Wednesday, 13 May 2009

The emotional side of art prices

We often struggle to come-up with a price for our work. This post is not there to give an answer, but more to reflect on the emotional landscape that surrounds us. Understanding where we stand is a good starting point to look at pricing in a more objective way.

In the foreword to the book “
The Price is Wrong: Understanding What Makes a Price Seem Fair and the True Cost of Unfair Pricing " by Sarah Maxwell, Jon Luther wrote:

“What Sarah makes clear is that a fair price matters because fairness is the emotional part of economic decision making. Without an emotional base, we cannot make decisions. We have no way to determine what is good, what is bad; what is right, what is wrong. We base these determinations on our personal expectations as well as on the rules of society, rules that we all know intuitively.”

Regarding the general perception of art pricing, signals are confusing:

  • When the press talks about art pricing, it is in general to report record-breaking price following the auction of a masterpiece. The price bears no connection with the initial price of the work. The monetary value may or may not be rational in the same way the stock market fluctuations are difficult to understand.

  • Another strong myth that surrounds pricing is the myth of the broke talented artist. Everyone knows that Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime (“The Red Vineyard”, sold for 400 Francs). Some people still think that artists should not expect to make a leaving out of their art.

The price of art is more than cost. A work of art is the unique expression of the artist’s personality and the value of a work of art resides in the pleasure and inspiration it gives to its owner. How do you price emotions like “pleasure” and “inspiration”?

From the collector’s perspective (and this is true for any consumer), the first reaction to price is always emotional. Our perception of a work of art is altered by its price. If we see a price and believe it is too low, we think that there must be something wrong with the work and its artistic value. If we see a big price tag, we will infer that there must be some artistic qualities to the work (even if we don’t understand why).

From the artist’s standpoint, emotions can catch us in several ways when it comes to pricing our works:

  • Under pricing by lack of confidence. This becomes obvious when you ask an artist about his costs and discover that these are not covered by the price asked.

  • Under pricing because we don’t like a particular work. If it is a question of quality and you think the piece of art is not up to your standard, should it ever leave your studio? If it is a matter of taste, why discount it when other people may like the piece?

  • Pricing too high: art is so personal that we get emotional and price too high a piece of work that we like (in the hope that it will not sell).

  • Pricing too high: Pricing high to flatter your ego will not do you any good in the long term. What happens to the same ego if you never sell anything?

This article raises more questions than it brings answers. Pricing is art more than science. However, there are tools and guides that you can use to make your journey through pricing easier. I will cover these in later posts.

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