Throughout history, artists have created an ineffable amount of value for humanity, but there will always be a wonderful irony around our value creation.
We can make incredible, breathtaking works of pure genius that have the ability to comfort even the most melancholic of souls. But when we need to discuss the value of said wonders, usually the only real miracle is if we’re able to find a number that doesn’t make us starve to death in the long run.
I have undercharged for my work in the past and I guess a lot of you have too, and I would like to use today’s blog as a segue into the wondrous land of buying food and having the ability to pay rent in time.
There are two main models that we can choose to follow, depending on what path and what goals we are perusing with our art: first is the now popular direct sales approach, where a lot of artists decide to forgo the gallery and classical art system completely and sell directly to their followers and fans.
In this segment the pricing is usually quite commoditised, as you probably won’t be seeing any work of art selling for 100k on Etsy or similar websites. The point is to be better than the competition and to amass a great follower base to be able to then market your work to them.
And, as this is a more colourful and quite saturated part of the art market with no real barrier to entry, pricing models are plentiful in this segment and we can choose whichever best fits our needs: Price by square inch/centimetre, price by hourly rate plus expenses, price by the amount of chardonnay required to finish a particular work …
The second model is a bit more tricky, because it requires us to be well-connected and usually takes a lot more work than the first: Get a gallery to represent your work and ride the waves of abundance and success until you can afford a Ferrari (usually a few weeks after one passes away and scarcity of ones works starts to gradually kick in).
I’ve talked a lot about the gallery system and as far as money is concerned, it is a much more lucrative model to pursue (not saying any of us are in it for the money, that would be dumb), but the higher returns you can get when you become part of it does come with drawbacks too.
Obviously you share your profits and I won’t bash the 50/50 margin on sales as I believe it to be fair if you find a good gallery that actually cares about you and your work. There are noncompetes thought, so you loose the ability to sell your work directly (as doing so would not only null your contract but could also get you into a hefty lawsuit if you sold a lot) and of course the main one: 99 out of 100 that apply don’t get in, because galleries have enough artists as it is and you have to really bring something incredible to the table to be considered.
Compared to the gallery system as a strictly business oriented decision (let’s face it, art is a profession for many of us so how we strategise our climb can make or break our career), selling directly is becoming more popular, because it can work much quicker than the old “tried and true” way of gallery representation.
It is not only faster, but can be more lucrative and allow us more freedom to move around; like selling prints and merchandise directly and having the ability to control every aspect of our branding, promotions and other public presence.
But there’s a hard cap on this decision, that not only impacts the kind of sales we will be making, as no high-ticket (high margin on our art sales) can really be made on any web platform (be it Etsy, SaatchiArt or our own website), because they aren’t backed by some reputable institution or agent, acting from within the art market.
And selling on Etsy does diminish any chance of entering the fine art market too. The majority of sellers don’t have a chance, not because their art isn’t as good or their education academic, but solely because of the semantics of selling work online and the “low” amounts of money involved.
The decision of going all in in either direct sales or getting a gallery is also a financial decision — one that can impact our careers immensely — and should be given a good amount of thought at the beginning.
I lost quite a few potential deals with agents solely because I didn’t understand the difference and I hope that anyone starting out that’s reading this tries to map out their strategy at least a bit, because it’s so incredibly simple to burn bridges that you haven’t even got a clue exist yet.