my best galleries who regularly do significant annual business. My advice to artists is to control the final price themselves and make sure it is similar in all galleries that handle your work. Stay away from galleries who want more than 50/50. If a gallery can’t make it at 50/50, they are generally incompetent — or cheaters — and shouldn’t be encouraged in the business.
Paintings on the web
by Beverley Harries, Rodney Bay, St Lucia
Can you give me some insight as to the rules and no-no’s of gallery websites displaying the artwork of artists. I am having a show in December and the curator of the new gallery that just opened this month is wary of the problems of displaying visuals of paintings on the web… and viewers copying the work off the site. She told me that she would display only a small highlight of each painting instead. I would rather she display the complete works, but in a smaller size, therefore making it impossible for viewers to copy a good picture. She also wanted a watermark but the web-designer told her that watermarks can be removed… is this so? When I check websites for artists and galleries I don’t see anything but full images and some with or without watermarks. I would like to hear your views on this subject.
(RG note) Thanks, Beverley. She is one of those dealers who “hasn’t got a clue.” The value of putting up the full picture, preferably enlargeable, vastly outweighs the chance that someone will copy it. Incidentally, a professional cloner will have no trouble removing the watermark. Nowadays savvy dealers use the Internet to great advantage.
Selling well with sky-high folks
by Maxine Price, Wimberley, TX, USA
I have wondered why all the galleries I am in do not sell my work equally well, not realizing that there are actually terms for the way the galleries approach the selling of art. The gallery who sells more of my work (by far) uses the “Sky High Ceiling Syndrome.” They sell etchings by Picasso, Rembrandt, and other “Old Masters,” some original painting by deceased “Masters” and more recent work by very well known artists as well as emerging and contemporary painters. My work is in the medium range there and it has been quite successful for both of us. I find galleries with this approach to be rare.
Selling is an art
by Janet Vanderhoof, Morgan Hill, CA, USA
There is so much to consider when looking for a gallery and giving up your control. Selling art is an art. I have been in 4 galleries and now none. I recently have been published and for a couple of weeks had an art show that included 27 pieces. I sold 7 pieces and got my asking price. My past experience was a sales person for a wholesale lumber company. I was very good and always number one in sales. I probably found it easier to sell my work than most artists would. I put myself into a business-minded state. And when I reflect back to the show it is as if I am not selling my work, but someone else’s. I hate selling my work in galleries. I have had success when the person selling my art loves my work. But, now I am very leery selling my work in a gallery. I don’t want to sell my work in a gallery that frames as well. I don’t think their priority is to sell art. I realize that nowadays things are changing and galleries are dying right and left and most of the time I believe it is their lack of sales ability. Right now, I think having your own shows and being creative about selling art is the way to go. I believe galleries will soon be a thing of the past.
(RG note) Thanks, Janet. Don’t count on it. In the long run an artist needs good art and someone who thinks it’s good art-besides yourself. Regarding framing, I believe in doing business with galleries who frame. It’s good for everybody. Customers get the frames they want and you don’t have to endure damaged framing or the effort and cost of getting and shipping them. Showing a variety of frames is a selling tool for galleries who know what they’re doing.
Price point problems
by Judith Moore, Merrickville, Ontario, Canada
My query is one that I just addressed yesterday with a colleague while hanging a group show of landscape artists in my art gallery. There were four artists of varying style but similar talent. Price points varied and I have suggested that the entire show should have some continuity in price. Also in question was the pricing system of $995, versus $1000. I choose to price in even 100’s. Any thoughts on the matter? The gallery business is a hard one at best and I must constantly remind myself that although most of what I do is for the love of set and Design, decisions affecting the bottom line must be considered or everything folds. It’s tough to do. Also deciding the flavor of the gallery and being consistent proves easier when I stay true to my own comfort zone between urban classy and traditional without the intimidation and stuffiness.
(RG note) Thanks, Judith. It’s not your job to tell artists what their prices should be or to change them to suit your particular needs. Art needs to be sold by the provenance of the individual artist — the credibility, quality and track record that he or she brings to the work. The artist needs to be in control of pricing and eliminate galleries who do not understand this. With regard to $995 vs $1000, it’s a matter of opinion. $995 sounds too much like merchandizing to me — but that’s me.
by Gail DeMers, New Smyrna Beach, Florida, USA
You mentioned “provenance.” In theory, I know what that is, but I have never seen one. I have a few good paintings from local artists I acquired by trading goods and services, and none came with a provenance, nor have I ever provided one for any of my paintings. Is this a document that comes only from dealers? What are the required contents? What does one look like?
