Discussion: Are Promotional Sales Appropriate in the Art World?

Recently, I received an email from an artist announcing her “End of the Year Holiday Sale.” According to the email, this is the fifth consecutive year she has held the sale. All of the available work would be marked down by 30% to her email subscribers and social media followers.

My initial reaction to this kind of promotion is usually negative – I feel the art business is not one that lends itself well to this kind of effort. I never have sales of this kind for inventory in the gallery, and I discourage this approach whenever the discussion comes up in my frequent conversations with artists.

This artist’s email brought the topic to mind again, and I am one who always likes to question my own perceptions and assumptions. Is my position sound? Have I formed my position reasonably, or have I overlooked important factors? I’m hoping you’ll help me decide.

Here’s my position on the topic in a nutshell – I can think of three main reasons why I don’t hold sales.

1. Promotional sales often don’t lead to more sales activity.

I don’t believe promotional sales are effective in the art business. Part of this is theory, and part from observation. Let’s start with my theory: I find that art is a unique product in that it simply is not a commodity item. Each piece of art is unique – there will never be another – and often relatively costly.

When a potential buyer is considering whether or not to buy a piece of art they have to decide first if they love the work, and second if they feel it is worth the asking price. If the client loves the work, the second part of that question is usually pretty easy to answer. If you truly love the art and trust the artist you will feel the work is worth the asking price (whether or not you can afford the asking price is another question entirely) .

If the client doesn’t love the art, then the discussion is over and it’s not as if your promotional sale price reduction is going to entice the potential buyer to fall in love – love doesn’t work that way!

Your job is to get the artwork in front of the client in order to give them that opportunity to fall in love. Your marketing efforts should be centered around this, rather than around a gimmick to get your client to act now.

That’s my theory on the effectiveness of promotional sales, but I have also had conversations with artists who have tried sales events with very little positive effect. None of the artists I have spoken to on this subject report that promotional sales are a big part of their overall, long-term success.

2. There is a very real risk that you will devalue your artwork by offering it at this kind of discount.

Because the value of art is somewhat of a mystery (the real value of art is in the eye of the beholder, and the price is therefore somewhat arbitrary) you can very easily undermine the value of your art by offering it in a discount sale. If you discount the art a buyer may simply wonder if the original price was too high in the first place.

Also, how likely is that buyer to ever want to buy something from you at full price again? Not very  Once they have tasted this forbidden fruit, I can’t imagine you ever getting them ever coming back to buy at full price. Worse, they might say to themselves “If I can get this artist’s work at 30% off, perhaps I can get it for even less.”

[Please note that this is a different issue than whether or not it is ever appropriate to negotiate the price when trying to close a sale.]

3. Sales can train buyers to delay their purchasing impulse.

Similarly, once a potential buyer knows you are open to the concept of sales, they now have a strong incentive to put off their buying decision.

“I like this painting,” our potential buyer might say to herself, “but it’s October, and I know this artist always holds an end of the year sale; maybe I should wait to buy it until then.”

This would be especially true if the sale is a regular event for you and you are good at getting the word out to your buyers.

This is just a glimpse into my thought process on the matter, but I would love to hear from you, especially those of you who look at the issue differently than I do. Have you ever held a promotional sale to boost your sales activity? If so, how effective was it, and how did you successfully conduct the sale? Do you feel adamant that an artist should never hold this kind of sale?

Share your input, experience, opinion and wisdom in the comments below.

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  1. I completely agree with everything you’ve said. Having a year-end sale sounds like something you would do just to get rid of stuff, “make way for next year’s inventory!,” and that automatically devalues it in my mind. Also, as you said, if I know I can get that piece cheaper if I just wait, why would I ever pay full price? That’s my strategy in shopping generally, but art should be different. However, just because I would never have a promotional sale for myself, I can’t say I’m “adamant” that no one should do it. There are probably artists for whom this strategy does work. There are no one-size-fits-all rules in this game.

    1. You can have a Holiday Sale, Valentines Day Sale or whatever sale but it does not mean you have to or should change or reduce your pricing structure. Think Hallmark, do they reduce their card pricing for those calendar events… No. These Hallmark type events are designed to create an emotion for buying. Use them to your advantage. Never have a End of Year Sale because it equals to saying these are left overs, out of style, remnants and essentially have no value. Only the bottom feeders will be your buyers. If you have a art piece that you really want to get rid of donate it to a charity so they can auction it off and make some money for a good cause while at the same time giving you free publicity. I also do art shows and I have encountered some artists that think they need to put out “Show Specials” . Why? People are there because they are interested in art and more importantly buying art. I believe you should set a fair price and stick to it. The key word being Fair. You can always go up in pricing, never down. It will haunt you when you least expect it. Save discounts for negotiations or to make a new client feel like a preferred client. I recently offered a discount in negotiations with a new client who was interested in purchasing one of my most expensive pieces. I learned through our conversation that he headed up a publishing business. As a result, I sold the piece for a very small discount and a few weeks later received a unsolicited feature article in one of his publications that is distributed to community business and doctors. Now that was a big return on investment without a ON SALE sticker. In the end the value remained the same, he felt like he got a special deal, I got a unsolicited article and most important a very nice profit.

  2. I agree, if it’s 30% off then what really is the true value of the work? In my experience some collectors are always fishing for discounts anyway, and any time of the year. Don’t sell yourself short.

    I only have one exception to that rule, I’ll sell for less to galleries and directors. I’m in the business to make artwork, so I consider myself like a wholesale operation. I strictly sell retail to collectors, but may give a discount to galleries if there’s a potential to exhibit or re-sell.

  3. Truly spoken from someone who believes art should still be in the clouds, impulse buyers? how many are there, there are thousands and thousands of artists websites – all ready and waiting for a sale, in our society of commercialism – we are looking for sales, and we as artists should be the only one NOT to try to make a sale by taking a cut ( take a cut or no sale) ART IS A COMMODITY, LIKE IT OR NOT – Auction houses prove it every day. Millions go into art but not very often to the artist. Stop dreaming – we produce too much art -and not to give it a try to entice someone to buy it for a lower price,?? we want to live too.

    1. yes the gargantuan amount of fairly fabulous art available is mind boggling! Selling it consistently + frequently a la Kinkade calendars is kinda like being hit by lightning twice + winning the Powerball lottery a coupla times in a row! Good Luck!! 😉

  4. I have sent over 20,000 promotions offering a 20% discount for first-time orders of my work to organizations whom I consider potential customers. I have not received any new clients for my efforts.

    I have produced quality art from my Studio since 1971. My conclusion is, “It was not effective”.

    So, I agree with you due to my own experience.

    Ron Baker

  5. Jason,

    A very timely discussion, considering the fact that I pondered this very question only last week. I was considering a Black Tag Sale, but decided against that.

    I’ve done enough three-day shows to have drawn the conclusion that discounting artwork on the third day was not only NOT productive; it was COUNTER productive. On only one occasion can I recall having sales on the last day that could be traced to the discount. In that situation, the person who ended up buying the paintings had been in my booth on a previous day and looked things over then.

    What I observed from other artists was a lack of sales the first two days and sales the final day when other show vendors knew there would be a discount. That never made sense to me.

    I’m actually a little embarrassed now that I didn’t remember that lesson this past week, when I was considering a black tag sale, but there were other factors motivating me. Thankfully, I’ve gotten past those ‘other factors’.

    Thanks for the conversation! Good discussion.

  6. It really depends on what level of art, artist, gallery we are talking about. I was a director of a large commercial gallery, we never had sales etc..however we really worked the “pre-publication” angle successfully. To may levels of art to group into the “art world”. I don’t think year end sales lead to anything…but calling or emailing clients to let them know you are offering specific things to them for less for a specific time period…does work.

    David Brady
    never not an artist

  7. ….I concur. A year end sale, makes me think of a retail close-out, where there is a need to ‘dump.’ the goods. A year end sale implies that goods have been mass produced, and they will be out of season or style soon.

  8. I pretty much agree that selling art is not like selling clothes – and that sales don’t seem too productive and could seem to devalue the work. However – I love to paint and I have a house full of paintings that I would love to find a good home for. So I’m doing a 1 day open house 1/2 price sale. Some artists in this situation might put more of their energy into marketing their work, or visiting galleries to find now places to sell and exhibit. I would rather spend my time painting – so I’m having a sale. Check back with me in a week to see if it worked!

