A Realist’s Guide To Pricing Art: Part 2


Before getting too deep into cost, we’d like to add some additional insights into our previous discussion: “A Realist’s Guide To Pricing Art”.  Like all things art, there are usually a few fixes before getting it right and we realize that, well, that we might have rubbed some people the wrong way.  Remember however, that this is only a realist approach to pricing and as we have stated in the past, there is no one size approach to anything in the world of art. 

Price Geography 

We started out in Part 1 with the Trading Places meme “In Philadelphia, it’s worth 50 bucks”.  Realizing that not everywhere in the world is in Philadelphia, we should point out that price can vary based on geographic location.  Understanding geography and gallery locations will certainly help in pricing your art, but the key is that you need to remain flexible, or not go too out of your way to participate in exhibitions that are thousands of miles away from where you live, without understanding their market.  Let’s use California as an example.  

Obviously, California has a high cost of living (and working), so naturally, artists want to earn more money.  In California, your “Object A” may have a higher market value than say, Toledo Ohio.  If you sell a lot at a great price in California, than why bother trying to sell in Toledo Ohio?  This is unless of course, you are solely in the game just to show work, and that is your objective.  So, either you are going to overprice (or NFS) your work for Toledo, or, you don’t have a flexible understanding that in Toledo, your $6,000 Cali- painting is now worth maybe only $2,000 or less in that market.  In theory people spend more money on art in larger market cities, but larger market cities conversely are also harder to exhibit your work due to more artist demand to show in those places (perhaps due to the thought that you will sell higher).

There is also the Internet.  The crapshoot here is that anyone in any market could potentially buy your work.  But, for starters, you are competing with virtually every artist on the planet, in addition to other “wall hangings” of every sort.    The advantage in the United States is, that domestically available art can be viewed in domestically located galleries.  Seeing is still believing, especially when the price tags are moving higher.  Sure, go ahead and price a painting at $4,000 online, but if you walk that painting into a gallery in Smalltown USA, you may have to adjust accordingly, regardless of seeing and believing.  

Your Object Is Just An Object (Part 2)

Staying with the California example for a moment, galleries and sellers rarely care for the personal matters in your day to day life.  So if you try to argue that your cost of living is higher = therefore you deserve more money, it won’t (or shouldn’t) matter.  Remember, if you could sell it yourself, and could sell it in California.  As we mentioned before, an object is just an object, and can sell at various prices, in various places.  When in doubt, ask the person tasked with selling your work.  

Until you are a known or well-known artist, you are selling the object, not selling yourself.    

This means unfortunately, that the object is getting bought for it’s market value, but you, yourself, and your time and effort, have no intrinsic market value or bearing (if any) on the sale.  9 times out of 10 in the Emerging Artist field, the work is being sold simply because somebody will like the way it looks on xyz wall in their house.  Establishing a strong track record over time however, may increase your presence and desirability as an artist, in which, prices may begin to move up.      

Competition, Style, and Demand

So if 9 times out of 10 a work is being bought just because it looks good, then it would reason that your work should stand out in some way from the field.  This is where if you operate in certain genres or mediums, you may expect more competition, and in effect, less demand for your particular work.  Our favorite art to pick on as an example would by and large be Abstracts.   As an Abstract Artist you can expect more competition, and less demand, although there is a relatively high demand for Abstract art.  Why?  We feel that it is because most consumers opt for things that they only have to casually enjoy, but that’s for another conversation.  In short, stylistically, your work must stand out from the playing field.  Imagine yourself in an entire room of abstract paintings.  Savvy consumers usually know the difference in style and quality, while others may simply pass on it entirely and not know fully why.  or, perhaps they are just playing matching games with their furniture.   The more unique an object you create, the more desirable it may become.  But uniqueness is not an automatic “Pass Go And Collect $200”.  There is plenty of “unique” garbage to go around.  Often times if the work is too unique, and it may become too niche or unstable (i.e. art made of sand, pubic hair, etc.)   What counts for art in this day and age?  Your guess is as good as ours.  


