Thursday, January 7, 2016

Pricing Art

Before the camera, the only “selfie” option for well-to-do patrons wishing to be immortalized, was to have their image either sculpted or painted. Paintings of George Washington included various numbers of appendages – standing behind a desk, one arm behind his back, or maybe all arms and legs visible. Cost was the deciding factor.

Historically, prices charged by artists were based on how many limbs were to be painted. Artists felt that hands and arms were more difficult to paint. “Limbs” would cost the buyer more. Hence the expression, “Okay, but it'll cost you an arm and a leg.”

I have struggled with pricing something that to me is invaluable – a memory of an experience. At the start I tried to price by what I felt was quality. Patrons were invariably confused. The time it took to complete a piece of art was another approach. Patrons didn’t care if it took hours or days if they loved the art. For the last two decades, pricing has been based on the square inch – a hardware store approach to art. All 11x14 unframed paintings are $595 – everywhere. The framing and shipping costs add the only other variables into the pricing. Simple.

Of course, the pricing has to be validated by sales in the galleries. I consider ten or more sales at a particular price point as adequate validation. After all, something is only worth what the clients are willing to pay. Pricing by size is simple. Patrons are no longer confused. During my lifetime, patrons can be assured that the price will never go down. There are no “fire” or “scratch and dent” sales at the Chadwick Art House.

Theoretically, artists get better with practice and continued learning and exploration of their craft. Prices may even go up. Some galleries recommend price increases of 5 to 10 percent every couple of years. Faithful and supportive patrons seem to like this increase as well.

When an artist passes, everything changes. The economics of “supply and demand” kick in. If there is a demand with no longer any ongoing supply, the price is bound to be driven upward. The galleries and estates control this after-market as the artist is no longer in the picture – so to speak.

Some galleries prefer to work with dead artists. Vincent Van Gogh lamented this when he wrote “things are very strained between dealers in pictures of dead artists, and living artists.” This letter was found on his body, July 29th, 1890. Little did Vincent know that he was soon to make that transition himself when he penned those words.

Artists need to live in the moment and price accordingly. Artists can be content to realize that they can make a pretty good living from their work, after they are dead. Vincent only sold one piece during his lifetime and look where he is today. Hmmm in a grave beside Theo, his supportive brother.

Life is good. You can’t really put a price on painting a memory.

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