Who prices the art? And how do they do it? These are questions I’m asked frequently, by both artists starting out and the customers who buy their work.
We generally start working with artists right at the start of their careers – usually finding them at their degree shows, so often they have not yet sold anything and so there’s no precedent for the pricing of their work. It’s very rarely covered during an art degree training – how to go about pricing their work, so it’s very tricky for emerging artists to know where to start.
I usually advise artists to think about what they would be happy to receive, the minimum they would be happy to receive, to part with a piece of work. What price would it need to be in order for them not to feel as though they’ve been robbed?! I know that sounds a bit harsh… and I’m certainly not suggesting that artists should be ripped off, but I am suggesting that it is critical for an artist at the start of their career to sell work.
They need to start making and selling and ideally we want to see an upward trajectory, so that ultimately the market will set the price. Once a new artist has had a number of sales, then we modestly increase prices by say 10% or 15% – something like that.. and then wait again until we’ve got another solid bank of sales at that new price point before modestly increasing again. We are careful making increases though – unless something really remarkable occurs in an artist’s career – say they win a significant art prize, or something happens that means there is a flood of interest… Otherwise artists need to not let sales go to their head. I have seen many more times than I care to remember – artists having a run of sales and then increasing the price of their work by say 100%; and I will say at the time: this isn’t sensible because you’re now having to attract a whole new market of buyers, because the people who were buying your work are now unlikely to buy at this new price-point, so essentially you’re starting again. It’s disheartening when you can’t dissuade an artist from doing this – they may have some money in the bank from a previous run of sales, then make radical increases and not get future sales at the increased price. I used to say I don’t think this is a good idea. Now I say I’m not prepared to do it – unless, as mentioned something particularly significant has occurred and we are safe to secure future sales at the new price-point.
Equally, we don’t want to price artists out of the market before they’ve started, because, it’s not reassuring for buyers – either to see work that’s been left unsold for long periods of time, or for them to have bought a piece and then subsequently see their work priced for sale at a lower figure (when we’ve had to reduce prices because of a lack of sales). This does of course mean for buyers, that if they buy an artist right at the start of their career, then they are often getting a great deal – deservedly so – they are taking a risk too aren’t they? Because they don’t know if that artist will become a steady seller and see increases or not… Though if they like the work and enjoy seeing it on their wall – they’ve got nothing to lose really.
The art market is unregulated and we work in discussion with artists to work out the right price points for them to start selling at. The artists will set prices to start with and if we think they’re too high, or too low – which does sometimes happen – then we’ll have a discussion. It’s kind of a practical formula: how long did it take? What kind of level of training have you had? What would you think of is your hourly rate (bearing in mind too that it’s not necessarily just the hours it took to make a particular piece)?, how many pieces would you need to sell at this price over a period of time to make a modest income? This is the kind of thinking we’d encourage at the start of their career. Because you can always go up in price – though it can be terribly damaging for an artist to go down in price. Worst case scenario and they’ve sold a couple of pieces undervalued at the start of their career, and then are selling at higher prices for the rest of their career. Best-case scenario and they gain a client base whom repeatedly and steadily buys their works as the prices steadily increase.
This is me being transparent about how I price work, but it’s not a reflection of the art market as a whole and certainly not the online art market as a whole. The art market is completely unregulated, and lots of online galleries let artists price work for whatever price they want.
Another question we are often asked is: will we accept offers? And we will certainly consider offers, no offence will be taken if you make an offer, though we believe the work is fairly priced – so we are unlikely to accept offers. The times we are most likely to consider offers is if they come from a buyer who is buying a number of works, or who regularly buys from us, or we offer modest trade discounts for interior designers and property developers, or stylists who may be incorporating the work in a photo shoot which will gain the artist exposure.
Very occasionally we will run some kind of discount offer – on a special occasion, very occasionally – once, maybe twice a year. Which goes back to the point that I think we have priced the work correctly to start with, thoughtfully and fairly.
So, that is how we price art. Of course there have been all sorts of scandals around the art market regarding pricing – with dealers and galleries bidding the prices up at auction to impact the overall value of an artists work they hold.. there are all sorts of strange goings on, as I said – it’s an unregulated market.
Reputable physical galleries are generally invested in maintaining artists prices by controlling the amount of work they release and controlling the prices that they are sold for and all these things offer an element of security for buyers, physical galleries also have to consider pricing in relation to their significant overheads.
If you have any other questions about pricing, please let me know.
Image from Lisa Srimgeour’s studio