By and large, cost is perhaps the single biggest variable among works, and gaining your maximum return on a potential sale. Like any business, you need to manage and keep your costs down.  If working with highly expensive rainforest wood and gold leaf is your preference, than you may want to have an understanding of the market before taking a plunge into this kind of artistic endeavor.  Meaning, there is a gallery or dealer out there somewhere, but it becomes more difficult to find that dealer (or, it’s easier?).  For everyone else, there are basics such as surfaces (canvas, board, paper, etc,), “paints” (i.e. anything that makes a mark), tools, and/or equipment.  You also have the costs of marketing (applying for shows, etc.), shipping supplies, and shipping.  Factor in Art School, and now you are starting out at over $60K in the hole!   Between all of that, how does anyone expect to make any money?   Answer: you need to plan beyond weekend-warrior and one-off sales.  Have a plan.  However, if you can make $15,000 on a one-off sale for a half blank canvas with some splatter, then cost is probably not going to worry you much.  Nonetheless, cost effects nearly everything tangible.  A general understanding and accounting of your inflow and outflow is a must-need and if not, you are just shooting in the dark and guessing.   

Don’t push it.  As far as equipment goes, if you buy a $3,000 lathe, don’t expect to recoup the cost of the lathe in one sale for a small table sculpture.  For consumables i.e. paints, inks, tools, anything that comes in a jar and lasts beyond one work of art, you could possibly conceive to recoup the costs in one sale (or not).  It really depends on how low the cost, and how high the sale.  However, if any of these items are particularly expensive, you may have to spread the cost out over multiple works of art.  

Cavasses and surfaces.  Advice: buy them in bulk and try to work with similar sizes and divide the bulk order.  You would be surprised.  You could buy 20 canvasses at $100 online, then your cost per canvas is $5.  

Application Fees:  Don’t lose your ass on them, and choose ones that seem within reason.   Shipping Fees:  Plan ahead and don’t wait to overnight things.  Use pre-created accounts and discount codes.  Never pay in advance for return labels by creating a free online account with UPS and/or FedEx.     Shipping supplies:  start saving some boxes that you could find behind stores or in the garbage, etc.  

Whatever the case may be, sellers don’t want to know about all of your costs unless it is truly something worth noting. For instance, “I just had these frames professionally done last week, and they each cost $350”.   Or, “Hey, this contains 18K gold”.  Even so, know your clientele and who you are trying to market to.  If $350 frames is your thing, then you need a nice mid-level gallery.  

As far as frames are concerned, if the frames are older than over 1 year, you begin to run out of luck.  Often, we hear things like, “well, that was professionally framed 4 years ago (I think), for like $150”.   Translation:  you haven’t sold this in 4 years and if you do things in fiscal years, your ship sailed long ago..  now it’s time to try to get what you can for it, especially if it is chipped and/or scratched in any way, and exhibited at multiple shows.   YES- frames and the quality of the frames and presentation does matter.  

If you have no documentation, stop pushing it and making up the cost in your head.  Often recollection and rounding things up to the nearest 100th dollar seems way bigger than the reality.  $65 is not $100. 

Perhaps most importantly:  your time and effort is not cost.  Gas is, so save the receipt for the tax return.  But if you spent a 103 degree afternoon changing the tire on your car on the side of a Miami highway, don’t perceive to bake that (pun intended) effort into the cost of the artwork .  Also, as we have said before in a previous post- unless for some odd reason you have an hourly rate, don’t try to make one up.  Even if you are a graphic designer who makes $35/hr. with a firm, this does not mean your side hustle artwork is worth $35/hr. baked-into the cost.  Similar for wood and metal workers, etc.   Remember, an object is just an object.  It doesn’t matter if you are a member of the sheet metal workers union. 

Finally,  if you are prepared to document costs for taxes, be prepared to declare your sales as well.  This is a double edged sword.  But, you might want to start seeing if you are selling a little bit first, to determine if art is really your thing before hiring a tax advisor.  

Don’t go crazy trying to document every single thing at the expense of making good work!  

