Without fail, I get pushback on this issue every single time I write about it.
The latest time happened right after I wrote and posted, "Rising Rents for Galleries." Let’s see if I can finally put this thing to bed this time.
It's quite ironic because the pushback is really one of the major reasons why I believe many artists and art galleries are struggling. What am I talking about? Well, let me just give you part of a recent response I got from an art dealer. The dealer disagreed with my belief that artists should post prices on their websites. Here's what this person said ...
"... If you ever want to work with a gallery ... Never, ever price openly. I get 5-10 new emails a day asking for info and pricing. THAT should be the entire aim of online/social media presence ... Offering work for sale is the wrong message. If you can illicit the question 'Can I buy that?' The artist is in control. And you haven't turned galleries off. Anything online (like), 'Contact me for commissions/pricing, etc,' turns my stomach. It never works. If you're desirable ... You're meant to be so busy that you'd never beg for sales. Perception is the greater reality. If people are keen and interested, they WILL ask."
Let's break this down. Shall we?
First off, I was referring to artists who sell their work through their websites, not necessarily brick and mortar galleries, although I do believe that new and mid-level galleries could/should also follow suit. Blue chip galleries are another issue.
Do you know the part of that message that gets me the most? The part where the guy says ... "Offering work for sale is the wrong message."
Every single artist and gallery I know is "offering work for sale." That's PRECISELY the message. I'm sure that the art dealer who wrote to me is a perfectly great guy. However, his comments get to the heart of the kind of arrogance that many people experience in galleries. How can it be that everyone can clearly SEE this EXCEPT for the galleries? It's because they're SO busy playing this snooty, psychological game with people who are NOT having it. That's why. This is not true of all galleries, yet it is the case with many of them. Galleries are galleries. They SELL art. They're not museums or mausoleums for art. They exist to move art and keep it alive in our society.
Let's take another look at what this art dealer says ...
"... If you can illicit the question 'Can I buy that?' The artist is in control. And you haven't turned galleries off. Anything online (like) 'Contact me for commissions/pricing, etc,' turns my stomach. It never works ..."
Number one ... Why WAIT for people to ask, "Can I buy that?" Contrary to what this guy believes, galleries and artists who are "waiting" for people to come up and ask that question are NOT operating from a place of power or strength. They're operating from a place of fear. How do I know that? Because if you're SO concerned with maintaining CONTROL, that means you don’t really have it.
You'll never hear a gallery say this, but I will. Every gallery visitor, regardless of financial status, is in the 'power' position inside any gallery. You may not be able to afford art today, but you might tomorrow. First impressions are everything. While galleries and artists decide on whether or not to sell, do you think they're going to turn down legitimate money from reputable people who can afford the price tag?
Also, I cannot believe I'm about to use a sports metaphor here ... But artists and galleries are SO obsessed with playing defense (maintaining control) that they're not playing offense. Guys, why not play offense by tossing the ball and giving a price range for your art? Give it a price tag. In THIS scenario, you're firing the first shot while you're also running upfield. You've got the high ground (at least if you're the New England Patriots) and by pricing art, you’re kicking off the party.
Again, I've spent a LOT of time looking at art in EMPTY galleries. On many occasions, I've been the only visitor inside. Clearly, this guy's strategy for selling art isn't working even while he says the strategy of pricing art "never works." By the way, I've spoken with MANY artists who are terrified of challenging their galleries and their pricing strategies (along with anything else) for fear of pissing them off. The art dealer actually confirms that in his response to me where he says ...
"And you haven't turned galleries off."
Okay, let's move on to where the art dealer says this ...
"... If you're desirable ... You're meant to be so busy that you'd never beg for sales. Perception is the greater reality. If people are keen and interested, they WILL ask."
Look, I totally understand everything this art dealer is saying. However, his philosophy is more based in fear which has resulted in the construction of smoke and mirrors rather than dealing with reality. Many, if not most people who don’t even know much about art, believe contemporary art is ridiculous, pretentious, racket full of blowhards.
Moving on …
"You're meant to be so busy that you'd never beg for sales ..."
Every single art gallery and artist I've ever seen is always BEGGING for sales. Not literally, but believe me, they're begging. You can FEEL their energy. I've actually experienced artists and galleries begging ME to buy ... especially at art fairs. Who is this guy trying to kid? If you work in sales, you are always - at least subconsciously - begging for sales. Sales are your bread and butter.
Let's continue ...
"Perception is the greater reality. If people are keen and interested, they WILL ask."
Again, this grips the jugular of the arrogance of many galleries. "If people are keen and interested, they WILL ask." Of course, this makes sense, but why play head games with people? Why not be direct with potential customers? This guy is literally confirming - in his very own words - some of the worse stereotypes about galleries. Isn't this why people don't want to venture into galleries in the first place?
Guys, your model for selling art is NOT working. I've been inside the empty galleries … I've spoken with worried art dealers - even in the best of economic times … I've interviewed hundreds of artists who have lots of shows, but not much in the way of sales … Many artists do have healthy sales, but most do not. Sales can be spotty even when the economy is on fire. And by the way, putting price tags on art won’t solve the problem by itself, but it is a big step in the right direction.
I know that many artists and art dealers KNOW what they're doing. However, I'm speaking here as the layman art lover who often sees things that make no sense. I understand the fact that many artists and galleries don't want to cross that line and price works on display either online or in brick and mortar galleries. They want to look "exclusive" and "high end." They want to have that museum-vibe. I get it and I actually love it.
However, when you don't put price tags on things, you feed the flames of confusion ... Or worse yet, indifference. When people don't see price tags on anything for sale, they either assume something is wrong and they don't want to take the time and energy to inquire OR they assume things are way out of their price range. People need to know the price of anything - without fanfare or game playing - before they consider whether or not to buy.
Oh, and I've said this in the past, but let me say it again ... Many if not most artists and art dealers themselves cannot afford to pay the unrevealed prices they're charging ... So come on guys. Let's drop the game playing. You're only fooling yourselves.
Still ... I get it. Artists and galleries don't want to look "too retail." They don't want people to think that galleries are on the same level with Macy's or Target. But guys, trust me on this ... No one is going to think you're Target by at least posting a "price range" onto your work for sale. Do you know what they're going to think? They're going to think that you're actually trying to SELL your product. What's wrong with that?
Let me add that while I've never claimed to be the brightest bulb on the tree, it's also inconceivable to me how artists and galleries don't see how they're literally standing in the way of their own success when it comes to this issue. It's like being the little boy who has long been potty-trained, but he refuses to use the toilet. He's stuck in the anal phase of psychological development.
In short, the art world could use an enema. Oh, yes I did say it. But I say it with love. It's time for us to do better guys. Try ... at least. Again, I know I'm going to get pushback on this, but we have GOT to evolve past this silliness and level with people. Too much is at stake.
And having said all of that, can I share some "breaking news" with you? Breaking news is usually presented at the top of any article, but I've said this before. However, so many art world people just don't get it.
Art is many, many things ... Not the least of which ... Art is retail.
P.S. I totally forgot something that shoots my entire premise to hell. Everyone is waiting (albeit subconsciously) for that billionaire art collector to come sauntering into the gallery one day. For her, price won't matter one bit. In fact, she'll support the gallery for at least the next 20 years. That's right! Silly me ... prices don't phase multi-billionaires and they don't care about your silly price tags. How could I be so shortsighted? My bad.
You know what? Ditch everything I've just said here.