I’m no fan of re-inventing the wheel, so when I came across the article, “How Any Artist Can Price Their Art For Sale” by art consultant Alan Bamberger, I shrugged and was like, “Hey, that’s pretty good. He kind of said it all. And he’s got the creds to say it,” dusted my hands together, and let it be. Forwarded the article to friends. It’s great.
I still think that. Except for one point I’ve been mulling over. And, well, I guess I’m a little squeamish coming up to bat on it without having been steeped in decades of consulting and appraising in the World of Art. But maybe that’s what makes me an okay candidate to say something about it. I’m thinking the new art world isn’t the same as the old art world; I’m thinking Saatchi, Hirst, Etsy, and Amazon have changed the game.
It’s the section of the article titled, “Retail Prices vs. Wholesale Prices”, which also harks back to an earlier point in the article where he says, “a good starting point… is to price your work based on time, labor, and cost of materials”. That’s a good summation of how to get ‘wholesale pricing’… and wholesale pricing is a schema designed for the sale of a mass quantity, generally to a regular source, for resale. Wholesale pricing is a little different than selling direct. I know, we’re devolving almost into an issue of semantics, but the nuance is important here.
As an artist, what expenses do you have to recoup and where can you recoup them? Let’s answer that second question first. Like anyone creating a commodity (it IS a commodity if you are making art for sale), you recoup ALL of your expenses through the sale of that product. Where else? So your price tag reads $x and it has to pay for…what? Well, like Bamberger indicates, you have all of the time, labor, and materials cost that went directly into that one piece. And how did you sell that piece? Did you create a website? Photograph the work for digital broadcasting? Network in your community? Build an e-mail list? If you didn’t sell to Mom, Dad, or Uncle Tim…. I’m guessing you did some of that. And that business-y stuff is part of your Time & Labor which you should pay yourself for. The only place to pay yourself from? The price of your work. This makes the formula more like Production Time + Production Labor + Materials Cost + a fraction of your Marketing Time + a fraction of your Marketing Labor + a fraction of your Marketing Costs = Price of Your Work. (I say ‘a fraction’ because marketing is something that gets spread across your body of work – you don’t generally market single pieces one-at-a-time, but the whole shebang.)
And it’s THIS number that’s a good starting point. And maybe Bamberger MEANT that when he thinks of ‘time’ and ‘labor’ in the general sense… but I don’t think the average artist does. And if you think of pricing this way, when you decide that you don’t want to do the business side of moving the work, it’s easy to justify lessening your intake from the value of the work by paying someone else off the sale to do it for you.
And yes, like the article states, all of this has to jive with the context. It’s a balancing act where none of it is happening in a vacuum. All of your + + + +’s could add up to something much more than your accessible market will bear, so you have to weigh what is worth ‘eating’ now for the possibility of a rising trajectory. Have a plan.
So, that’s my only bone to pick here. Really, the rest of the article is truly, truly fabulous and in my opinion, square on the nose. Read it. Read IT even if you didn’t read this. (Skimmers… busted!)
Overall, I think it’s something that should be talked about more. It strikes me as problematic that people regularly ask why things are “so expensive” instead of why things are so cheap. Yes, in fact, I think we’ll become very uncomfortable with the source of many of our commodities if we start asking that question. So don’t be afraid to let folks know EXACTLY what goes into your work, into the pricing. It should be an easy, comfortable conversation. If it’s not, you’re probably not priced correctly.