A Realist’s Guide To Pricing Art

Don’t Let (American) Exceptionalism and Emotional Attachment Cloud Reality 

In “Trading Places” (1983), the character Louis (played by Dan Aykroyd) famously tries to sell his rare watch in a Philadelphia pawn shop, to which the deadpan response (Bo Diddley cameo), is “In Philadelphia, it’s worth 50 bucks“.  This is an excellent lesson on the everyday realities of pricing.   So often, an artists personal perceptions, as well as their feelings and emotions, get intertwined with the realities of location (i.e. market), as well as perceptions of what something is actually worth from both creator and seller standpoint.  Like Bo Diddley, an experienced seller can look at an object and almost immediately tell what it would be known to sell for, generally based on quality, and overall appeal.  They should also know whether they could sell it or not, without wasting anybody’s time.  Without further time wasted, today we provide our take on the widely debated topic of art pricing  (note: focused primarily on $2,500 and under).  This is also assuming that you want to sell something.  Fasten your seatbelt and remember: Take nothing personally. 

Getting Down To Brass Tacks

In basic economics, a person buys Object A, for Currency B.  This transaction on a foundational level (and more or less ideally) occurs between 1 Buyer, and 1 Seller, and nearly everything on earth (tangible or not), is some kind of Object with quantitative value.  Way up high in the stratosphere, you have the term “priceless”.  Back on earth however, extra help is often needed to push your product outside of your immediate sphere, and to broaden your market range and increase your value potential.  Besides, the money you might earn from 1 transaction will quickly evaporate (thanks Joe Biden) and in sales, tapping the same buyer over and over will usually wear out the faucet.  Or, maybe you just hate sales.  In any case, this is where brokers, dealers, distributors, hustlers, and resellers come into the picture and now you have Object A, Currency B, and Third-Party C.

Lesson 1: These people don’t work for free and if they own a brick and mortar shop, gallery, warehouse, etc., that’s not free either. 
Vanquish from your mind that the art business is a magical place where you can just show up and people do something for nothing because your artwork is inspiring in the ways of Jesus or Whitney Houston.  In the Gallery world, the money paid to a dealer is most often in the form of a commission (i.e., the money a salesperson earns to show, promote, and sell your stuff for you, usually at their own risk). Any commission should be clearly communicated in writing.   It’s not a conspiracy, it’s not “ripping you off”, it’s just the nature of business, plain and simple.  A salesperson can sense a good opportunity, and they lend their services, expertise, and “black book”.  

In loaning something to a salesperson to sell, don’t take the price you want, and then mark up their commission on top, because you have now overpriced the object and the salesperson has to work harder.  Sometimes you can adjust up your price slightly because commissions can vary from place to place, but you should always consult with the person who is doing the selling.  Remember, if you could sell it yourself, you would, and, on a similar note, stop telling a gallery you are pricing it high(er) because you want to do them the esteemed favor of making them more money.  If they want to make more money, they will just sell it for more and are only obligated to pay you only what you originally asked for.  

The second fallacy is “I sold or sell this at XYZ Gallery and it is my standard price“.  Ok, so if you are doing that, then why aren’t you still selling it there, and why are we having this conversation?

Lesson 2:  Sales is a 24/7 Artform.  Almost akin to the art itself, professional hustling is like a fine art.  Consider it like a sixth sense and a symphony of work that once fine tuned, is unstoppable.  The art gallery is merely the front for the art dealer.  Beyond what is out on the gallery floor, are a near-endless myriad of other artists, objects, mediums, shapes, sizes… all the the 1 millionth power.  An experienced art dealer can think of 1-6 pieces off the bat if a customer asks.  They can bend and stretch time, space, and half-truths.  If they don’t have it in the gallery, they can get it by picking up the phone and calling on artists they have worked with.  New shows and exhibits can be ways of exploring untested artists or bringing back tested ones for a repeat sale.  With so many objects to choose from, never take things personally when galleries don’t respond right away.  

Lesson 3:  Your Object Is Just An Object.  The sooner that you realize this, the easier it will be to price it and to let go.  Ditch the emotional baggage.  Just like Bo Diddley in Trading Places, you should be able to look at nearly any object and simply guesstimate its perceived value.  Secret:  It’s not rocket science.  An appraiser is generally not needed, because unless the artist is well known, needs verified, or the work contains gems, minerals, or rare artifacts, the object is more or less just another object, albeit, a unique one.  In an ideal world, the art gallery should be telling the artisthere’s what you can get for it” rather than the artist telling the world how much they want for it.  But hey, it’s a two way street and you have to meet somewhere in the middle.   