    1. I recently moved and had to get rid of lots of unsold paintings, or else pay for moving& storage. I carefully looked at each painting, some years old, & culled out the ones that no longer meet my standards. Then I advertised a moving sale, stacked up my paintings in the garage, & waited for customers. I sold about half of them at give away prices,& netted several hundred dollars. The rest, I packed up& brought over to Good Will. I now have an inventory of very good paintings, & room in my new home/studio for lots more. Did I get a lot of new clients? Probably not. But I heard from several of the people who bought my paintings from Good Will, & they’re very happy to have them. I’m happy, too.

  9. Hello all, I have never participated in a sale of art before but this coming Saturday one of the galleries I show with here in El Paso is having a closing sale. Although I am not changing my prices it will be interesting to see how it works. The gallery is closing and the owner is moving to California………hmmmmm

  10. I can see where this would be seen as a negative for some, but I disagree that it’s negative across the board. As Ursula stated, there are millions of art and artists out there and we are all trying to make a living. I am an accomplished artist in my own right, but I have many pieces of varying series from years ago that are collecting dust in my studio. Art is supposed to appreciate, yes? I’d rather sell some older work at a reasonable discount without devaluing and get it hanging in someone’s home or place of business and have it appreciate, than in my studio collecting dust and reminding me of yet another original I haven’t been able to move in years. For us sub-$2000 middle class non-represented artists, sales can be a motivator when we haven’t sold anything in months. One possible solution to prevent collectors from holding out until regular sales is to have sales at random times during the year as opposed to inaugural events. This way it’s a surprise and might curb the “famine or feast” mentality.

    This is a little different, but I was able to move 3 pieces earlier this year all to one collector because I gave a slight discount. One of them was an unfinished piece that had sat for 2 years that she happened to notice in passing while visiting my studio. (This motivated me to finish the piece and it’s one of my favorite works I’ve done to date and the customer loves it)

    1. I too have held random sales to good advantage. I choose only those pieces that have been around for years to offer at substantial discounts. The benefits are that I have created valuable space in my studio for newer pieces and have sold, frequently to friends and other artists, paintings that make them very happy because they cannot afford my normal prices. They are grateful, knowing that they are the recipients of private invitations. I too donate to worthy causes for their annual auctions, etc., but there are never enough of these to make more space in my home, so it feels to me that this is a necessity more than a promotion. I wouldn’t dream of taking my pieces to a place like Goodwill. That would truly be demeaning them.

  11. Interesting topic which occasionally has crossed my mind. I know of several artists who have year end sales at significant discounts. I do agree with your views, Jason. My uneasiness with sales is when clients who have bought a painting or paintings come to your studio and note that paintings of a similar size are now on sale. What thoughts then do your previous and perhaps continuing buyers have? Do they then think, oops should have waited or are put out enough that they won’t come back? I know I would be upset if that were to happen to me. elspeth

  12. I totally agree. It’s difficult enough to get the general public to value what we do. Marking it down, especially as much as 30%, certainly doesn’t add to perceived value. Many people already undervalue their work to begin with. No sales!

  13. I am ambivalent on the issue. Although I agree with your points, I also have had some success with sale promotions. I think it depends on a number of factors.

    I create custom portraits of pets. My buyers are not traditional art buyers, rather, they tend to be people who want a special and unique item that captures the spirit of the relationship that they have with a beloved pet. I have many pet lovers who follow me through social media and my email list who are always thinking about ordering a portrait in the back of their mind. Having a 10% off promotion or a free shipping promotion often will tip the balance for them. I have an increase in commissions when I have the promotions. But I never go over 10%. If I go over that, I am way under-compensated for my work, and I am not being fair to those who have paid full price. I often use an incentive instead of a discount, such as free shipping or free greeting cards, which works just as well.

    I have not discounted art pieces that are already created -only commissions. I agree that discounting pieces discourages buying at the regular price, and if you have an annual sale, people will just wait until then to buy.

    It is a tricky question, one with nuanced answers. There is no one size fits all. I think each artist has to go with what works for their particular style of work.

  14. I am an artist who has newsletter sales. I have had a number of percentage off sales over the years to my newsletter customers. Why not, I ask? I get sales, money goes into my bank account and the bills get paid. I do not have a wealthy husband paying my bills or a 9-5 job at some company. I am an artist who needs to be paid to keep existing as one. It is a business and when sales are slow, I just might have a sale. Granted I will not do this forever. I am an evolving artist who will rise up above this economy, move onto greater horizons, like get into a reputable gallery and build a collector base that will support me. You talk about perceived value, I don` think Monet, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Renoir, Bazille and Degas cared about that either when they were trying to support themselves. We do what we have to do when it is necessary.

  15. One year, I did a test. I am a member is a larger group studio/gallery. In that studio I have three seperate walls. There was a 3 day event… each day getting 1000 people coming through the studio. Each day I put a sign on ONE wall saying “This Wall Only: 25% Off Today Only” (I did not tell people that the other walls would be on sale on another day). Then the next day I choose another wall, and the third day the last. Durring that event I sold paintings, but NONE from the sale wall for the day. I did have one collector buy one from the non-sale wall and then ask if they purchased one from the sale wall (because he and his wife disagreed on which they liked better), could they get some kind of discount on the non-sale item? I said “yes” but because they were buying 2 pieces at the same time. In other years I have tried to discount individual paintings during these major events–and in 7 years have sold only 2 of the discounted pieces. My conclusion: If they really want the painting and perceive the value, they will pay what they need to to get the piece fior their wall. If they don’t love it, no amount of a discount is going to really matter.

  16. This is a very interesting discussion. I can see both sides of the discussion and have experience with both. I am currently selling a few of my older paintings, which are transitional pieces more than a year old (though they are still solid works of art), at a discount because I would not submit them to shows or galleries considering that I no longer work in the particular method in which they were created.

    I feel that considering our current economic situation, discounting some pieces is a reflection of how people might be budgeting their money more closely, though I do not discount any of my work created in the last year and don’t plan to. It’s true that if a collector loves the work enough to buy it they will find the money in their budget, but the times also dictate how we spend our money balanced with our faith that finances will improve. And I’ve found that often times buyers are looking for one or two pieces for their home, rather than a collection, and are happy to find what they want for a discount and I am glad to send it to their home instead of having it collect dust in my studio.

    And just one last note about investment and art. I’ve often thought about this issue. Though I understand how works by artists in the past are investments when collectors buy them at auction, buying current art is always a gamble as to whether or not it will become more valuable. It seems to me that if a collector loves the piece of art and has the money to buy it, that is the motivation rather than whether or not it will accrue in value in the future.

  17. I agree. No Sales. If you want to give a special deal try “free shipping” or something similar .

    I did have a “Moving Sale” at one time when I was moving to another state. BUT the items in the sale were old pieces that were never going to be shown in galleries or shows and in fact were in storage. I sold a few to my collectors. The rest made the move with me and are, alas, back in storage. And, by the way, I had one of my galleries hear about this sale and called and demanded an explanation about why I was giving a discount on my work!!! I explained to his satisfaction but I wonder about these artists that are having 30% off sales. How do their galleries feel about that?!

  18. Great discussion. My philosophy on discounts is don’t do it very often. The only time discount anything is when someone buys more than one piece at a time and then I might give them a 20% discount on the total. OR if they have contributed a recipe to my “Cooking with Friends” calendar (http://www.shop.claudiatrue.com/product.sc?productId=337&categoryId=23) These people buy calendars to be in it, so I give them a 30% discount on one original painting of their choice as a thank-you. I never give discounts on my giclee prints – don’t want anyone to think that their print will go down in value over time.

