Q: When should I increase the prices of my paintings? I just recently got into 3 group shows and a few friends think I am pricing my work too cheaply. Thoughts?
A: Wow, a lot of pricing questions…But, another good one.
First of all, never listen to your friends, family, or other artists about pricing your work. Ok, maybe if an artist has lots of experience, they can help. But overall, these people are doing their best to show you support but are most likely not thinking about the big picture, and unless they’re buying the work at the proposed price, they’re not really helping.
When I consider raising the price of an artist's work, I look at one thing: current sales. If you are an artist and are not consistently selling artwork, then you have little reason to increase the price of your work. Getting into exhibitions is great, and receiving awards will help your resume tremendously, but ultimately have little to do with price increases.
If your work is selling out at a certain price, and the demand for more work is strong, you should probably consider raising the cost of your work.
Q:Hi, I’m a collector and I really enjoy your column because it gives me some insight as to how an artist operates and makes money. But, how do galleries really make money? I saw a show recently and the gallery hardly had any little red sold dots on the wall, so how do they stay in business?
A: Hopefully, galleries make their money through the sales of artwork, which can come in many forms. Primarily, this is through direct sales to clients which leads to some sort of commission. The average amount of a sale that a gallery will keep is 50%. That means when you purchase a piece of art from a gallery, that artist will take 50% of the retail price. This amount varies, but if a gallery is having a solo exhibition with an artist, that is most likely the breakdown. Galleries also work together to share artwork for exhibitions, and often a gallery will make a commission if another gallery sells work by an artist that they exclusively represent.
As for the second part of your question; a lot of artists base their success on how well their work sells during an exhibition. But, I think that is an unfair assessment of the success of an exhibition. Exposure is the key to a successful show, not sales. It’s not realistic to sell out shows, and it happens very infrequently, so artists should manage their expectations. I have had exhibitions where I don’t sell any work, and months later, people come back asking me to see the work again and eventually make a purchase. Or, it takes a second exhibition to really get the collectors’ attention.
For me, and I think most dealers would agree, a majority of sales have nothing to do with the current exhibition. These deals are often referred to as "backroom sales." Really, this just means work sold out of gallery inventory. For most, a gallery’s inventory is far more important than the work in an exhibition in terms of sales. An exhibition can serve as a way to draw people into the gallery, but all of the magic happens behind the counter. This is also the reason why an artist should make sure that they have work in the gallery inventory, and why an artist should update their gallery with current work.
So, don’t worry if you don’t see any sales during the show, it’s likely there is plenty happening behind the scenes to keep the gallery in business. If a young gallery only relies on exhibition sales, I think it is likely that the gallery will struggle to pay the bills.
Q: Recently I sold a work that was part of a larger series through a gallery, and now I have an opportunity to show the series as part of
a solo show in another city. How do I arrange to get the work back from the collector? Is this something I can even ask for?
A: Before getting your hopes up, there is a reality that you must accept as an artist. For whatever reason, you might not be able to get the work back from a collector for another exhibition. That’s life, move on...
HOWEVER, I hope that your work was purchased by an experienced collector who understands the value of your upcoming exposure. Collectors (individuals and corporate) often lend work from their collections to galleries and museums for exhibitions. They have invested in your work and should be delighted that you are showing the work in new venues. After all, they want to see their investment grow.
Don’t be afraid to contact the collector because you are making a very resonable request. Do this personally if the gallery allows, and if you are comfortable making the call yourself. Or, have the gallery that sold the piece contact the purchaser. Explain to the collector the situation and give them as much detail as possible regarding the upcoming exhibition. Offer them a courtesy line in the show (ie: “courtesy of XYZ Gallery, Boston, MA”) should they agree to the loan.
Try and make as little work as possible for the collector. If you’re local, offer to have the work picked up for shipping and promise its safe return by a certain date. On this note, make sure the exhibition is worth the trouble for you. This is a risky endeavor because you are now transporting artwork that no longer belongs to you, and damaged artwork would bring a world of hurt. Make sure that the piece is well insured by the new gallery should something happen to it.
After the exhibition, I would recommend sending the collector a small original artwork to thank them for helping you. Nothing major, just a small photo, drawing, sculpture (or whatever your medium) as a token of gratitude. They’ll love it.