For the most part though, galleries dealing with mixed merchandise allow artists to pick their prices for a few reasons.  1.) It’s a mixed exhibit and there’s just not enough time and energy to haggle with every artist.  2.) If there is genuine interest in the work (aka a serious buyer), and the buyer wants a slightly better price, the gallery can they proceed to negotiate.  3.) Artist Ego.  Pricing is a litmus test to see where on the spectrum of ego-insanity a person is.   If your self-esteem is low and you underprice, a salesperson may or may not take the “low hanging fruit”.  They can also sell it for more, or, if they are confident, they will just buy it from you and keep the inventory.   If your self-esteem is way too high and you overprice (especially last minute changes), you simply risk wasting everybody’s time and depending on how high, you look like an insane narcissist.  Every once in a while a gallery likes a high-priced wildcard or two- if the work somehow matches the perceived value.

Lesson 4:  Sell The Object, and Not You.  Leave yourself out of the picture for a moment.  The object sells for what the object is worth.  Pretend literally, that you found the art in a dumpster and are taking it someplace to get it sold for cash.  Forget about all of your debt, and bills, and family stuff, and realize that in the transaction, you and your ego unfortunately doesn’t matter very much to ether the Buyer or the Seller.  The money you then receive is payment for an object.  The downside is that what this also means, is that the level of effort and work you put into it are worth… not a whole lot.  Skill however, is worth something to the right person (see lesson 5).  And yet all the while,  this is why art is so different.  They are unique objects usually created by the person wanting to sell it, so there is inevitably the personal connection with it.  Making objects to sell is different from selling the making of objects.   

Remember:  What the majority of Art Buyers want to know is a.) Will this look good in my house? b.) How badly do I really want it?  c.)  How much can I get it for?  

Lesson 5:  There’s A (Big) Difference.  Aside from spot checking an object and guesstimating it’s value, what happens when you put two or more objects of the same perceived value side by side?  This is akin to the 2 foot test as opposed to the 5 foot test.  This is where multiple similar objects must now battle it out to the death!   Long story short, consumers are not stupid.   There is a big difference between a $175 painting, a $750 painting, and a $1,400 painting.  The not-so-nice way of saying this:  at closer inspection, the work is riddled with flaws, bad lines, low quality materials, and shoddy workmanship.  In other words, it is amateur.    

If you want $1,000, make something that looks like a $1,000 work of art.  You have to actually earn it. 

Similarly, dealers and (most) consumers know the difference between good and bad Photographic Prints.  It doesn’t take a safe-cracker to discover that your photo was printed on an Ink Jet Printer.  We hate to say it, but any non-specialty photo printed on an at-home printer sized 19″ x 13″ and below, is worth $150 maximum (and that’s pushing it), unless your name carries some sort of collector presence.  Sales of Photography at the $200 and over range are 99% of the time printed by a lab professional, and yes, there is a big difference. 

Another big difference is that size does not matter.  Making art in larger sizes does not equate to it selling for more.

Lesson 6: Leave Your Emotions at Home.  

We’re not saying that emotions should be excluded when creating the work, and that great things can come of that.  At higher levels, the backstories behind the work will often come into play and can influence sales.   At much lower levels here’s an example:

Scenario: A gallery receives a proposal or application with 3 art pieces.  Each comes with a statement or story.  

Piece 1:   By all means, an excellent painting.  Story says something like “this was created in my darkest hour, when my spouse left me, and I spiraled out of control, losing my job, and my house.  I began drinking and experimenting with pills, was abducted by aliens, when I found out my mom died, but it turns out she wasn’t my mom, who was actually a hooker”…  etc. etc..   Price:  $3,000

Piece  2:  Nothing like the first one, and some earlier still-life graphite drawing.  No story.  Price:  $200

Piece 3:  (Meh.)   Price:  $150

What can we conclude here?  a.)  The artist is too emotionally attached to Piece 1 and thinks that emotionally, it is brilliant and they should receive more money.   b.)  They are deliberately overpricing Piece 1 because they can’t “let go” of it.   d.)  The work is highly inconsistent among all 3, so no matter how great Piece 1 is, there is no long term investment with working with this artist. e.)  They also seem like a crazy person to want to work with. 