  19. I have a solo show every two years at one of my galleries. It’s called the 150 Challenge Show.
    I created this concept and the gallery loves it.
    I paint 150 paintings in 150 days for $150 each. They are 8×8 and 8×10 oils, framed.
    I create a website for the show and start at painting #150 and work my way down to #1. Everyone online who watches my blogs and websites see these paintings as they come off the easel. No one can purchase anything until opening night. People out of state call the gallery and let them know what painting #s they are interested in. I create a book with all of the paintings listed. One painting may have ten names under it for people wanting to purchase.
    The show opens and we have a big party. When the show begins, every painting with more than one name on it gets pulled and one name is drawn out of a hat. That person gets the painting for $150. When it gets down to one name on each painting, people may then remove their paintings from the wall. Every year we sell at least 90- 120 of the 150 paintings on opening night and the rest usually within two weeks. The gallery keeps the rest and sells them for $150 each.
    The gallery loves the show because it’s fun, it gets them sales, and it brings them new collectors.
    I love it because I get to meet the customers who have watched each painting created, have their favorites and I get newspaper and magazine articles about the show because of the unique concept. I also have the knowledge that I set out to do something really hard and I nailed it. I’m a daily painter and belong on juried and non-juried daily paintings sites, so that helps with advertising. I send out 700 or so postcards for the show.
    I don’t like to offer paintings for “close-out” but I have regular collectors who buy work on a steady basis and they are usually the ones who snap up anything I offer as a studio sale piece online. I guess there are many pros and cons.
    In this economy, I think you have to be creative.

    1. I love your idea Dee. I see how it can work for someone with a large mailing list and regular clients. For the last few years the public gallery where I’m docent has an under 100 show with everything under 100 sq ins and it is very popular, but I like your idea of blogging all the paintings and not having them available till the opening. I’m going to pass this idea on to the gallery manager. Thanks

    2. Hi Dee, This sounds like a great concept. 150 paintings at $150 is $22,500. If that takes you 150 days to produce, and you don’t work weekends, that would take you 30 weeks, which is a little more than 6 months. If the gallery keeps 50%, that leaves you with $11,250. Are you able to live on that income? Or do you also produce other work that generates the bulk of your income? Would you consider this as part of your promotional activities to interest buyers into your more expensive work?

  20. It’d be hard for a gallery, representing so many artists, (who may not all be on board with it), to have a sale. It could be risky for an artist OR gallery to have a regular sale, as their buyers might anticipate it and hold out for the sale.

    But, I’m not against the concept of a sale when it’s really called for. E.g. moving, remodeling, etc. These are not events that buyers would anticipate being repeated so they would not hold out for the next one.

    My buyers buy because they like my offbeat work; they’re not investors even if they are collectors. I’ve had some repeat buyers, and did sell quite a bit of work as a result of a one-time, space-clearing sale, with an end date. I also had the sale so it’d coincide with holiday gift shopping. It expires the end of the year, then my prices go back up. I’m sure the sale helped me with its intended purpose, to clear space, but in the meantime I’ve just made more art to fill the space that got emptied. I hope that as my art career progresses, work will sell faster and faster so that space is never a concern again, but it is now.

  21. A year end sale, or any sale at a specific time of year, does seem non-productive. However, I would like to hear how you compare this with having a specified negotiation margin established with a gallery to allow them to negotiate the price to close a sale. I assume the artist should use this same margin when negotiating directly with customers. Do you see this as also diluting sales or simply a method to close sales?

  22. Philosophically, I agree with you. Realistically, not so much. My situation is this …
    My gallery medium is oil and I conduct oil painting classes and workshops. However, I have many more watercolor classes than oil, accumulating a large number of quarter sheet watercolor demos for which I have no marketing outlet. Since watercolor is not my gallery medium, I don’t feel that my watercolors are in competition with my oils, and decided to offer a selection of watercolors at an extremely discounted price just recently. At a near sell-out, it helped pay the bills this month. Due to oil being my gallery medium, I will probably not ever offer oils in the same type of venue.
    I do realize that deeply discounting may be setting a bad precedent when you look at the art buyers as generally being well-heeled and having the discretionary income that allows the purchase of original art. As an egalitarian type of person, however, I feel it is unfair that so many people who would love to own original art simply cannot afford to. I am one of those people. I have bought a few paintings at charity auctions for which the paintings have been donated, and I treasure those paintings. Other than my own work, I would not be able to have an art collection were it not for coming upon the occasional gem at a very low price that I can afford. I truly believe this attitude adds an honorable reason for doing this.
    People who can afford to pay more, will possibly never buy another watercolor from me at full price. Be that as it may, I still have a ton of unsold work that I will have to eventually throw away due to lack of storage space if I don’t offer it at a discount that an average person can afford. Some of those paintings definitely should be destroyed – others deserve a decent home. They will never find that home without some creative pricing and marketing!
    Julie G Pollard

    1. Hi Julie: I’ll just offer this as something to think about in order to not have so many paintings on hand: when I attended some week-long workshops with watercolorist Wendell Mohr in Iowa, on the final day of the workshops, he gave away his demo paintings! He drew names out of a hat; the person whose name was drawn got to choose a painting, then the next person whose name was drawn got to choose, etc. (He wrote’ demo’ next to his name on the front of the give-away paintings.) I thought it was a very generous thing to do, and I treasure those paintings. It won’t help your budget, but it leaves a favorable impression.

  23. For the first time , this year (at Thanksgiving in fact), I offered to my e-mail list a 10% discount to first time buyers, and a 20 % discount to those who already own my work, of available work. I make both sculpture and paintings and most of my sales are from $1500 to $3000. Yes this is a “sale”, but is it in the negative or positive column? Guess I’ll find out! (My e-mail list, and that of my husband’s, is of people who expressed interest and opted-in to receive our Newsletter.)

  24. One factor that may run counter to the theory that someone will wait for the promotional sale before buying, is that art is one-of-a-kind. If someone loves the piece, they should realize that if they wait, it could be gone before they make their move on it. I’ve certainly had that situation where someone was shooting themselves for missing their chance by delaying their decision.

    The word “discount” is really cheapy-sounding, but the concept of lowering the price to make the sale is certainly tried and true, and Jason I would like to hear more about why you say the two are different. I am guessing the answer is that in the latter case, the person feels like they are getting a special deal for themselves only. People love to feel special, especially when making an art purchase, and I think that underlies the basic problem with the “discount sale” approach. However, Jason, I’m curious whether that person who gets a special deal to close the sale with you, also never forgets the taste of that forbidden fruit?

    For artists who make the case that they can’t afford to have such principles, I have two suggestions that might achieve the same end goal without using the “discount sale” concept, which, we can see from all the comments above, clearly does not work. One is a silent auction. I’ve had a whole lot of action with those: they cleared out pieces that I didn’t want sitting around; put lots of money in my pocket; made my buyers feel special and feel like they got a good deal; my buyers told their friends and I sold to several people who weren’t on my list; and to top it off, it was very educational as to which pieces were the sought-after ones that got bid up. Caveat: I would only do this with pieces that have no relation to what I currently submit to galleries, i.e. 1) not up to my current skill level, and 2) so unrelated to my current look that I can’t use them for galleries. And I would explain in my publicity that these were the reasons I was having the auction, for one thing in order to be up front, and more importantly so as not to draw question marks from my serious collectors.

    The other thing an artist can do to keep food on the table without using the dreaded “discount sale,” is to simply lower the price on pieces that you want to sell off. You don’t have to call it a sale for someone to realize they are looking at a good deal. Again, I would not do this with a piece that could be sold through a gallery.

    It is in the best interest of the artist, the gallery, and the collector to protect the value of the artist’s serious work.

  25. Really enjoyed the above comments. I am a professional artist represented by several galleries. In the past years of the nationwide economic recession that we have all been enjoying; I have frequently been asked by my galleries to approve a sale involving a discount they felt was necessary to extend their client to make the sale. The largest was 20% to accommodate a consultant; the discount was typically 10%. I know that some galleries never offer discounts; but frankly I was happy to make the sales while taking a small cut in earnings.
    I recently opened a new studio & held a huge opening event. Like many artists who have been making art for many years, I have transitioned through various mediums and will no longer include earlier work in current shows. As an artist above stated; I would rather have someone enjoying my art on their walls at a price they can afford than have the work stockpiled in my studio. There is a tipping point for pricing which “devalues” the work, and a price that is fair and affordable. I believe I found that sweet spot and sold 8 paintings (all upwards of $1,000 +)& three works on paper during my studio open house. A collector bought one of my current works which is slated for a show opening Dec. 6; she did NOT receive a large discount but the same % she might have been offered at a gallery; and is loaning the painting back to the exhibition. The “specially priced” sales generated more sales that night as patrons saw paintings disappearing off the walls.
    I work hard, teach; exhibit, and sell my art. It’s my living. I don’t feel like my art has been compromised by selling “older” works at “extrordinary” prices; or by giving a small discount through studio sales.
    I will not make this an annual event; but am very pleased by the success of this one-time event that will now allow me to pay studio rental for the coming year.
    For me; price adjustments yielded extrordinary results; my collectors are happy; and will be back. I think they will NOT continue to expect “deals” on new/current works; but know that I will work with them with reasonable pricing expectations.

