Art Shows (and pricing art accordingly)

“You have a hair growing out of your forehead,” Dea says to me as Los Angeles’ Fabulous and Glamorous seem to glide by in a Gumby skate-walk-like movement.  “It’s much lower than your hairline,” she goes on to tell me.  I guess some rogue hair sprouted on my forehead, half an inch lower than my hairline.  “Can you pull it out?” I ask with panic in my voice, as I start to imagine myself slipping into a Neanderthal shape.  “Got it!”  Thank God for girlfriends.  I didn’t come here for a robust discourse about my hairy forehead.  I’ll leave that discussion for my High School reunion.  I came here to talk about pricing Photography for Art Shows.

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A couple of Sunday’s ago I exhibited some of my framed prints at an annual underground indie art show in Los Angeles.  A couple thousand people came out to look at a select group of creativity.  In addition to Photography, there were Paintings, Illustrations, Sculptures, Jewelry, Hair and Makeup artistry, Fashion shows and live music.  There was a lot thrown at public that night.  Everyone seemed to be having a good time.  I received a lot of compliments and some questions about the price of my art.

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As I walked around, admiring everyone else’s art, I started to realize that my framed prints were priced way too high – for that show.  People were selling paintings, almost the same size as my prints, for under $100.  Let’s just say that I wasn’t even close to that number.  I started to wonder if I should lower the cost of my art.  Then I remembered walking through the Peter Fetterman Gallery in Santa Monica, California.  The least expensive picture in there was a 4”x6” black and white print, with white matting around it (no frame), costing more than $800.  There was also a 50”x50” framed piece going for $50,000.  The Photographer wasn’t anyone ultra famous.  I asked the front desk attendant how many 50”x50” pieces they’ve sold.  “We’ve sold two so far,” he tells me with a straight face.  I try to hide my shock and awe.  “We sell more than people think!”

To start, I am not well versed on the topic of pricing Art.  However, I do understand how to figure out my raw materials cost.  This is the starting point I use to price my art.  Regarding my framed prints at the show, I wasn’t selling them anywhere near $50,000.  However, I started to wonder if I should price my art based on the venue of a show.  If I ever have the opportunity to grace the walls of Peter Fetterman’s gallery, would I charge more than what I was asking at the indie art show?  My Economics degree winces at that thought because that seems so inconsistent.  To artificially inflate or deflate a price based on venue seems like an inaccurate way to conduct business, especially if the demand for my artwork stays the same.  Thus, inflating or deflating prices should be based on the demand for work, not the venue.

Thoughts?

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7 comments
  1. And, I don’t know what Jarvis gets for doing the business that he does, but some places get up to 90% of the price, with 10% going to the artist. So, if you need $1000, and the gallery takes 90%, well, suddenly it is a $10,000 transaction. ANd, if the gallery can deliver that sort of buyer, it is well worth the price.

    So, if you were at an indie show, with no gallery cut at all, you could theoretically sell it for $1000. BUT then you would be undercutting the good galleries . . . oh hell now I’m just as confused as I was when you started.

    BTW, Banksy tried to sell some of his work for $60/piece last Fall on the streets of NYC and had a very hard time.

  2. In thinking about this conundrum of pricing your photography, the big thing that keeps coming to mind is that you make sure your art is always accessible. But what you ask for your art is totally your decision and pricing should never be taken out of your hands.
    However in saying that, one truth that rings over and over is, the more times people see your work, the more inclined they are to start believing you are well known, respected or at least acknowledged by the photogr community…Warhol and Chagall had to get their names out before the buying public started noticing. You are doing all the right things with the social media and showings and you are certainly available for work. Soooo, sooner or later your art will “pop and selling will occur. Your photographs are original, unique, tell a story, have depth of meaning and show emotion. People like art that is unique, so all it takes is a prospective buyer or gallery owner who is looking for something that they respect, will hold dear and will be special to them and others. People will pay for your photographs if it moves them, they simply won’t be able to resist.
    But…, there is absolutely nothing wrong with giving someone a good deal. Making your prices affordable simply makes them more accessible. Most regular folk go to places like salons, bookstores, hotels, restaurants and all things retail therapy; and that’s where most of us look at art. When I am sitting in a restaurant, I look at the art on the walls and think about how it makes me feel. When I bought my first Wyland, I had to have it! I was presented with a reasonable price that I paid over time and today, still have the art. That was the early 1980’s, when Wyland was still relatively new, had one gallery and was almost giving away his work. The public has to see what you are creating and be able to buy it. Most assuredly, high end buyers will follow us low enders!!!!
    I recently read that artists should offer a selection of their work as “loss leaders”, which is art you are willing to sell at a small profit to stimulate buying. Sounds reasonable. Also, people that buy on-line, want to see pricing for comparison and will tend to pay less that those who buy from a gallery or directly from the artist. So, perhaps start a little less and as time passes and you have produced more photography, the value will increase to those looking at it and will be happy to pay you lots more.
    Keep it going Sean, continue even though you selling minimally. Continue and persevere even when you are feeling like these are tough times. Your work is wonderful and completely different than anyone’s; it stands alone. Price your work respective of the time you have put into the endeavor and respect and acknowledge the time you have been a serious photographer.

  3. Sean,
    I think your pricing needs to stay consistent. The venue should not dictate the value placed on your artwork.
    I have purchased two of your prints and when you quoted the price I was pleasantly surprised with your asking price.
    I think what you will find is as your reputation as an artist increases your ability to include work in smaller independent art shows will diminish due to the value the market has placed on your art. Pricing art is a market will bear structure, the only real concern is this : impossible to lower your asking price. It seems that once an artist has established a price their representatives will almost never decrease the value regardless of what larger economic conditions may effect the ability to sell the work for that price. They may discount more aggressively but the quoted retail price will stay the same.
    Not sure if this is helpful, take from it what you will.
    Jarvis Hall
    Jarvis Hall Fine Art
    Canada

    • Thanks Jarvis. I agree with you. Although my thought-process can become a bit muddy at shows were everyone is pricing their art very low. The people viewing all the art always seem to be in slight shock when they hear my prices. This causes me to question myself, while in the moment.

      • Oh yeah I hear you. Just like when I deliver the price of a painting to a collector. I always get that butterfly in the stomach feeling. I think we question ourselves because at the core of the situation is the feeling of rejection. It is even more difficult for yourself because you made the thing AND you are selling it too. The artists I represent are protected from this situation, as I am the one doing the selling on their behalf. I hate to say this but a good thing to remember is that it is business after all. Not the creating, but the selling. I have to remind myself of this on a daily basis.

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