So the moral of the story is:  deal with your shit and learn to let go. Work on your consistency and be professional.  If not, keep the piece for yourself if it was clearly so important to your life story.  

(American) Exceptionalism

If you can do sales all yourself, in addition to making your products, marketing, raising your kids, etc., and making a living off of art, then by all means, a congratulations is in order.  Let’s say that you can do it all by yourself?  This means that there is a high probability that you sell Online, in which case you are competing with virtually every artist on the planet, in addition to other “wall hangings” of every shape and size.  Furthermore, there are artists in other countries that can likely make art products faster, cheaper, and more competitively than you can, and sometimes at equal or higher quality.  This is where American Exceptionalism comes into the picture.  The advantage is, that domestically available art can be viewed in domestically located galleries, in a country where people have disposable incomeSeeing is still believing, especially when the price tags move higher.  Competing in the Online world also means that the larger marketplace is flooded with let’s face it- total crap.  In our previous post on galleries, it was said that the role of the gallery is to filter the crap, in order to limit (and price higher) artworks that may be worth a shot at a higher price point. Galleries are partly responsible for narrowing the goods within the market in order to drive up prices, which in turn, is a good thing for artists and sellers alike.    And hey, it’s not always about just the money.  A good gallerist should in some way like what they are doing and have some sense of initiative. 

Still, being an artist and your combined emotions and experiences in no way make you exceptional.  Exceptional really boils down to the quality, consistency, and frequency of work you produce, and how well it sells in the marketplace.  Simply because you made something does not entitle you an automatic $1,000.  Similarly, even if you are a member of some protected category (race, gender, sexual preference, etc.), does not automatically equate to anything on the price side.  Additionally, stop listening to your friends, parents, spouse, co-workers, who all tell you you could be selling something for $10,000.   Only art that is truly unique in a sense goes the distance, and there are very few objects that are truly unique to the point of high price and desirability.       

As we mentioned in a previous post (and sorry to burst anyone’s bubble- again), but the majority of Emerging Art is worth $1,000 and under.  Moreover, simply for a decent piece of casual art, somewhere between $300-$750.  Based on our experience, this is what most casual street sales occur at, as well as below.  Anything below $125 is considered “low hanging fruit”, meaning, it exists to not only sell for a quick buck, but to bring in people who may spend more on something else.  The average individual is not walking into a shop and spending more than $900 on a piece of art without thinking twice about it.  That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen, but it is very rare.  This is why sellers develop and chase leads (i.e. doing the work of selling).  Consider that on a $500 painting, with a 30% commission, a Gallery makes $150.   So, you can imagine how many $500 paintings need to be sold to “get rich” (as so many people like to accuse galleries of doing), not withstanding paying their expenses first.  There is no “get rich quick” scheme associated with galleries, and if they are, (or an artist is), it is likely a rare exception, similar to a news article you might read about a crappy crayon drawing selling for $2.4 million. 

In Conclusion

Art is a round-the-clock, constant business with many players and variables.  Competition is everywhere, and the concept of “artist” is thrown around as a cheap moniker.  If making money from art is your goal, there are always angles to consider, and opportunities that are worth it, while some are not.  If creating makes you happy, be careful where you sacrifice the enjoyment for the pursuit of making money.   In our next discussion, we will talk about further variables, such as cost, and other musings on pricing.  




Join the conversation!  Please leave a question or comment below.   






Navigating The Playing Field

Understanding Galleries and Opportunities as an Artist

With so many different styles of art and artists, there also comes the varying means for which they can promote and “sell” their ideas as tangible products. Even with the advent of the Internet, virtual tours, and “sell it yourself” programs, there are still very few (e.g. galleries) where it may be possible to display works physically, for both gaining followers, as well as making money. If display and sales of your work are among your goals, you will likely at some point or another cross paths with an art gallery.   Art galleries themselves are found throughout the world, come in all shapes and sizes,  and are found on main streets, pop-up tents, and in back alleyways.  As a “main street for-profit gallery”, we can share with you our views to help manage your expectations and shed light on how it works.