  26. Sandra, I’m looking forward to hearing how it turns out for you.

    I’ve had two sales. They were “I’m moving my studio and don’t want to take everything with me sales”. At the second one I clearly stated, “I’m never doing this again so better take advantage of me now”. It was fun, and it was 11 years ago. That is the only way I can think of to have a sale without causing people to expect a discount and then wait for another sale instead of buying the work when they see it.

    I do offer work at a discount to charities rather than donating it to them. Not one has taken up my offer yet – they want it for free!!

  27. If I can get a piece 30% off during the holidays, why can’t I get it 30% off all the time? I know you’re willing to give a huge discount to get a sale, so if you want me to buy, I want 30% off ALL the time.

  28. Great Topic..and I agree with the last artist Dee Sanchez…. Joy, creativity, and reaching people who otherwise can’t afford fine art is a part of how I grew up, and I want people to know that something beautiful or special doesn’t have to cost a lot. I want them to enjoy the experience my patrons enjoy. I have never had a discount art sale (as a matter of fact, just recently, someone came into a gallery where I had 2 pieces hanging and asked the person on duty if I would consider a discount. I did 10% less, knowing in my gut it wasn’t the right thing, and sure enough…no sale…won’t do that again) BUT I did have a Salon Show, one day only, at a friends house, where I was able to hang and display 30 pieces, all for under 200. dollars. I saw a lot of new faces who bought framed, original artwork. And, I had patrons show up who bought 2 and 3 pieces as gifts, and the simple pieces that spoke to them. There were older pieces, and smaller pieces. I sent out over-sized postcards to promote it, ands just incase they didn’t buy, they could frame the postcard! I made over $1000. that day. I always have food/drink/music at my receptions. I gave my hostess a painting for letting me use her space and I plan on doing it again, probably in my own home, where they can see the working artist studio. My most current work, and the work that has won awards, I won’t discount or put in a show like that. I appreciate everyone along the way who has helped me sell my work. I, too, do animal portraits, but not many commissions. I had a show featuring Cats and Dogs, and 40% of the sales went to 2 shelters I am fond of. I INCREASED the price of my work for that show, and was able to DONATE $800 of the sales. It was one of the best checks I ever wrote to those 2 shelters. I want to sell…so, I try to be fair and creative without ever devaluing myself. I look forward to more gallery representation…but until then, I remain the blue-collar renaissance woman artist that I am!

  29. If your just dabbling, do whatever you want. With close friends and family a little generosity can go a long way . Beyond that, it’s very bad from a reputation stand point to have that stigma attached to you and your work. Somtimes unique circumstances arise but even then it can be costly long term . Often artists that find themselves discounting alott have based their prices off of other artists work and have inaccurate perceptions of there own standing amongst collectors. Just take it slow, you’ll be better off.

  30. This discussion reminds me of something very different that I did a few years ago: in the past I’ve sold artwork, using a unique pricing method that allows me to sell to more sectors of society. I calculated the hours that went into the work and offered it at the price of the hourly wage of the buyer (approximated if salaried) times the number of hours that I had in the piece. I would not sell everything that way but it worked well for some work and especially for commissions. I really loved pricing that way.

  31. I agree with you, Jason, and would like to add that it also hurts the broader art community. In my city, the artists who do this definitely hurt sales at our area galleries and shows as they have created buyers who expect prices to be negotiable.

    (and I love Dee Sanchez’s show concept, which sounds really fun for all involved.)

  32. Very sound reasoning, Jason. Discounted sales have a ripple effect, too. They can undermine the value of other artists work. It happens in plein air events where a lot of price slashing happens, especially on the last day of the event. Those who make these deals reason that at least they can get enough money to defray the cost of gasoline. Others may think of getting enough return to at least buy more paint and canvas. Pretty soon that market is ruined because the local supporters of the event see plein air painting and by extension, art in general as a kind of “flea market”. The net result is that part time artists posing as professionals receive a little emotional gratification and cash for materials. But those trying to make a living suffer the loss of a potential market.

  33. Great collection of insights! This sheds a light on a knotty core question: Why are we making?
    It’s probably not just “business”–not on this forum. So “clearing inventory” is the dead end way to express it. “Sale” implies goods, stuff, SKUs. That’s not where most of us live. But there may be some other way to look at it:
    I want more space for the current work I’m doing, both to see and have around me like so many mirrors of who I’m coming to be. The older work is taking up too much space and attention! It’s part of a different, less important, less compelling story line for me. So I’ll sell my older work at much less than it used to go for… for the cathartic value of “shedding” and for the honoring of the new work.
    What we need, and seem to be getting to in this forum, is some new language that honors the ways we move our art work in and out of our lives.

  34. I have artist friends that have an annual open studio weekend with great success. There are no discounts, but you get to see new work and you get to see more work from that artist than any gallery could show at one time. One of them lets their galleries pull new items they want to exhibit a few days before (not sure about the other). Even without the discount, these open studio weekends have been built into great sales tools. The galleries are happy because there is a prominent notice of which galleries carry the artist’s work and they get visits as a result.

  35. ‘Appropriate for the art world’?! You gotta be kidding! As if there is some sort of etiquette guide for the ridiculous contemporary art market. For most artists today, the 99% let’s say, desperate times spawn desperate measures.

  36. Sorry Jason, I disagree with you. I am in the middle of my very first Twelve Days of Christmas Holiday Art Sale. I post one painting a day on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Pinterest and the twelve paintings that are for sale can be previewed on my website. So far every painting has sold. My website traffic has gone from an average of 200 a day to 1800, 2100 and 2700 the first three days of the sale. My newsletter subscriptions have gained 85 new subscribers in three days. I say all that with this caveat…I do not compete with my galleries for sales. That’s because I sell only 8″ x 10″ and 9′ x 12″ plein air work in the sale and I don’t put anything in the galleries smaller than 11″ x 14″ (most of the time). I have one gallery that sells my plein air work, but I talked to them about the sale before I did it. Three of the paintings sold so far were to collectors who were purchasing them as gifts for family and they were very happy to be adding to their collections.

    I’ve not had a gallery sale in two months and I’m in six galleries. My Holiday Art Sale will raise over $3000 in two weeks, put my name and work in front of thousands of potential buyers, help market the work I have in the galleries,
    put cash in my pocket, pay for my Christmas shopping, drive traffic to my website and the websites of my galleries and I could continue. In short my Holidays Art Sale is nothing but positive for me, my galleries and my collectors and I’m having fun doing it.

    1. Rusty, it was your “Holiday Sale” that made me think I should. I paint a LOT, and have a huge inventory, and no way are the sales keeping up with the production. I am not producing for the purpose to sale, but to improve, and I have shelves and shelves filled with paintings.

      My wife thought it good to try to move out some of the older pieces with a “Holiday Sale”, and I’ve got another big year of travel and heck yes could use more income.

      I have never had a “sale” and googled to see what some of peoples thoughts were on the subject because I’ve heard much talk similar to Jason’s over the years. No I do not want to devalue the art, but I think it better if it were on someone else’s wall than on my shelves.

      My plan was to put paintings that were over a couple years old and not eligible for competitions on sale for the “12 Days of Christmas” or something like that. Well it cheapen the rest of my art? I don’t think the price tag on a piece of art is what makes it valuable in the first place, I believe it’s the skill in which it is created.

