October 29, 2009

Autumn Little Mulberry Lake
12" x 16" oil on linen panel

It's no secret that people aren't buying a lot of paintings these days. I can tell I'm not alone by the volume of email in my inbox marketing "art marketing." One promo tells me that for just $2599 I can have my image on the cover of a new magazine that targets galleries. The more I throw my baited line in the "river of money," I'm told, the more chance I have to sell paintings. The fact that galleries are also hurting isn't mentioned.

I could chalk it up to lousy timing. My art career appeared to be taking off -- I sold an average of a painting a week for the first 6 months of 2008 -- but then the market tanked and the economy headed south. Earlier this year I had my first experience of haggling with the Very Wealthy -- imagine discounting a painting to Them! It seemed, however, the only way to make the sale. Bottomline, they loved the work and I wanted it to go to their home.

I haven't thought much about selling work for a few months. For one thing, in May of this year my mother died. The angst of not-selling can't in any way compare with the pain of such a loss. Yet, as the grief recedes, I can see more clearly the stacks of unclaimed paintings. (Remember the commercials that boomed "UNCLAIMED FREIGHT!" ? ) Plus, most days I add another to the inventory. What to do?

I've thought more than once about holding a fire sale. I've also thought about building a bonfire. Or taking the canvas off the stretchers and stashing the rolled paintings in a cupboard until the world recognizes their worth. None of these solutions particularly satisfies my desire not only to make art, but to see it go out into the world, to live with someone who appreciates it. Oh, and did I mention, giving the work away?

While today's numbers indicate a slow recovery from the recession, most people's reality is that money is still tight. As long as that perception rules, people probably will be tight with their money. And, I'm asking myself, does my own version of that show up in being rigid with my pricing?

I've heard artists more experienced than I say that one should never lower prices simply to move work. Yet, I've also noticed many painters posting their Daily Painting on eBay auctions starting at a buck. Sometimes the painting actually gets bid up to $100 or more, but more often it goes for much less if it goes at all. The fire sale actually appeals to me more, and seems to involve a lot less time on the computer.

My friend who owns a higher end gallery in Atlanta has lowered his prices -- he felt had to so he could stay open. He'd laid off workers and cut every other expense he could think of. As much as he didn't want to, he told his artists he was reducing prices. He also introduced a line of jewelry into his more or less exclusively fine art showroom. He was being a sensible businessman.

The Artist rankles at the notion of submitting his or her Art to the sensibilities of the Market. But something in re-thinking the price of a painting feels correct to me. I want to sell paintings, not inflate my ego. Yes, I loved it the first time someone paid me more than a $1000 for a painting. But in today's market, the same painting would not get that price from most people. I can choose to pay to put the image on the cover of a magazine, demonstrating what? Hubris, desperation ... ? Or maybe I can simply keep on making the art and sell it at a more affordable price.

I want to create paintings. I want people to have the paintings I make. If I sell them for less, perhaps I'll sell more, and more to the people who seem to like my simple and colorful landscapes. Anyway, I'm giving this a try. I hope my previous patrons won't get mad and feel they got a lousy deal by paying more a year or so ago. I hope, instead, they'll take advantage of the current situation and stock up at the less expensive price. And tell their less well-off friends: You can afford to buy these paintings!

On November 15 &16 I'm holding a time-limited reduced price Open House & Art Sale. It's going to benefit the Atlanta Community Food Bank. I'll give 10% of the proceeds of my sales to the organization along with the non-perishable food item I'm inviting people to bring. I'll be showing only small paintings (12" x 16" or smaller, unframed) and everything for sale will be $200 or less. (There will be larger paintings lurking around the corner for those who want to spend more.)

I'm not interested in shelling out the big bucks to market my work; I like doing things in a more direct fashion. Maybe eventually it will pay off. But, if not, I'll enjoy keeping company with the likes of Henry Thoreau, who I hear died with 700 of the 1000 copies of Walden's first edition still unsold.

For more info on how it all turns out, email me: eharold@aol.com.

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