Friday, November 11, 2011

Some rambling thoughts on inexpensive art


Carl Faberge 1846-1920 The head of a famed Russian jewelry workshop, Faberge produced thousands of fine objects but the best known are the Faberge eggs. Often their creation was the work of thousands of hours of highly skilled craftsmanship. Most were made for the Tzar as gifts for his mother and wife. The jewelry firm was destroyed by the revolution and Faberge escaped to Switzerland.

Here's a question I received the other day:

"I have a problem selling paintings to friends and/or family. I feel they expect a discount, a hefty discount, and somehow I feel guilty if I don't give them a REALLY good deal... I get this knot in the pit of my stomach every time a good friend or family asks about buying a painting because I know I'm going to have to practically give it to them. I recently sold one that way, and gave the person about 75% off gallery price, and they still haggled with me about paying the shipping. sheesh!!! I was hoping they wouldn't buy it....but they liked it.So, do you have a standard "friends and family discount" or do you just tell them the price, and that's it....? "




That' a difficult question to answer for everybody, but here is how I have handled that. My most recent, favorite, or most likely to sell paintings are never gifted to anyone. I must make a living, first and foremost, before I give anything away. I cannot feed my children snowballs all winter. However I make a lot of art and sometimes things come back from the galleries unsold, even though they might be paintings that I am proud to have made. Sometimes I will give these to people. I have friends who will never be able to afford my paintings and, I try to make sure that my close friends in this category have one of my paintings.Often they get a painting that while well made, is a field sketch or not something that would be as appealing to the general public . That is what is sometimes called an "artists picture"

Anyone who I know that can afford to buy one of my paintings, has to buy them. If I know them quite well I will negotiate a lower price for them. Usually it is a generous but not ridiculous discount. I would rather just give the painting away than take obscenely short money for them. Again my art is expensive. If you are making paintings that sell at workingmans prices, say 300 dollars, I suggest you never give any of them away or discount them at all, except to the most impoverished of your close friends.I think their is a lot to lose by not valuing your own paintings .If you want others to value them, you should begin that yourself.

I often hear an artist who has just been praised on his art make excuses for its quality. I always tell students in workshops to never disparage their own art. Don't make excuses for it like"its not done" or point out a defect you believe it has. In fact, recommend you never make excuses for your art at all. I don't explain em much either, I present them and if you like them, fine. If you don't, I wont try to talk you into it or waste much time wishing that you did. Their are lots of other people and if the picture is any good someone else might. There is a saying in the art gallery world that "there is a buyer for every painting". I am not sure that is true of weak paintings, but it might be true of paintings at or above a certain level of quality. It can sometimes take a long time to get that painting in front of that buyer though.

If someone praises one of your paintings, even if they are totally uninformed and you know they are, smile and graciously accept the complement, don't tell them they are wrong.Even weak paintings are fiendishly hard to make, and it takes years of work and study to make a middling quality painting. If you can do it even a little, be proud of yourself and claim what laurels are offered. It is so hard to make a decent painting that it is a wonder that anyone ever does it! Take credit for your efforts, it will be more than a reward for the time spent it will also be a comfort and encouragement to you as you work towards making even better paintings.



I have noticed a funny disconnect in peoples thinking about art. They want it to be cheap when they buy it and valuable when they own it. I suppose that's just human nature, and everybody loves a bargain. When I had my gallery I had some small reputation for knowing my way around old paintings. Often people would bring me paintings that they had bought at auction. They would invariably tell me that they "knew" the painting was by Corot or some other master. I knew at a glance that it was not. These treasure hunters were always going to find some expert who would certify their find as being a real Corot,although unsigned, and they would resell it for a fortune.

Usually the works they lovingly presented me were amateurish and worth very little. Their owners were treasure hunting, and they didn't know enough about painting to know a good old painting from a weak one. There are LOTS of old paintings out there for sale and many of them are inexpensive. In the 19th century just like today there were plenty of amateur painters and also a "production" art industry making art much like the imported motel paintings of today.

I suppose that it makes sense that antique dealers and resellers of auction finds who have no idea what old paintings that are valuable might look like would have trouble pricing them. I have noticed many times that they usually price worthless, damaged, or old production paintings ridiculously high. The same folks sold me many etchings for ridiculously low prices, often marked as being "ink drawings". I built a nice little collection of old prints that way, they are not particularly valuable, but they are good art and original. These etchings have provided me with much pleasure and instruction.. I suppose the dealers are hipper than that now, that was a while ago, but I always check the price of etchings in the antique shops when I see them. I guess because they are black and white, dealers and perhaps their customers don't particularly value them. If bargains are to be had, that seems to be where I, at least, have found them.