  37. I think these are excellent points. I just did a holiday show where I offered a number of pieces at prices quite a bit lower than my usual prices. I did NOT, however, mark them as SALE, or even special price. I simply priced them lower for that show. When people said to me, “I will think about this, ” I informed them that they would have to remind me that they saw the pieces at that show because they would be going up to full price when they got back in my studio. I’ve never tried this before, and two things happened: I sold 5 original pieces, three of them to a young man who has been looking at my work for many months now. I feel that he will be a great ambassador for my work going forward. He is in “my demographic” (young professionals who buy my work) and he will talk me up. The other two pieces were spontaneous purchases by a couple who were shopping prints and each liked an original. They got them all. Again, they will be good ambassadors going forward. I do not hold sales, per se, because I think it smacks of desperation. In corroboration of this, a fellow artist is advertising a “sale” of work at a non-art venue, and posting it all over social media. As a result, one of the galleries which handles the work has taken it down until after the sale because the sale and its location detract from the value of the same work in the gallery.

  38. This article is timely. I had been toying with idea of having a “sale” to clear out inventory especially since it’s the end of the year. But your points are so well taken especially #3. I have a couple of online businesses whose products I love but since they offers sales practically every other week, I tend to put off buying their products until the next “sale”. I was thinking that that might happen to my artwork and also what would a client who bought today feel when similar sized artwork was 30-40-50% less had they waited a few days to buy from me?

    Thank you for the article and I have decided against the Mega Sale tactic.

  39. Never say never but in this case I do say never. I just sold work from 2005, to a client who had bought pieces from that series coming back to look for more and no need to have reduced the prices for him. Pricing one’s work fairly is the best strategy. I think “sales” provide short run gains and long range losses. In general, Artists who do have success with sales may want to rethink their overall pricing. Perhaps their “sales” price is the market price for their work. In that case it should be the year round pricing.

  40. I agree sales devalue your work but the “starving” artists get desperate for a sale at times. I see a lot of comments saying the artist has too many old works laying around and they need to sell them. If you have a piece that is a few years old and you have tried selling that piece, then it just may be that the quality of that piece isn’t good enough. For me, if I have a piece that is 2 years old, it probably is not as high of quality as my newer pieces, because I continue to get better. Of course I get pieces that just won’t sell so after it’s been around for a while, I paint over it. Thus, keeping my studio from getting over crowded. In Jason’s book he says we should stay productive and paint as much as possible, one important thing he didn’t mention is that NOT every painting you create is going to be a masterpiece! We will all paint a painting that won’t sell for whatever reason but don’t devalue your work or yourself by putting it for sale or at a discounted price. Give it to charity or simply paint over it and make it a masterpiece!!

    1. Painting over your old artwork is a way to devalue your career as an artist someone once told me. Imagine if Dali or any famous painter would have erased half of their development because they painted over their own pieces. It sends a message that your time invested in those pieces when you were not yet mature are not worth it. Are they? They are worth even if they are your worst pieces. Those paintings are part of your story. Are we not selling an story? Of course we are!

  41. Jason, I agree with your reasoning. The only time I put my work “on sale” was when I was both just trying to establish myself as a professional artist and wanting to introduce myself in a new community. I participated in a community arts and crafts fair and posted a sign that announced a “One-time only–originals for the price of a print!” (I didn’t offer any prints.) I sold only one piece at the event, but after that, people recognized me as a resident artist and I was able to both line up some private commissions and (despite educational credentials) begin teaching art classes in the community center.

  42. My understanding is that the art is supposed to appreciate over the years, not the other way around.
    Artists increase their prices each year, or in a slow market, keep the prices the same.

  43. I agree to a point. I’ve been selling my photography for 40 years. Ninety percent of the time I sell my images at full price, but as artists we are still no different than any “business” and that means be creative with pricing. Our art we produce is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it, and even that varies depending on the geographical market one is selling in. I usually give a “multi-purchase” discount. This has worked very well and most of the time that client comes back for more purchases. I sell some of my work thru galleries and my pricing is the same as buying directly from me. The difference is, I get 100% when the work is bought from me, and only 50% when sold at a gallery, which I am fine with as the gallery sale is a sale that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. My motto is “show & sell”, not “show & tell”. Compliments don’t pay bill, nor does unsold work.

  44. No shortage of interest on this topic! While I agree with your three premises, I have on occasion put some of my pieces “on sale” at a discounted price. My “sales” have only been on older inventory, and yes, at the risk of devaluing them. However they are still part of inventory and carrying it costs money. I feel it is better to have the cash flow and make room in the gallery for new work.
    It is not without frustration. My last discount sale was two summers ago of several of my 2008 Italian collection. These were white marble sculptures from the heart that I had begun in Pietrasanta, Italy and finished here in Vancouver, Canada. I had hoped to garner interest with my collectors, but they finally found homes only during the discount sale. But better that than to still be carrying them as inventory. On a happy note, one collector who purchased two discounted pieces did become the owner of a full price, large scale sculpture later that same year.
    I don’t make a habit of discount sales, as I do not wish to create your Point 3 scenario with my collectors. But rogue discount sales have worked for me.

  45. I’m in this business for the long haul. Whenever I’m in an exhibition and a collector shows up, their first move is to check out the price point of a painting that is similar to the painting(s) they have. I have collected some pieces in the past and if I found out that a similar piece was less than I had paid, I would feel betrayed. Art is not a commodity, it’s an intellectualized emotion that needs to be protected and nurtured. Right about now you are probably wishing I would get off my high horse; but, I like the view up here.

    1. This is a great point. I too am in this for the long haul and it’s starting to pay off. I am very strict with my pricing schedule and I have never had anyone complain when I give a price for a commission because they know roughly what to expect. I am a daily and very prolific painter and my followers have over time come to value my work as much as I do. That being said, I do not have massive prices on my work, but enough to feel appreciated and not robbed. Bargain hunters go elsewhere and that’s fine with me. And yes, my income is increasing each year even in this soft economy.

  46. I work at a privately-owned, rent-based gallery. We had an artist two years ago who, at the end of her lease, discounted everything in her alcove 50%. This discount applied to both $3.00 photo cards and on up to $500 original paintings. True, her discount hurt the sales of the other artists in terms of cards sold (why pay $3 for a card when you can get one for only $1.50?), but there was a client (I find it fascinating that you don’t refer to them as “customers” here) who was going to buy one of this artist’s paintings for his wife. When I told him about her discounted prices, he went ahead and bought two of her paintings. Granted, it was a two-for-one type deal in the end, but if the goal was to clean house rather than bring in more money, then I’d consider hers a successful sale.

  47. I agree with you. Our business works with “one of a kind items” Something never to be seen again and in that sense the art pieces are not like other “supermarket” items. Art is not a need from the client’s perspective, it is a desire that we manage to convert into a need. If we lower the value of the desire, we lower the degree for the need. Otherwise how do you explain the fact that there are talented artists producing great pieces of art, yet clients would pay more for a piece of art (not as good) from a more recognized artist. They are paying for the brand. There is always negotiation of the price, but dropping the price without negotiation will devalue the brand. Once the brand is devalued, the trend is difficult to reverse.

  48. Over the years, I’ve found that discounting work does not help at all.
    I agree that a moving sale is perhaps the only time where discounting might be viable.
    What has helped for me when I have an interested buyer is to point out that the buyer will likely have the work for at least 10 years. I divide the full price by 10 and then it seems like the artwork is a really affordable, per year.
    If I know my client, I will offer a purchase plan option with post dated cheques for X number of months.That’s been helpful in concluding sales. It gives me a monthly income and the buyer doesn’t feel the impact of a big lump sum disappearing from their budget all at once.
    If patrons don’t pay enough for a work of art, they won’t value it in the long run. If things don’t sell at your current price, try putting them up by 10% instead. Maybe your work is priced too low!
    The other thing that has helped my sales a lot is networking. I regularly attend networking functions in my community. I meet a lot of people and few are truly interested, but those ones who are, are gold; and each one of them potentially spreads my name in the community and beyond.
    By the way, Jason, this is the first time I’ve commented, but I read your commentaries and discussions often and they are great food for thought. Thanks so much. Very much appreciated.