Categories of Art Galleries

While this list may have a few exceptions and standalone entities (and excludes places like auctions, bars, cafes, and restaurants), we have come up with this categorization system for the display of art.  (Please note, that the words “gallery”, “space”, “shows”, etc. are used somewhat interchangeably). 

1.)  The Egalitarian Gallery

Egalitarian galleries and shows are derived from the basic meaning of the word:  the belief that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities. These types of galleries allow anyone to show their work, often regardless of skill level and/or presentation.  As such, they often have a “feel good” vibe, and may even have a slant towards certain identities or protected status groups.  However, at the core, the work is often of poor quality or low level, and priced accordingly.  Here in Pittsburgh, there is a yearly event called “Art All Night”.  This event is generally held in a large warehouse and allows any artist to display.  It attracts a ton of random people and may be great for the arts community, but it is not the level that you want to stay at as an artist, nor the types of audiences who might invest in you. 

The offshoots of the Egalitarian Gallery are the Punk Gallery, the Hippie Gallery, or the Art (Ware)House, only more niche and probably open to (slightly) fewer people. How any of these galleries survive and pay the rent is any wonder.  Some get community donations, are run by a stoned out trust-fund baby,  people sharing the space and dividing the rent, and/or might be a non-for-profit.  However, sales are generally not the specialty of these venues.  They are often short lived, and/or bulldozed at some point to make room for expensive condos.  If you find yourself saying “Whatever happened to… xyx?” it might have been this type of gallery.  

2.)  “Pay-to-Play” Galleries

The so-called “Pay-to-Play” Galleries are the ones that people love to hate and hate to love, but ideally can elevate the game for emerging and weekend-warrior (and even professional) artists in the form of mixed exhibitions, and believe it or not, still retain some elements of the Egalitarian Gallery, only with higher standards and a clearer vision.  As you likely guessed it, these types of galleries often have some type of an application fee to submit works, and as such,  they get reviewed, and not everyone gets invited to play.  These galleries (and for-profit galleries in general), are the stopgap in the wide egalitarian river that says only certain artworks shall pass. True Egalitarians hate pay-to play, either because it goes against their beliefs, or because they have been burned by one.

Consider that with so many hundreds (if not thousands) of artists looking to exhibit works (and who are all more or less all at the same career level), the use of an application management system with a small fee is truly the only “blind” way of going about remaining open to all artists, but with respect to the mental sanity of the curator.   So, you have done a few free egalitarian shows, gained some interest, have a decent body of work, and are ready to try to take things to the next level?  Or, you are maybe just looking to make a quick buck? Either way, look at it somewhat like gambling, and making a small investment in yourself.  Yes, you have to pay to enter this art-casino, and if you play your cards right, you can walk away with a larger sum of money and a few resume builders.  Overprice your art and don’t participate, and you will likely lose money and end up bitter.  Don’t try to win the art lottery with an expensive piece- it doesn’t work that way.  We believe that all art at this level should be under $1,000, with most around $500-750 or less.  Occasionally, there are a few exceptions and “wild cards” at a higher price range.    

Yes, there are likely a lot of dubious pay-to-play galleries out there, and maybe you have been a victim of one of those.  Vestige Concept Gallery is NOT one of those galleries.  To help you steer clear of red flags, you should avoid super high fees and vague subject matter (i.e. The Shapes Exhibition). An ideal pay-to-play gallery should: 

  • Have open hours and be staffed to sell  
  • Be good at promoting the show, and/or the individual artists
  • Be transparent, attentive to you, and answer questions
  • Have clear guidelines when applying
  • Have a lower commission rate as a trade-off for applying and shipping

A lot can be said about the Pay-to Play Gallery and these types of opportunities are becoming all the more common.  Larger, well established galleries are also throwing their hat into this arena with expensive fees, often when sales are slumping.  In the end, it is up to the artist to determine which of these opportunities are right for them, and which are not. As Kenny Rogers says “know when to hold em’, know when to fold em.'”  Never take things personally, and get to know the places and types of shows that you like to apply to, and in turn, you will get to know the gallery personnel that you like to work with (and works with you).   The artists who are successful in this arena are priced accordingly, and when successful, will command more attention from the gallery in terms of more one-on-one attention, and who knows? maybe even a feature wall and/or future referrals.   This leads us to the next type of gallery. 

