As an artist we are given the privilege – maybe ‘challenge’ is a better word! – of pricing our art… this can make the difference between an eating artist and a starving one. I many times envisioned myself sitting at a Pier doing sketches for $10 bucks a pop, making enough to eat and maybe even a modest room for the night. Artists have the amazing opportunity to create an instant market for their work. I have done many portraits and commissioned works where we discussed the project and then the price… rarely does the price become an issue unless the client is totally unfamiliar with you. For most of my early Art career, the notion of selling art was a fantasy… creating art has always been exciting and rewarding in and of itself. “Wow that’s great” or “you’re a great artist”… when you’re young that seems payment enough, but when the time (hopefully!) comes where you’re being asked to create something for a fee – that’s when you begin to understand the relationship of Art and Money! In the beginning (in the late 70’s) before I really came into my ‘own style’, I would create portraits for about $35. For a pastel portrait that was considered reasonable, but soon the portraits became more elaborate – maybe a portrait of a whole family would fetch $150. As I progressed the work became better and I asked for higher commissions. A few years later, I was fetching $500 for pastel portraits of horses or couples. Most artists will have sold many pieces before ever showing in a gallery, if they are even fortunate enough to ever get that ‘invitation’ to hold a show. Granted, some highly-gifted artists will be selling before they are 120 years old. Me? It was a slow process that matured as I did as an artist. Just because you’re selling your portraits for $800 to $1000 doesn’t mean you’re going to sell your new stylized pieces for the same… most of the time we aren’t sure anyone will even like them! At some point I started creating images and painting from my mind’s feelings and desires. Not only did I not know the value but didn’t understand its place in my body of work. At one point in my art career, I thought getting $1000 per painting was a goal, but how can you paint like a factory of thousand dollar products instead of “real value”?
‘Real Value’ resonates to me as quality. When people say that size matters, you could point out that there are miniatures that sell for tens of thousands of dollars plus, as coveted and revered as paintings of much larger scale. Or take the artist that sells their talents by the square foot… they don’t take into account the Real Value of their own work, and sadly the artist doesn’t even always recognize their own genius. When I create a painting, I paint into it an imagined value for that piece – I can tell what impact of appeal it may have based on what it does for me. As Artists we begin the process of value by our own opinions of that value… it manifests through the magic we are able to create from brush to canvas. This is sometimes confused by ego, in which case it becomes a chuckle at the price, but that is still just an opinion. This is a totally different animal/discussion than the markets of the high end galleries (we’ll save that discussion for another day!) but is more speaking to the local artist who is creating value from his own space. It would make things so much easier if there were some “Kelly Bluebook of Art Value” to guide us (and our patrons!) in the valuation of our creations, but alas that is not the case. In the void, what we have to work with is our local market (it is important to be aware of what our local market will bear), and what we feel about our creations and their ‘real value’… and in this scenario real value can have several connotations, depending on our intent. What delights and fulfills us? Do we want to share our Art with the world, price not an object? Or is price important to us in how others perceive our talent/value? No judgement here, there are many artists in that simply sharing their creations with like- minded individuals who delight in it feeds their soul. For others, a monetary measure affirms their feelings about their work. And then there is also the space between the two – where ‘life’ happens… think of van Gogh slipping pencil drawings on napkins to the proprietor of a coffee shop he frequented, as a thank you for the coffee and for allowing him to sit for hours on end, dreaming (perhaps of his sunflower masterpieces to come?)… a thank you of sorts from a seemingly down on his luck artist at the time, the value of which was only realized many years after the fact. It appears an Artist was truly thankful for the respite and gave what he perceived as ‘real value’ – small tokens of his genius. It truly boils down to an instinct about your work – you must feel good about any transaction that occurs with your Art.
If you are reading this and are on the other end of the spectrum – the lover and ‘acquirer’ of Art… what you need to know about buying art is Artists love to sell work! If the Art is easily in your budget and it resonates with you, buy it (no questions asked). They’ll think you stole it and they should have asked for more (LOL). If the price is a bit above what you are looking for, make an offer you would seriously accept, or offer a payment plan or a credit card in a manner that feels comfortable for you. Either way the artist is usually flattered by your interest, and ready to make it happen for you.
In the end, “real value’ is the cosmic connection between the Artist and the patron who appreciate their creation… it resonates with both.
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