  49. I have read your reasons Jason and the comments but I am still not convinced that the issue of offering discounts is quite so black and white. I agree the issues you raise must be taken into consideration. However, the wisest approach might not be a practice of “no sales on original art – ever.” Buyers often benefit from being offered a reason to buy beyond their compelling love of a piece of art. Artists and those who love the artist work also need to have a reason to share that work with others. This practice helps to keep a sustained buzz and interest in the paintings and the artist. These aspects must also be considered when deciding on a marketing approach or a special event. Before I go further, I admit that my work is priced so that I have an inherent ability to engage and negotiate a price with a buyer if it suites me – not that it always does, but on occasion it makes perfect sense.

    Here are some tips that have worked well for me over the past two years in an art market that is not sure where it seems to want to go.

    1. I offer occasional savings on shipping and delivery as part of special events. This keeps the price of the original art work stable while offering something of interest to a buyer. These offerings are not on my whole body of work but say one or three pieces that I want to have more exposure or that seem like they might be a good fit for the audience that will be attracted to a particular special event.

    2. I offer savings on selected open prints, calendars, cards and such products for both my photography and my paintings. This is a small selection and usually is part of my fall Salish Sea Savings event. Again, this practice offers something of interest to entry level collectors of my work while maintaining the integrity of the price of the original paintings. As for my photography – I do not offer limited prints or unique originals at this time. The photography is a supportive reference tool to my painting even though it has generated its own market share in my art sales.

    3. I offer a small discount on a specific original painting from time to time. This savings offer is less than what I would be willing to give as part of a negotiated price.

    With over fifty pieces of work sold in the past two years, I have found that these strategies have not hurt my overall sales at regular prices at all. In fact, one of my large paintings just sold to collectors of original historic Canadian Landscape paintings at extremely close to its listed price – though I did include a signed copy of my art book and delivery to their door.

    In addition, having others talking about my work regularly is what keeps the conversation fresh for both me and for buyers and potential buyers. To give you an example, here is what one person publicly posted to her following of over 25,000 when sharing one of my paintings that had a small discount as part of a larger special event:

    Terrill Welch impressionist oil paintings of the west coast are sure to become a fine investment as her work is becoming increasingly well known and collected. What a great opportunity for early investment.

    To be honest, there is no other way I could get this kind of vote of confidence shared to such a large audience. I was humbled and know darn well that the $200 savings offer on a painting listed at $2,995 was a small price to pay for such a generous shout-out about my work.

    As for the risk of buyers waiting for my work to be discounted in order to buy, it would be silly for two reasons. First, my work often sells quickly, at times even before the oil paint is dry enough to ship. Second, only a few pieces ever come available as part of these events. If the buyer decides to wait, there is a good chance that the painting the buyer is interested in will already be sold or it won’t be selected for the special offer.

    In summary: only offer special prices that you are prepared to live with for the long haul. Wherever possible keep the savings separate from the ticket price of the original work. Never offer a special price on your whole body of work. Select work for a special offering that you want to give more exposure. Price your work so that you have a 10-20 % margin to negotiate a final sale. You don’t have to accept a lower offer than the ticket price – but it is nice to know that you could without cringing and feeling like you were giving your work away below its market value.

    So all this to say I am in favour of special offers on selected original works within certain conditions – one of these is that the work is already selling well and is priced in such a way that the integrity of the work can support the savings offered. I am also in favour of some of the awesome creative ideas here like the 150 paintings in 150 days for $150. I am not the type of painter that could pull this off as the pressure of painting that many painting studies in that many days would finish me for the year! But for daily painters its seems like great exposure and could easily be distinguished from the larger body of the artist’s work.

    Hope this is is useful Jason and thanks to all who have shared their experiences and thoughts.

    Warmly, Terrill Welch

  50. Have been doing a monthly open studios/art galleries/town vendors participate festival event called 1st Saturday in Three Rivers for three years. Every month I offer a special to “entice” customers. I only have had one patron actually take advantage a couple of times of those sales. But she buys from me without sales anyway because she likes what I do and wants to support my artwork. I tend to agree that art isn’t something that should be devalued by sales. I’ve told myself it is a way to get the artwork out to make room for more. But the sales don’t move anything in reality. It’s the quality of what I make seems to be more important, not only to me, but to those who admire my work. An observation. Thanks for the discussion. Thought provoking.

  51. I had a couple of sales early on. But then I went to a lecture where one of the country’s leading art actioneers was speaking and she explained it like this. Artists pricing is loosely based on comps, much like real estate. Artists of similar quality and experience are generally close in pricing. Art is also considered an investment and when collectors buy art, first they must love the piece, then whey hope it will increase in value through the years. As a professional artist, it is our responsibility to our collectors to assure the art they buy from us is of the highest quality (which means no bargin basement sales of sub-standard works) with the best materials. In other word, we must do all we can to increase the value of our work. Rarety is another factor for art appreciation. If you are flooding the market with every painting you crank out (even the duds), then some time in the future, the value of your art will be deminished because of over saturation and the release of sub-standard quality. So out of fairness and respect for our clients who have paid full market price for our art, we should not devalue it with sales. Ultimately, it boils down to what kind of reputation you want for yourself as an artist, both in the present and in the future. By the way, I have clients who have bought many paintings over several years. Those clients have earned the right to a modest discount, not to devalue the art, but to show my appreciation.

  52. I totally agree with your viewpoint. We aren’t selling shoes. The value of a painting is either worthy or not . By discounting in any large margin you are denigrating the effort and that goes into an artist’s expertise. Serious artists have much more invested than just the skills necessary to “produce” piece. Their very soul is put forth
    in the effort.
    Thanks for illuminating an important subject.

    Beth Page

  53. I thought to add my two cents, from the perspective of an artist agent for emerging artists. Mr. Rick Wilson’s statements echo my position fully in this area….especially the last sentence. Reinforcing the relationship of trust and respect between the artist and a customer should be a continuous activity…and so offering such customers a special price from time to time makes sense.

  54. Hmm, “30% off if you go around my gallery”…not a great idea if your gallery gets wind of it. A much better approach would be to offer a free gift or other value added promotion. Buy a full sized original, choose one of these small sketches as a gift, etc. Offer these gifts whether the client purchases directly or from one of your galleries.

    Although, Marian (above) seems to have her head on straight.

  55. It is all well and good to say that art isn’t a commodity but in the end if no one is willing to pay your asking price then it isn’t worth that much to anyone but you. That’s a prescription for having lots of your own work in storage with no prospect of ever selling it. As artists we may not like to admit that “a thing is worth what someone will pay for it” but reality tells me that there has to be some interplay between what the public will pay and what we’d like to get.

    Rick compares art sales to real estate to bolster his objection to discounts but I would remind him that real estate (as we have seen in recent years) sometimes goes up and down in value. Likewise in the secondary market an artists work can go in and out of favor with collectors with resulting value fluctuations.

  56. I paint for the sheer pleasure of creating an original piece of art that I want to paint or that I want to like hang in my own home for the pleasure of looking at it every day, or it’s decorative appeal. Fortunately I do not have to sell my paintings to survive so I either give them to friends and family or sell them to whom ever likes them at very modest
    prices. I do this because I only have so many walls in my home and they are all filled with mine and other artists work. I hope this sharing of my pleasure will make someone else happy. I sure would hate to have to worry about selling my paintings at a “sale”, but if you need the money and want to sell, why not mark them down and be done with them. I can’t imagine how many artists hope to become another “Van Gogh” or whomever? When I see the prices pure innocent mature artists put on their work and expect them to sell I am appalled by their self esteem. Be that as it may good luck to you holdouts, may your painting be worth a fortune ( hopefully before you are dead)!

    1. Who wants to be the next Van Gogh? Not me! I want to be and make same money as Ashley Longshore. If you believe artist get rich only when they die, you are part of the problem. Of you give your art for free must be you don’t value your talent. If you have a talent charge for your time! Lastly support living artist, death artist do not eat or pay rent, they are death!

  57. I wholeheartedly agree with this article Jason. As an artist, the idea of value of a piece of work is already confusing enough for most of the people who come into my studio. While I completely understand the desire and want to discount work to 1) either move it along for room for the new work being created or 2) offer rewards to loyal buyers or local buyers; I believe the idea of discounting work represents discounting ourselves as artists. Besides, the studio co-op I am involved in tacks on their percentages and then there will clearly not be much left for me.

    Thank you Jason for being so insightful and giving with your opinions and advice. It is fabulous to know that there are straight shooters out there who are willing to say what they feel and think.

