Thursday, December 01, 2016

Money Money Money and Incidentally, What Is Wrong With the New York Times

A couple days ago I announced on facebook that I'd made a little store to sell multiples of my artwork. I have sweet small framed prints of tiny paintings on there, and at first they were priced at $100 each. My friend wrote that she'd been waiting for me to make affordable art and was excited to buy one, and lots of people I adore shared the link. And then that night I found myself waking up all night thinking, "$100?!?! That's way too much! But, but..."

There is a cognitive dissonance around money that goes with being an artist. Here's the thing. As an artist, in my experience, one learns to live in two monetary worlds. There's the amount of money I actually have and can spend, and then there's the amounts of money that art sells for. 

When I first was approached by a good gallery I went around to a bunch of galleries to ask them how they priced work on paper. They were all hedgy with me, because of course it's a sensitive question and no one likes to talk about the value of someone else's work, but one kind person said that I should set the price an 18'x22" drawing at about $1500 x my name value. That seemed amazing to me, so I told my good gallery that my big drawings were $1500. In time, they came to sell for about $2500, and I felt that as a triumph. I know, in gallery terms, that that is not much. I know artists who sell large work for $20,000. Work on paper is relatively cheap, and $2500 for a piece that likely takes me a couple months to make and $500 to frame isn't exactly cost effective, but still. That's always seemed like a ton of money to me. 

When I started the online gallery I talked about it with a bunch of art people who I respect, and I showed them the little prints I made and told them about the $100 price point, and everyone except my husband said they seemed really cheap. He was very skeptical that anyone would have $100 to spend on art, but I wrote it off. Which is weird. 

$100 is really expensive to me. But in the art world, it's cheap. It's almost "something-is-wrong-with-this-or-it's-student-work" cheap. I felt like I'd be devaluing the work if I went below $100. A few people I talked to confirmed that impression. $100 meant value. I kept the price there.

I loved the idea of having an online gallery because it seemed so democratic. I have had great experiences with brick and mortar galleries. Becky Kerlin from Gallery Joe is a peach among peaches. A good gallery like hers takes a 50% commission, and if they are good, you never think about that again, because they find opportunities for you and sell your work and show your work and present it to the public with incredible care and devotion. It's amazing, and it's absolutely worth it. But it was fun to think about opening my own online gallery: I decided that I'd donate a substantial chunk of the profits to causes I care about. 

And then, the night after I made the store, I kept waking up. I had the voices of the art world people ringing in my head, saying I'd priced it too low, and then I had the face of my friend, who I knew, like me, could not afford to spend $100 on art. 

So today, in between teaching classes, before I rushed off to a faculty meeting, I dropped my prices to a disgracefully low level. Because once I finally did get some sleep, I remembered another crucial thing a gallery does: they cultivate a group of people who can afford to buy art. Gallerists are the people who connect me to the magical universe of people for whom $100 is not a deal-breaker. 

It is for me. $100 is new running shoes, or my kid's winter wardrobe. I wouldn't pay that to get art that I love, not because I wouldn't, but because I can't. But I have bought art for less than $50. And I'm very happy, now, to be making something I can sell to people who, like me, live in that world. When I changed the prices in my store this morning this little box popped up asking me if I wanted to mark the 60% price drop as "on sale." No. These prints are not on sale they are for sale, to people like me.

So is this bad economics? Will I devalue my art by underpricing it? I don't know. But maybe it's a little bit worth it to me to push back at that dissonance, and to get that art on my friend's wall.

The whole time I was thinking about this pricing problem I kept flashing to the NY Times Style section, which I hate-read with religious regularity every Sunday. There's one particular page I can't keep my eyes off, which always features somewhat cute things priced for people whose money is cluttering up their living rooms. Like this.  Isn't not thinking that there's something insane about flatware that costs over a thousand dollars the very thing that made the NYTimes lose touch with the common man? There's some analogue here to the way they missed the call on the election, and it's not unrelated to the way I priced my work higher than anything that makes any sense in the world I actually live in. I apologize. Friends, buy my work if you want it!  This fire sale is going to last for a while.