I wrote this a couple of years ago, but it is still apt....
Whereas BC’s and Canada’s economy is fairing decently (so far) in the context of the global financial tsunami of late, it seemed like a good time to look at how artists can adapt to sales during rough economic times. British artist Damian Hirst, for example, has sidestepped his usual practice of selling though a gallery to instead offer a substantial body of work directly through auction at Sotheby’s. The sale generated $125 million (US) worth of sales in two days. There are two things about the sale worth noting: Hirst paid a vastly smaller commission to Sotheby’s than he would have to a dealer, finding a way to increase his income in rough economic times; and the market for his art remained strong in spite of crashing stock markets.
Whereas no other artist operates at Hirst’s level, it is worth noting that even at the top, artists must explore innovative ways to maximize their earnings. When times are tough for everyone and not just you—when there is a recession or when unemployment rates are high—artists may have noticeable difficulties with sales. In these times, when people are getting laid off, taking cuts in pay or losing jobs to downsizing or bankruptcies, you may have to drop your prices.
If your sales are down, if fewer people are responding to your invitations, if your gallery is finding the sale of work down for all their artists, drop your prices, offer to be paid in installments, or offer exchanges. Some artists become entrepreneurial during such times, producing work that is inexpensive and about the economic challenges of the times, or producing optimistic, powerful statements. Others, offer their works for rent instead of purchase.
An “emergency” sale is credible if there is a coincidental social, financial or personal crisis. When you are faced with real adversity, a sale to raise “emergency” revenue can be very effective. This is a practice that should be done rarely. At such a time (serious illness, studio fire, recession, relocation), reduce prices and develop an invitation and/or sales flyer that can communicate with a large number of people on your mailing list. Your notice should focus on the need for “inventory reduction” (tell them why) and provide examples of your “highly discounted” prices. Don’t sell your best work at these events—hide it. Use the sale to move pieces that have not sold over time, multiples, slightly damaged work, and/or those pieces that no longer represent your artistic voice.
Simon, for example, is an artist who paints in acrylics. His artistic career is a sideline occupation in his small hometown, but his work is popular with residents and with tourists who visit his town in the summertime. When the town’s only large employer, a lumber mill, closed ten years ago, Simon lost his job along with most of the town’s residents. As Christmas time approached, he held a sale in the community hall, but instead of dropping prices, he offered a second small painting to every buyer of his “regular” work, and this sales strategy proved very successful. Rather than drop his prices at a time when he needed money, he added value and maintained his income level from making art.
Justin Gignac and Christine Santora had an idea that is certainly outside that clichéd box. Are you sitting down? As weird as their idea is, there is something to be learned from every experience. Gignac is a freelance art director and Santora, his partner, is also an art director. Both of them live and work in New York City. According to an article in the New York Times Magazine (“Painting by Numbers,” published October 17,2008), they decided to develop a creative project together that would earn them some extra money. Since they were, in effect, working to pay for some non-essentials, they decided to actually paint what they wanted and to sell their paintings of their desires for the price of the things they wanted. For example, one of their first paintings was of a plate of buffalo wings served at Le Figaro Café, and since the wings there cost $12.70, they charged $12.70 for the painting.
They also wanted a Wii, so they painted one and offered the painting for sale for $270.92. They posted all their “wants” paintings on their website, wantsforsale.com, and sent notice of their online show to approximately thirty friends. It being New York, word spread fast. Consequently, most of the works sold including one painting called One Month’s Rent that sold for $1,056.07. Their sense of humour is highlighted by two paintings: one, called “Financial Security” is for sale for $1 million; the other, “Instant Street Cred,” is only available for sale to renowned London art collector, Charles Saatchi.
They have done and posted a few series since beginning their venture and they have also launched a charity website called needsforsale.com that supports various charities through the sale of paintings posted there. As I write this article, their website features their wants for a trip to Los Vegas.
The Times article makes note of an interesting observation of Gignac and Santora. They were surprised by the order in which paintings in a series sold. Their painting, “Dinner at Norbu,” for example ($152), sold before “A Slice of Pepperoni” that is listed for far less ($3), but both paintings are the same size and are in the same style.
The pair speculates on several aspects of the human personality to account for the surprises they have encounter in undertaking the project. But the greatest surprise in this story is the amount of press they have received for spectacularly simplistic paintings. It’s the idea people respond to, and if you consider the role publicity can play in the establishment of an artistic practice, their genius is remarkable and worth far more than the money they make from their paintings.
We are artists because we are creative, and creativity in sales can be as important as creativity in the studio. Challenging financial times can require strategic sales ingenuity that can come more easily to the creative thinker than to others.