  58. I don’t normally run “sales” per se. However, I do sometimes choose a selected number of pieces that I might discount for a selected purpose. For example, right now I have a number of pieces hanging in a solo show, and I have dedicated the income from that show to a particular charitable work. In addition, I have noted on the publicity that items offered in this particular show are offered at a 10% discount from their normal price. I did that to encourage people purchasing on the spot instead of waiting until later. I’m not sure it’s being really successful. Either the 10% isn’t enough, or they really do want to “think about it.” About 1/2 of the responses to this show have been instant buys while the other half have said they’ll purchase it from me in the next show I’m doing (when they normally purchase from me).

  59. wow… I loved what you wrote on this topic. I suppose its up to the artist to decide on whether to hold a sale..but I feel that yes…a “end of year sale” can devalue the artwork… and I also agree that a sale like this could create a mindset to “wait for the prices to be reduced”

  60. Over the years, I have tried putting art on sale and not gotten any real increase in sales. I do agree that it devalues the art that has already been purchased and I think it is a dis-service to my patrons. I do now put only open prints, cards and other art prints on sale. I am not really sure that increases the sales in these items, however it does cause people to take a second look. Often what they end up buying is an original instead.

  61. Early on I got panicky and tried to move my work by lowering the price. I discovered that if the price is too low, it must not be very good. Never again.

  62. I have been selling my paintings for over 30 years and noticed that the art collectors that are serious about purchasing my work have never asked for a discount. Some browsers have approached me behind my gallery owner’s back and have suggested that I give them a discount on a piece after it comes out of the gallery or show. This has been rare and I have never given such a reduced price as I feel it is dishonest to the Gallery and to my previous customers who have paid the full asking price for my work. That being said, I have given small appreciation discounts in pricing to regular repeat collectors of my work after I have seen that they are returning to purchase my paintings fairly regularly. In any case I believe that the gallery should receive their agreed upon commission regardless.

    The one thing that I find paramount in my customer relations is that collectors of my work do not feel that the price they paid for my paintings was over priced because I decide to sell future work at a sale price.

    Thank you for all of your marketing tips and information Jason.


  63. Thank you so much for this interesting and timely article. I am in the process of moving my gallery to another location that is smaller than the one I am in, consequently I have been seriously considering a ‘moving’ sale for many obvious reasons. Quick Sales? Happy customers? Ready money for the move…. less to move? Very tempting thoughts!

    Your letter and the responses I have read have given me more food for thought, as I continue to ask myself these questions: “do I make a ‘price reduction’ decision based on my need for an easier transition? for more sales? for more collectors? to clear out my ‘stash’?, or do I choose to stay with my original intention of building my reputation as a notable, collectable artist by making my art affordable to all people?
    All options are viable…. so what direction to go? We can all ask ourselves the same questions, What are my immediate needs? and what decisions will serve me best in the long run? Do I even want ‘the long run’? or am I content to simply make and selling stuff for as long as that lasts, and leave it as that? Time and money be damned?

    What is my ultimate goal as an artist? If my desire is to be recognized in the art world at large, and in the world of collectors and buyers, my marketing strategy needs to reflect that desire, but…. must I compromise my way of ‘doing business’ to accomplish that desire?

    My art does not fall into the ‘usual’ or mainstream category, so it is tempting to ‘lower the price’ for the purpose of making my life easier in the present moments, along with the desire to more rapidly towards getting my work seen, and into the hands of more collectors. I totally deserve and expect to be paid well and fairly for my work, but my art is not all, or only about the money, nor do I make art simply for art’s sake. For me art is about the heart, soul, emotions and ‘life matters’ being recorded & presented to the viewers in visual form. Art is thought and language made visible, reflecting what the viewer feels and was about to think or say. Whenever my art grabs the hearts & souls of my viewers, I want to make that transfer of ownership happen! We need each other, creator and collector, and all transactions and interactions need to fall into the fair and equitable practice of living and sharing.

    Art is not a solitary pursuit and in order to make the ‘create and release’ circle complete we need buyers and collectors as well as ‘appreciators’. To that end I have made the conscious decision to make my art affordable everyone, even to those who are not wealthy. I do not attempt to primarily seek out buyers whose only interest is in an investment…. a commodity to be sold and resold or collected simply to make money….. but then of coarse what the buyer does with my work is none of my business…. my business to make art and share that art with others.

    Of coarse, having said that, multiple sales and the increasing value of my art as a natural progression my art work is in no way objectionable to me…. I am definately in favor of notoriety and lots of money, but my art also needs to simply find a home with people who desire to own it, because they love it. Art is a matter of the heart, not the pocketbook, and those that long to own a piece need to be able to purchase.

    We are no longer governed by the church or state as to what we are allowed to create, so I am wondering why we allow ourselves to be dictated to by commerce (galleries, collectors, rules, should, shouldn’ts), as to the ‘proper way’ to sell our work? My perception says that it is because it has become the ‘rule of thumb’, GRAS (generally regarding as safe), the accepted way of thinking, and playing the money/fame game. If we choose to work outside that accepted system, we need to be willing to play a different game. That is often a rough row to hoe.

    I believe the primary answer to the question “Are Promotional Sales Appropriate in the Art World”? , is: “Who cares? ‘Practice Authenticity’, be true to yourself, embrace your own way of ‘doing business.!”

    By focusing on our true and ultimate desires we present ourselves with the appropriate answers. We may all be artists, but just as each person is unique in shape, size, health and wealth…. our ways of being and our sought after rewards are not the same. To sale or not to sale…. that is the question! (oops, sorry 🙂 that just popped out). -elle-je’ freeheart, sculptor/artiste-

  64. As an artist, I don’t like having a promotional sale. I don’t think it helps me. But after a sale is made, I like to do a little something extra for the buyer (if its big purchase) …like giving them a small matted drawing or mini painting as a thank you.
    But as a collector, I’ve learned that one of the artists whose work I buy has a promotional sale once a year. So now I wait until that sale comes up and I usually end up buying more becasue she sells everything at50% off.

  65. This is a very difficult subject and one that is an individual’s own situation to solve! I have seasonal “Open Studios” in which I sell original paintings, cards, poetry books, have class info and have a variety of sizes (the newest “A.C.Orns” Art Card originals that are tiny and therefore more affordable) and I will give discounts on older paintings and those that have seen their share of shows and won awards etc., and I can’t keep showing them, so I will give a collector a good price on those, usually, unframed. Then every year I have the Winter Solstice Studio Sale, in which everything in the studio is “Half off” just that day (the 21st) (except Acorns, which are already low because of their size-plus they are collectibles, and if they don’t buy them, they can sell and not be available again) . I send postcards to collectors, who, even if they do wait for this sale for a particular painting, there is no guarantee that it will still be available! And with paintings, as you said, they are one-of-a-kind. I have found that the yearly “celebrating the return of the light” Solstice Sale increases excitement and of course, it is perfect for holiday giving too. Plus, my studio gets pretty cramped with works piling up, even though many are out and about, so it is a good time to find homes for paintings, and for people who normally can’t afford paintings that have “fallen in love with” paintings! This can cause great happiness and spurn someone who was intimidated by art, to being a collector… so that is my experience, and since this is the way I make a living, it sure helps to have this boost of cash flow, especially at this time of year! Win-win. 🙂

  66. I’ve had a chance to reflect on this over the last year simply because of circumstance. 1) I’ve made some changes in the direction of my work by choice. I’m moving from being a purely figurative artist to work that embraces the human form without being as literal. 2) I’ve had a couple of galleries close and my home is full of work that needs another NEW home. 3) The foundry I’ve used for close to 20 years was destroyed in a fire and almost all of my molds were lost. Which means, that the edition is complete for many of my sculptures. Sadly, it also means that several pieces that I worked on last year have been destroyed and I will be losing the income from those pieces as they would have been introduced last year.

    As a result, I’ve made a more conscious effort to pay attention to the materials and finish of my new works and market them more effectively since they signal a new period of creativity in my development. I’ve made the offer to family and a handful of close friends to purchase the final pieces in some of the editions that are now complete. I don’t feel that the pieces I’ve offered up are representative of my new direction. They are not in any galleries and they hold tremendous meaning for my family. I placed a price on them that covers my cost and any expenses related to shipping. I’ve had three family members buy a sculpture from me. It has helped me tremendously during a difficult year. I don’t know if I will ever do it again but for this time alone, I think it was the right choice. I guess that’s a one-time promotion of sorts.