(RG note) Thanks, Gail. A lot of artists asked this. Provenance is both a document and a reputation. In the strict sense it’s a piece of paper attached to more expensive art that tells date of completion, genesis, authenticity and previous ownership. In the broader sense the provenance of a given artist is the verifiable material on the artist’s history, publications, shows, critical acclaim, representative collections both public and private. Awards, honours and professional associations may be part of the perceived provenance of a given artist. It takes time to build authentic provenance. The streets of some cities are littered with artificially generated provenance.
Variety of sizes important
by Jeri Lynn Ing, Red Deer, AB, Canada
I own a small gallery and “price point” has been on my mind as of late. It is not always easy to inspire or suggest to artists that a wider range of sizes (prices) in their work would do wonders for their sales. We have sent out a few calls to our artists asking for a wider price range and some have answered the call, others are not interested. We also have an event each Christmas – Miniature Show- and we invite the same artists to submit small pieces for this sale. It offers our clients a chance to pick up a few pieces from a favorite artist; we also encourage our customers to give art as gifts to their friends. Our hope is that this will bring art into new homes and encourage new patrons. Our main effort is to have a wide range in prices and sizes so that each customer can afford to take home a piece of art from their favorite artist.
True believers still out there
For the mature painter (of which I am) by far the most effective galleries are the ones that believe in historical art and are interested in and honor the secondary market-auctions, etc. My galleries who merely sell decorative art and don’t buy back art for resale are more dependent on the ups and downs of fashion, the fluctuations in the economy and real estate values. In my area, California, these galleries are suddenly not selling much to “homes” anymore. But true believers and investors are still buying from the established “historical” galleries. Just a heads up.
I only have one gallery representing me at the present time but it seems to have lost the confidence of its once considerable number of collectors. It may be because of a younger, less experienced person working there now, or the general disinterest of the owner. As I do not believe in going into the gallery frequently it is difficult for me to find out what’s going on except that other artists there are having the same experience. They are also getting sloppy in bookkeeping and in the general look of the gallery. Do you have any thoughts on this? I have to say that the gallery owner is a nice guy-as a matter of fact he gets your letters and reads your clickbacks and sometimes phones me to talk about them.
(RG note) Many galleries, like artists, have a “best before” shelf life. For art dealers, this may be based on an original insincerity or lack of commitment in the first place, or they may have simply grown tired of going through chapter and verse with every looky-loo. The art business, while rewarding for the right kind of people, is also tiring and demanding. It may be time for you to look around and catch the tide in another gallery.
Should an artist adjust prices?
by Adrian Deckbar, New Orleans, LA, USA
I am having trouble right now with a gallery that doesn’t understand the issues you mention. I have a one person show currently on view. My prices are too high and for the first time in my 29 years of exhibiting in Fine Art Galleries, and have not sold a thing. This has never happened to me before. Do I have to honor my traditional prices? If nothing sold, can I drop them 10% or even 20%? Being that I am in a depressed economy (New Orleans) makes it additionally hard to move the work, but there is a gallery down the street that has a terrific owner/director and things move at $35,000 for living artists with comparable careers. My prices range from $10,000 to $25,000.
(RG note) Thanks, Adrian. There are a lot of things that could be going wrong here, including either you or your dealer having lost the touch. It may be that your prices are pushing the ceiling in that particular gallery. Every gallery has perceived price points and it’s not good to be at the top. I would definitely not lower your prices. This undermines and discourages previous collectors who have supported you. Consider changing galleries, or adding others in what you consider less depressed areas. It’s seldom the economy. Galleries are either a good fit, or they are not.
Never lower the price
by Ed Pointer, Afghanistan
I guess I’m stubborn but I never lower my price, neither do I exhibit in galleries who are willing to do so. Perhaps, in the early days of my career, lack of confidence could have been the engine driving that urge but I’ve learned over time to stick to my original price and have not regretted it, though I have lost some sales as a result but, by comparison over the years, not enough to make a real difference. The difficulty is pricing the work so the viewer can measure its value and consider the purchase. For example, if the response is “My grandson could paint better than that…” I doubt a sale will be made.
(RG note) Thanks, Ed. There are some people who are always willing to make a remark and never willing to buy a painting. Dealers have to listen to these people every day.