(First though, let’s state for the record that College and University Galleries are also pay-to-play.  Great for the resume, and very expensive to get in.  Worse yet, they are probably subsidized).



3.)   Splits and Solo Show Galleries (i.e. Middle-Elite Galleries)

Let’s face it, the object of any business is to stay in business. This should be no secret, including with an art gallery.  While you likely know already what an art gallery looks like, smells like, and feels like, consider the operating expenses.  Then, consider why many of the privately-held, for profit galleries will not give you a solo show, respond to you, let alone give you the time of day.  Here’s why: money.  

The reason pay-to-play galleries exist is not only to filter out the pack, but because it also assists with operating expenses in newcomer and “small” business galleries.  You may (or may not) have wondered where all of the application money goes in an Art Call?   We are here to tell you that ALL OF IT goes back into operating expenses.  For a small gallery, in a semi-up-and-coming part of town,  on a main street, you may at best be looking at $2,500 a month just to stay running.  With say a 30% commission, that means that mom and pop need to sell $8,500 worth of art per month just to cover expenses, and not even paying themselves. This is why, if you truly believe you are egalitarian, believe in the “arts community”, and you believe in small businesses, and all that crap about Main Street America, you should have no problem paying $25 to apply to an art show.  If not, don’t complain when everything on your street is now a Jimmy Johns.  

Now, take a slick, large open space, high ceiling, marble floor gallery with air conditioning, that serves top shelf wines and has all of the halogen track-lighting.  Their operating costs may be looking more like $4,500-$6,000 a month on a main street. Say these bigger galleries take a 50% commission (which they usually do)- in this case they have to sell $8,000-$12,000 just to make cost, not including paying themselves or employees.   BUT, the idea is that the Middle-Elite Galleries are more well equipped with elite sales people, capable of selling “name brand” artworks at significantly higher prices.  Still, that’s not always the case and yes, there are plenty of mid-range types of galleries in smaller cities willing to offer you a solo or split show and don’t takes fees.  

To get the solo or split show, you first need to have a consistent brand and body of work, and a decent track record when it comes to showing and selling.  Ask yourself the Middle-Elite Gallery question:  can my artwork conceivably generate enough income for a gallery to stay in business, and pay the staff- notwithstanding myself and my costs?   

If the answer was no to that question, don’t be disheartened, but don’t be surprised why you are not getting the call backs.  

4.)  Larger Institutions and Elite Galleries 

Larger institutions include as you might imagine, Art Centers, bigger non-for-profits, museums, institutions, foundations, and mega-elite Galleries.  If you are dealing with any of these organizations, congrats, it’s very likely that you don’t need our help or advice, but thank you for reading.  This category of institutions focuses on the promotion and sales of a select group of elite artists, which make up a very small percentage of all artists globally. According to an interesting study* released by renowned cultural economist Clare McAndrew, these “star” artists make up the top four percent of all artists born after 1900. This small segment of artists tends to be the main focus of roughly half of the art institutions in the U.S., while only 17 percent concentrate on emerging artists. Art Centers may be on the lower end of the large institution spectrum and be great for emerging artists and offer Calls For Artists (with no fee, but they still pick and choose), and other types of opportunities (such as fairs, craft shows, etc.), and therefore, may be the most accessible on this list.  However, that’s not to say that buying a booth at a fair is not “pay to play” as well, (and only once or twice a year). Maybe you excel here, and the types of art and products you make are a good match for that environment.  Remember, as we always point out–there is no “one size fits all” approach to art. In the end, there is always the Internet; however, dealers remain the preferred channel for buying art amongst collectors.


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