Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fine Art Pricing, and What a Messed up World That is

I’m trying to figure out this fine art pricing thing, and it’s driving me UP THE WALL. Near as I can tell, there are two possibly contradictory worlds where fine art gets bought and sold. I care about art being bought because it presents the potential for me to get paid for doing art, and maybe make a living at it. I’m trying to figure this thing out, and here’s what the state of the Art worlds looks like to me:

In world A, Art is hung on walls in galleries and sold to collectors for large sums of money by dealers. If an artist is deemed sufficiently noteworthy, their work ends up in museums, further increasing its value and price. Since I’d love to see some of my art sold for large sums of money, I’m not against this in principle.*

In world B, thanks to digital media, it’s possible to make digital copies of an image that are practically indistinguishable from the original. These are then sold for rather less money to rather more people. Since I would really like my art to be owned and enjoyed by people, I find this prospect exciting.**

There are incompatibilities between the two. In their view of art: in world A, you're potentially handing control of your art over to other people. In world A, you're in the position of having to figure out how to sell your art on top of making it.

I don’t have much else to say on this topic right now, other than that it’s giving me massive headaches in figuring out what to do with my art next.

*World A sounds snotty, but it deserves a lot of credit. If not for the efforts of art dealers and collectors, Jasper Johns might have spent his life illustrating advertising copy, and a guy like me might never have the chance to look at a real Picasso. I would like to be represented by a good gallery, and have the freedom to execute some of the kickass ideas I have in my head. On the other hand, this world creates a distasteful façade of exclusivity and obfuscation around how art is really made and what it’s really about.

**World B sounds pretty awesome! Especially if you’re already and indie publisher like me. But then again, the pressures of trying to be publisher or a retailer are a direct drain on the time and energy that could be invested in art; and you can be a great artist but be really crappy at merchandising. I do want to make cool stuff out of my art, but I’m really bad at (for example) running an Etsy shop.


Blogger Unknown said...

I'm not an artist, so take that with a grain of salt.

If I had the money, I would buy art from world A exclusively.

I don't have the money and still wouldn't buy from world B ever.

I like my art real, what can I say? Luckily I have my girlfriend to cover our walls in pretty art colors.

January 31, 2012 at 4:12 PM

Blogger lj said...

To each his own I guess...
I thought you're monthly dungeon compilations were fantastic and would have happily paid for them. Have you thought about a single volume edition of all your monthly dungeons sold on Lulu? You definitely would have a buyer here.

January 31, 2012 at 4:25 PM

Blogger Mike Monaco said...

It kind of sounds like digital media -- world b -- has blurred the old lines between fine art and illustration.

Does doing the world b thing impinge on the price/desirability in world A?

Very complicated.

But put me down in the 'i'd buy a book of YotD' camp.

January 31, 2012 at 5:49 PM

Blogger Nick said...

Two thoughts, both having to do with this post, although having nothing to do with each other.

1. As the person who put together the compilations, I am more than willing to combine them all into one big one for T. I've mentioned it to him in the past. Whaddya think, T? (Of course, I do owe you (and am working on) a compilation for the rest of 2011.)

2. There is possibly a way to combine your worlds A and B. Have you ever heard of Peter Lik? He's a widely awarded photographer. He has (or had, not sure) a TV show for awhile. He also has a string of galleries that sell his stuff exclusively. He sells his photographs like this: Each one is limited edition--950 total copies. For the first X%, they are sold for one price. From there, up until Y%, they are sold at a higher (incremental) price. The, up until Z% are sold, they are at another higher incremental price. This is where is gets interesting, because now you are at ~95%. Somewhere around there, the price doubles. A percent or two later and the price jumps again, and then again a percent later. So what is initially a $3500 photograph becomes (by the time it reaches 99% sold out) a MUCH higher cost photograph. And he sells them out. (Don't quote me on the figures--they're approximations.) It is an interesting model.

January 31, 2012 at 11:47 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

@Ian, I pretty much sympathize, although I've learned to content myself with prints of stuff I can't afford, but still want to support. My real art collection is on my hard-drive, my Flickr favorites, and my Pinterest profile.

@lj, @Nick, Uh... I guess now that I've got a potential customer and willing layout pro, I don't have an excuse!

@Mike, That's a good question. In theory, the two don't negatively impact one another. There are plenty of artists in the lowbrow and pop art worlds who live in both A and B quite comfortably, but it's unclear what that means for the rest of us.

@Nick, that's a fascinating model! I like that it's transparent, but still takes account of the fact that different people pay (and are will to pay, or even want to pay) different sums for art. Also, I'm going to send you an email about the compilations and some future plans with them!

February 1, 2012 at 12:18 PM

Blogger Stefan Poag said...

I have been trying to answer the question of how to live a combined A and B scenario and have been busting brain how to do it (and reading and talking to people). The most sensible advice I have gotten so far is that in order to convince someone else to sell you art, you have to be able to sell it yourself --- which worries me because I am a crap salesperson. But it makes a certain amount of sense given what little I have experienced myself (and I've had some work in galleries --- my experience is that it is usually a long time between checks).
Knowing what price to charge is really hard --- I usually try to ask myself "what is fair" and sometimes sell something for less than I think it is worth simply because I have a buyer who wants it but may be cash poor --- I'd rather have a sale and get it into a "good home" than make a profit, as stupid as that sounds. But in order to even break even I am going to have to get a lot better at this art game.
I don't know how the pictures in the cupcake place worked out but it sounds like great exposure to me. I'd love to do some weird murals somehwere with monsters and things but other than head shops and record stores I don't know who to approach about that.
Let's stay in touch and see if we can help one another.

February 1, 2012 at 4:25 PM

Blogger Stefan Poag said...


February 1, 2012 at 4:26 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

Really, and this is kind of off topic, it's time for some of us old-school minded fantasy artists to band together and have a group show. It's not that hard to rent up a space for a month and organize something. I hear there's a new edition of that D&D game coming out. That might be a good time for it.

February 6, 2012 at 1:48 PM


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home