I was once invited to visit the home of an old man ( now long deceased)who had spent a lifetime buying cheap paintings at auction. His limit was about 25 dollars. He had paintings stacked everywhere, on the stairs against the walls of every room and even in his kitchen cabinets. I grew bored pulling through them looking for anything that I though was fine or of any particular value. I am not sure he thought he had any masterpieces, he probably was satisfied just to get his 25 dollars worth. He was an interesting guy and had taken a number of photographs as he accompanied his mother who was working for the WPA documenting life in the impoverished depression era south. I bought one of his photographs of sorghum harvesting behind horse drawn wagons and met him when I sought him out to sign it for me. He placed no particular value on his photographs and I think I paid about 25 dollars for it.

12 comments:

Barbara A. Busenbark said...

A few years ago my Aunt Mary (just turned 90 in May) told me she wanted to buy one of my paintings. She asked how much it was and told me if I didn't charge her full price she would send it back to me. There was no anguish at charging her full price with that comment. Everyone should have an Aunt Mary like ours.

Clem Robins said...

Proverbs 20.14:
It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth.

Dot Courson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simone said...

I have been thinking about this subject lately, as have a lot of artists.

Tough economic times create pressures in the minds of artists who are struggling to pay the bills. The temptation to drop prices in the hopes of making sales can be great. It can also be a slippery slope. Once we devalue our work to the public we start to devalue it in our own minds and that's when we start to sacrifice quality. Both the artist and his/her potential market can become damaged. Would be clients start to expect rock bottom pricing and value is given little consideration. The whole concept of cheap art has fertile ground in which to thrive. Let's be careful when contemplating such decisions. As Stape said, it is really hard to create a decent painting, much less do it on a consistent basis. Our pricing should reflect respect for how hard we work.

Joe Stewart said...

Another caveat when discounting art is how can you expect a gallery to sell your art if you go behind their backs and discount it to the guy off the street? If you list the price of your paintings on your web site, the price at the gallery or to friends should be the same. Don't raise your price to the gallery to make up for the commission, or if you have raise the price, be sure to raise on your site as well.

Connie McLennan said...

Thanks, I really needed that. Even though my painting prices are a fraction of what I got for illustration, and people consistently tell me I'm low, I feel guilty charging appropriately even when people don't ask for a discount, but I nevertheless perceive that they shouldn't be spending their money that way!

billspaintingmn said...

Stapleton. Thank you for touching on this issue.
Every artist I've ever knowen has
wrestled with this.

Trying to feed our children snowballs all winter has alway been
difficult at best.
(They complain it's too cold, or has yellow in it. Sheesh!)

Most recently I gilded some frames
for an artist friend. I designed them to the art so they were custom with 'closed' corners.

I knew he didn't want to spend an arm and a leg. Also he had given me a 'hand' this summer helping me move.

This was a time to show thanks for
all his hard work.I was greatful, and couldn't have done it without him.

So I did some very nice frames with care and consideration.

He loved them, and now he is thinking frames for all his work.
(when I say gilded, some frames only need a bit of gold.)
Not all gilded frames need to be
"solid gold."

Since he got the "big deal" and was able to see what a good frame can do,he's thinking of getting more.

My question is, do I charge him full price from now on? Is it ok to continue to barter work for work?
I have a tuff time with this.

I'm beginning to complain about snowballs myself.

Chris Gillis said...

great post.

I've recently gone through this and have given the discount to a family member and I'm excited that they have my paintings in their house - but the reason I'm excited is that they appreciate the paintings and know what they take to create out in the field.

I think for me this will be a case by case basis - I'll ask a lot of questions before I offer the discount - but would rather do it as a gift to someone.

Paintings make great gifts - people love something handmade these days - so small 5x7's or whatnot are a real treat in todays 'Made in China' society.

padmaja said...

I always get answers here to my nagging questions, thanks Stapleton for this post.. I have never come across an Aunt Mary like Barbara mentioned in the first comment here, wish I had!
I end up giving away my work free to those that appreciate and keep appreciating but not in a mind to buy the same.. have a long way to go to learn the ropes!

Deb said...

I am poor and really, really love your paintings. :-)

art tyndall said...

i love painting and i have for 20 plus years, i sell them in my studio and on my website, but i never give them away, except to charties that i approve of.
i believe my work has value and i want everyone to know that.

Julie Ford Oliver said...

I owned a gallery at one time and one day two ladies were overheard commenting on the high price of a popular artists work..."don't buy it here, you can get her work a lot cheaper at the charity auctions."
Our small city has non-stop charity fun raisers and the artists are always giving. I never see offered a free dental appointment or an eye appointment, but artists not only have to absorb the costs of frame and materials they also unknowingly are lowering the value of their work.
This is an excellent topic you have raised.