|Abstract as it appears at Alpine Art in Salt Lake City|
I reflexively reacted negatively to such a suggestion. A few days later one of my Galleries called and asked if I would be willing to lower my price on an abstract painting. They offered to take a lower commission, lowering it from 40% to 30%, to offset my loss. After quick deliberation I agreed.
But the transaction made me reflect on the strategy of simply selling paintings as a primary aim. The aforementioned museum director cited getting a large body of work on public display as an advantage of selling at all costs. Such exposure would be a cumulative PR campaign pushing the artist's work. Certainly no one could condone an artist selling art below actual cost of creating the work. And with some artworks this is too easy to do.
Take a woodcut for example: if I Frame a $950 woodcut with a $350 dollar frame for a total of $1300 my gallery would sell it with a 50% commission. I would get $650 minus the $350 frame for a profit of $300. That’s a hard way to make a living especially since those costs don’t include shipping. Any discount from the original price would essentially make the sale a losing proposition.
My current strategy with my woodcut show is to price the framed woodcuts high to encourage sale of unframed woodcuts. My abstracts are painted on wide gallery wrap stretchers eliminating the need for framing. Although collectors usually add a floater frame industry standards for abstracts do not require display with a frame.
After contemplating the above examples the obstacles to just selling our work seems to be framing and shipping. The cost of the frame is often the factor that makes any discount prohibitive. There are many alternatives– cheap frames for one. But I hate tacky frames and they are ultimately a waste of money since I usually reframe them several times or recycle frames no one wants (which is a huge hassle). My solution to shipping is to work with local galleries (which works in my case since I’m close to a large city, Salt Lake City, and a tourist destination, Park City).
I appreciate my gallery’s willingness to adjust their model to make a sale–including lowering their percentage. I’ve had galleries give discounts on art without my permission that essentially gave away the art and only paid for the frame. I’ve also had galleries insist I set prices without regard to their market saying they want artists to have the confidence to price their own work. What?! The gallery wants artists to be savvy business people AND paint masterpieces? What exactly is the role of the gallery? Simply hanging paintings and waiting for buyers no longer works. A gallery should be a partner and business consultant carefully guiding their artists to successful careers. If artists were adept at business we wouldn’t need galleries.
My criteria for working with a gallery are: Honesty (this is self explanatory but absolutely essential), Professional (no discounts without consultation, paying on time), and fun to work with (making promotion, openings, and shows a satisfying and creative process).
Thankfully my current galleries are exactly that–and working with them is a pleasure. I wish you the same experience.
Brad Teare –April 2016