-By Eric Fortune
Prior to having my work on the walls I discussed pricing with the gallery owner. It was suggested that the work be under priced. That hurt. Now, as some may know it's fairly standard for the gallery to take 50% of any sold work. Double whammy. 'Starving artist' took on a whole new meaning. I had to keep in mind my long term goals; produce art that I like, and make a living by doing so. Now there is actually a good reason for what was suggested. Under pricing is a strategy used to move work. In the gallery scene there's nothing quite like a "SOLD OUT" show to peak interest and build momentum. It creates a vacuum or demand for the work as it becomes scarce.
Under pricing makes it easier for a collector to invest in a new person on the scene. Someone who has not yet shown they can consistently produce quality and engaging work. I knew that many of the artists I was looking at in the Low Brow/Pop Surreal scene were also former illustrators. I assumed that collectors were probably familiar with illustrators because of this. I also assumed that because I had been accepted into The Society of Illustrators and Spectrum and had started to make a name for myself there would be some cross over. This may be true for some artists. However, it seemed I really was the new kid on the block and the bottom rung is where I was starting.
Because prices were lowered it did help the work to sell. And thank goodness I've sold most of my work as I don't have time for much illustration on the side these days. Because it's my only source of income every time I have a show it's the most stressful, nerve wracking experience. A few works may sell prior to the opening but things rarely fly off the wall. As good as it looks to have a "sold out" sign it's obviously not a good thing to have unsold work or even worse to have priced work too high and have to back peddle the prices on your next show. My goal, other than to make good art, is to consistently sell work, and to slowly raise prices appropriate to the demand of my work. No one wants to be a flash in the pan. Yet, it happens. There are many pitfalls one must be aware of. Pricing too high too fast can be one of them. It helps me to think in the long term about the sacrifices I make today that will hopefully pay off tomorrow. This is the route I'm taking and it may evolve.
There are obviously different dynamics and other factors that may come into play. For example if you already make a really good living on the side, selling art at the gallery may not have the same urgency. And pricing the work closer to what you think it's worth vs. what someone is willing to pay for it may not be a major concern. Some would rather hold on to their work rather than sell it for lower than what they would consider it's worth. However, if you're in the business of selling original art for a living hording your own stuff and being your own biggest collector won't get you where you want to be. The truth is galleries like artists who are in demand and who can sell. Like anything else it's a business. I should also mention that not all galleries are worth your time and money and you should always research as much as possible prior to working with a gallery. The relationship between gallery and artist should be a mutually beneficial one.
For anyone interested, I'm currently reading a book that offers some more insight into the gallery scene. Check out "The $12 Million Stuffed Shark" The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art" by Don Thompson. I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but the less debt one has the easier it is to take a risky decision concerning your career. Things to consider.