Algebraic system for determining price
by Valerie Norberry, Kalamazoo, MI, USA
So… let’s see, to price a piece, divide square root of Phi times the size of the canvas in length and width, kind of like this: 11 x 14 x Phi x 2X = price. Yes? No? We could throw in the price of the paint and brushes somewhere, and also the rent of the place where you painted, prorated as to how many days it took to paint. So: 11 x 14 (x 399.00 divided by 30 x 4), times Phi, x square root, equals price: Yes?
(RG note) Thanks, Val. No. You forgot to factor in the thickness of the paint. Unfortunately, in our business a splodge can be worth a million dollars, whereas a carefully rendered group portrait of the Kalamazoo Kazoos that took three months to paint can be worth $1.79.
Galleries that take advantage
A recent, on-going discussion has been about a few galleries which do not pay the artist either at all or pay in bits and pieces, or claim works have been “lost,” or only pay when pursued consistently, long after sales have been made. As artists talk amongst themselves, a few of the more “aggressive” types have approached one of the owners and demanded payment. One of our friends is from another country and is not comfortable causing a disturbance and has decided to say “nothing” and absorb the losses.
We’re concerned that our friends think it is “common practice” NOT to get paid by a lot of galleries! We want to be proven wrong! Do you have any suggestions in this area? From the knowledge we’ve been able to obtain, one of the gallery owners is known as a quick spender who enjoys a lifestyle based on keeping full sales before paying commissions! If I were an owner, I would immediately set aside a till for the artists’ commissions. I cannot understand how anyone could justify taking advantage of sensitive artist types who wait quietly for their money.
(RG note) Generally speaking galleries are terrific and do their best to stay ahead and pay the geese that lay the golden eggs. But it amazes me that artists allow their self-esteem to be damaged by the very few non-paying galleries. If you can’t tar and feather and run these high lifestyle operators out of town, get together with your fellow exhibitors and close them down.
Brands of paint
by Gary Hiscott, Wales, UK
I have just spent an amazing half hour watching you paint in so many different places. Your videos are the most helpful, well constructed ones I have seen. I was not able to guess the medium you were using until I zoomed out on my screen and found that the demonstrations were in acrylic. The reason I doubted that you were using acrylic was because of the wonderful flow and covering power your paints seem to have. Please could you tell me the make of your paints you generally use?
(RG note) Thanks, Gary. Currently I’m using Golden and M. Graham Acrylics. I sometimes use Liquitex.
Morning in the Jardin
oil painting by Tom Dickson, Loreto, Baja, Mexico
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 John Ferrie of Vancouver, BC, Canada who wrote, “If I walked into a gallery and they carried pottery and glass and cards and carvings, I would know that as a painter, that gallery was not right for me. But artists are ready to hand their career, their inventory and their soul to a gallery.”
And also Paul Kane of Bloomington, IN, USA who wrote, “Considering the amount of work I put into each piece, the amount I need to make from it is pretty high. I won’t sell for less… but that means I rarely sell.”
And also Jane Kley of Hermann, MO, USA who wrote, “How can one justify creating more art, when the art you previously created is not selling? Is that good business? I do not want to create artwork and then make it totally inaccessible to certain groups of people. I want the common man to have real artwork in his life, as well as ‘art’ purchased from Wal-Mart.”
And also Carole Dwinell who wrote, “I don’t know about high end art. I just want people to have art. Art that will stay interesting in their home or business for 20 or 30 years and more.”
And also Barbara Loyd who wrote, “This same situation abounds in the housing market. If yours is the most expensive house in your neighborhood, you have ‘out-priced the market.’ On the other side, if yours is the cheapest, buyers assume something is wrong with it.”
And also Gaye Adams of Sorrento, BC, Canada who wrote, “The problem is that you can’t go backwards. If you shoot too high and miss, there is no soft place to land. Those collecting your work who have paid on the high end, would be understandably upset seeing a ‘fire sale’ price on subsequent paintings.”
And also Marilyn Tuck Lewis of St. John’s, NF, Canada who wrote, “There are, at present, more male artists who feel and know they should be self-supporting even though most female artists also desire to be. Some females accept the often-unpleasant truth — they rely on the financial support of their partner.”
(RG note) Thanks, Marilyn. Don’t count on it. These days women are taking entitlement seriously and demanding their fair share.
And also Mary Lou Colgin of Manlius, NY, USA who wrote, “Please expand on the comment, ‘Sometimes the artist has no business selling his art.’ ”
(RG note) Thanks, Mary Lou. Substandard work needs to stay with its creator.
Enjoy the past comments below for Price floors and ceilings…