Something for nothing

I’ve written in the past about money and for many of us it still remains the embarrassing end of the business of being an artist. It’s taken me ages to get to the point where I can dislocate myself enough from my prints to be able to stick calmly to my guns in the face of wheedling, questioning and sometimes outright rudeness.

I’m not sure when it happened, but look on the TV and there seems to be a multiplicity of programmes where jolly antique experts, with or without dazed members of the public in tow, scour the countryside for artifacts and antiques to resell. The conversation, once a ‘piece’ (and they always are ‘pieces’) is found runs along the line of

‘Oooh this is lovely.’ Coos the expert ‘It says £350 on the label, what’s the death?’

Man in shop frowns ‘I couldn’t take less than £325’

Expert recoils in horror and then says flirtatiously ‘How about £200?’. Man in shop caves in immediately and agrees.

Now that’s all well and good for TV cameras and antique fairs, but I’m seeing this crop up more frequently than before between art buyers and artists, especially at fairs and open studios. There does seem to be a certain proportion of the art buying public who see art as negotiable and artists as having one price for the tag and another for the sale. I simply don’t work that way and I don’t think many other artists do either. Yet we are perceived as fair game and it is often the people who can most afford to pay who are the keenest to secure a bargain. At best this shows a lack of understanding of how narrow most of our profit margins are and at worst it can become straightforward bullying.

My stance on this is fairly simple and, while I may have to fight a pink face and wobbly voice, I do always stick to my guns. I set fair prices and I charge the same for work wherever it is bought. The upshot of this fairness is that I would rather lose the sale than be pushed into charging less than ticket price. It helps enormously to think about the kind and supportive people who collect my prints: they buy regularly and never, ever ask for or expect a discount.

There are a couple of exceptions. I will negotiate a discount if a client is buying a significant quantity of work at one time and I may have a deal on sets of prints where they cost less than the individual price. Very occasionally it is quite clear that the decision to buy my print means a serious dent in day to day finances for the buyer and here I reserve the right to knock a bit off the bill in homage to their pursuit of art over gas bills.

So while this craze for ‘Hunt Antiques Bargain Super-Expert’ continues to suggest that anything on a stall should cost at least sixty percent less than the label, I will continue to state that my prints are a fair price for a fair day’s work. Perhaps I can find a pokerwork sign to that effect – at a knocked down price of course…