Thus brings up the question: Is it ethical for a buyer to negotiate the price of art? Is it wise for an artist to knock down their price? Not easy questions to answer. To the question of whether it is ethical to negotiate on art: some folks are used to negotiating on everything, if they can. And they feel it's a particularly good idea to negotiate on art since they are dealing with a single person, rather than a corporation (I doubt these same folks walk into WalMart and say "How about $29.00 for this shirt rather than $35?" although if they thought they would succeed, would probably try.). They also might - either rightly or wrongly - assume the artist is of the "starving" variety and will jump at the chance to sell any of their work at any price. Most artists - starving or not - will admit to feeling slightly offended when they are asked to lower their prices. This is, after all, a piece of art that represents their time and talent - not a used car they are unloading on Craigslist.
|Most artists feel exactly this way|
That being said, however, there are many factors that go into whether, if at all, an artist will wheel and deal. There are those artists who will never, under any circumstances, change their prices. Some are so successful that they don't have to. You don't want to pay $1,500? The next customer will. These artists have a proven track record and know exacly how much their paintings will sell for, so there is never a need to lower a price. Then there are those whose works take weeks, months - even years to complete. With so much time invested, they simply cannot afford to take less. There are also those who simply feel that an artist should never "cheapen" their work by negotiating on it, and never will - if this happens to mean that they don't sell, then so be it. Another factor is the artist's own expenses. Do they have to pay rent on a studio? Are they paying a commission to a gallery or oganization that will cut into their profit? Does the piece have a particularly expensive frame?
In the next category are artists who, if asked, will always come down 10% but no more, ever. Some of these artists, if they are approached to take the 10% often enough, will simply build that into their prices. Other artists, such as Gallery artist Jane Coonce, will offer the buyer the opportunity to buy the piece unframed, and deduct the price of the frame. "That way the buyer feels they are getting a 'deal' and I can use the frame on another piece," she says. Since most artists will build in the price of the frame to their overall price, this is an excellent way to make a sale without feeling they have come down on the actual price of the artwork. Many artists offer special pricing to repeat buyers. "I feel this is a great goodwill gesture," another gallery artist said. "I appreciate their coming back to me for more art and this is a way of letting them know I value them as a patron." Artists may also be willing to negotiate if they are selling their art at an art market where there are huge crowds, and a more casual vibe than in an upscale gallery. "There is a certain psychological aspect to the location you are selling from," said another artist."People expect to pay more in an upscale location; and expect to pay less in a casual, outdoor atmosphere."
|A casual art market may invite negotiation|
It should be mentioned that there are other - artistic - factors that contribute to whether artists will deal. Many artists will admit that if they have had a piece for a long time, have exhibited it several places and it has not sold, then they are more willing to negotiate. Ditto if they are a bit ambiguous about how they feel about a piece. Every artist has pieces that, for whatever reason, in their minds simply didn't work. In these cases they are less likely to hold fast on a price, unless they priced it lower to begin with.
This brings us to the last category, like the one I encountered: the buyer who wants the artist to come way, way down on their price. In my case, I ultimately - politely - declined to come down lower than the initial 15%. This was a large piece, took a lot of time, was brand new and - most importantly - was a piece I felt very strongly about. Having the cash in my pocket and my painting on someone's wall would not have ameliorated the feeling I would have had that I had undervalued my work.
In the end, this is what a buyer needs to understand when they attempt to negotiate on art: sometimes it may work, but just as often, it may result in offending the artist - who may interpret your offer as "I like your art, but it's not worth this price." When you're dealing with the fragile egos of artists, this can be a deal-breaker.
--Sandi Parker, Gallery Co-Director