    I have worked for over 30 years in graphic design and marketing and the wisest comments I’ve heard so far are related to making the discount on an additional print or shipping or perhaps a second piece of work.

  67. I totally agree; I was a hairstylist from 1968 to 2005, and I worked for several chain salons who held haircut “specials” for $4.99, or $5.99.. I hated it! As someone who spent many years gaining skills and keeping up with the industry, to do a $35.00 or $50.00 haircut for that price to garner more volume of clients, all it managed to do was work us to death-rarely were any clients return customers from those discounts. I felt it demeaned me as a professional, and cheapened my work and expertise. Therefore, I say never discount your art, no matter what area of art it is. If an item is indeed loved, and truly wanted as a collector you will pay the artist’s price. Thank you for bringing this subject up! 🙂 That is by comparison, like discounting a $50.00 filet mignon dinner to $10.00, yet the chef must now prepare his wonderful food for less, and work way harder? I don’t think so…..

  68. I firmly agree…I have tried discounts in the past with little or no results. I have found that the price the art has little to do with the sale if the price is affordable to the buyer, and if the buyer is drawn to the art emotionally, that is to say the buyer connecte with the art. I do ocassionally offer 10% off to a hesitant customer. This is a small amount but one that sometimes tips the scale.
    Having said that, sells at my gallery have been down a lot these past two months…not suprising given the bad weather we have experienced. I have faith things will turn around. My gallery is in a small country town , but I feel confident that business will eventually improve through the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce, the new Economic Development Committee, and the the new Committee for the Performing and Visual Arts.

  69. I see end-of-year sales differently. This may sound crass, but let’s face it, Christmas (followed by Mother’s Day) is one of the biggest holidays of the year, sales-wise. People are looking for unique and beautiful gifts–why shouldn’t I provide them? A holiday studio sale, for me, is not a discount close-out, but rather, an opportunity to view not only my work, but the studio where I make it. By providing artwork at a range of prices, I can accommodate even a modest budget without devaluing my work overall. I often work with a group of artists; we share the costs/workload and invite our respective groups of collectors. I have found these events successful, both cash-wise and for garnering new clients.

    The way I see it, money is tight for many people; even those who have it are holding on tighter. Nevertheless, people still want beauty in their homes, and are still buying art (which is considered a luxury item, by the way). If I can’t provide affordable works, or offer a payment plan for higher-priced pieces, then I can’t complain about not selling.

  70. I think of this – what message does it send to those clients who willingly and happily purchased your work at full price. I think it is very insulting to them.
    I believe you need to respect and value your work. Work smarter not harder. eg free shipping or similar. Its a long term game plan and it takes time to build a following and reputation.
    I would rather paint over a canvas then discount the price. – Create a more affordable separate line of work, but just don’t discount your work.

  71. I am undecided on this issue. I generally do NOT have sales, though I may give discounts for people buying multiple artworks at the same time etc. However, this past holiday I decided at the last minute to send out a newsletter to my subscribers and offer a sale that lasted three days only (Black Friday through Cyber Monday). I offered 15 percent off OR free shipping (USA Only).

    I only had one buyer from that sale, however, it was a large sale, my highest of the whole year in fact . The client had previously bought a small painting from me. She had never seen the artwork in question except in my newsletter as she lives on the other side of the country from me. So, did the sale cause her to buy the painting or was she planning on buying already and the sale just encouraged her to do it then?

    I think if I do these sales again, I’ll randomize when I do it so that people can’t just say they’ll wait til December to buy something from me, for example. It is an interesting subject and I do agree with many of your points.

  72. My experience is this. If you have a sale on original work, then people often will refuse to pay full price and even when there isn’t a sale, may ask for the cheaper price and you are stuck explaining why you charge what you do. Not the kind of discussion you want with clients. You don’t really make as much as you think you will either. You may get a couple of bites but the reduction in price takes away from that. I think if you really want to become a serious professional artist then you are probably better off not doing this. If you have older work, explain to the gallery that represents you and they can negotiate a cheaper price with customers that enquire about it. That way your price tag itself stays the same even if it goes for a cheaper price. If I have a sale these days, its on products like t-shirts etc. All my original work and limited edition prints stay the same. Something interesting that has happened lately is that as my reputation has built my old work has started to attract a lot of attention. If I had of sold it all off for the sake of space (believe me it was tempting. I had framed artwork shoved everywhere as there was no more wall space!) I wouldn’t of had the work to offer nor would I have made what they are worth. These days I don’t even have pictures on my walls its all gone! Sales have never benefited my career that is for sure and I whole heartedly agree they aren’t a good idea. It traps you. I know a lot of artists who do similar work to myself and they sell their work for a pittance and cant understand why their work isn’t valued more. I cringe when I see artists running regular competitions offering a commission piece as a prize for likes on Facebook.

  73. As several have already mentioned, there’s the obvious “clear out the inventory to make room for fresh stuff” argument. Well, isn’t that the whole point of anyone’s “clearance” prices?

    As to the argument that it devalues your work: How many galleries and shows only want to see work that’s been created “recently” (within the last 1-3 years, depending on their specific rules)? In terms of how much a given piece of art can be out there working for you, it’s already depreciated. Not every work’s a “hit.” If it hasn’t already sold, or garnered any kind of licensing, it IS less valuable than a newly-created work. Price it that way. The more you have to pack around with it, the greater the chances it’ll turn into a damaged work.

    As to conditioning people to expect cheaper prices: Ever hear of a Dutch auction? A local hardware store used to have one of those every year. They’d put a bunch of odds and ends in their garage, and every hour they’d add another 10% off. The longer you waited, the cheaper it got, but if you waited too long, someone else got it. Ditto for after-Christmas sales and this postcard auction site I follow. It’s the risk the cheapskates take. On the other hand, someone who simply cannot justify your regular price may be persuaded to become a buyer if it’s a little less, making for a happy customer and a good home for your work. and more space in your studio.

  74. I completely agree with your 3 points.
    There is such a fine line that patrons walk already in understanding what a Quality Fine Art Gallery is and why hand-crafted should cost more than a big-box special. Let alone why they should WANT it!

    It is an illusion that is created around things of value – and you have to stick with it. You cannot have the sales tags- the cheap mark-downs back room, etc. No one wants to pay $3000. and then at the end of the year sale see the sister painting in the mark down bin for $400.

    -Actual original hand made art has got to retain its value-

    And to me, when a Fine art gallery starts offering discounts on the actual “hand created art” -a customer might start thinking things like “going out of business” “machine made art” “something second rate about the work/maybe the artists aren’t up to par” “art that will never appreciate in value” or a myriad of other negative connotations that might come to mind about the artworks, artists, gallery, etc.

    The Air of being A fine Art establishment can be broken down fairly quickly with a few cheap-0 discount tags on the artworks – making it look like any other big-box type store. The visuals cues we send to the customers are everything!

    Respect is hard earned and sometimes can be- easily lost.

  75. I would not ever hold a promotional sale that offers a blanket discount on my work. If there is an interested party who is in love with a piece and we need to find a way for them to own it that requires negotiating the price, that is fine. I think the key is not trying to establish a cost value, but in the emotional relationship the prospective buyer is having with the work and the value created there.

  76. Ok, so I have read the comments and the article. Ultimately,(with a couple of exceptions read above) if you have a sale, outside of a gallery, you are offering customers your net asking price, if you give 30 percent off, and normally your gallery takes 30, etc. Maybe the word sale is needed to attract buyers, but no one is fooled by this strategy if you have clients who are gallery savvy. I think the real question is where do your loyalties lay; brick and mortar or internet.

  77. I agree with you, Jason. There has to be a better way to entice potential customers to purchase art. I’ve seen a number of artists offer special promotions lately. Is the art market down? Or just saturated with so many artists that it’s getting harder to attract attention? Thank you for sparking a great discussion!

  78. I establish a monetary value for my work by price … it is worth that much to me even if no one else buys it. I rarely discount my paintings but will absolutely offer terms to buy a piece. If it doesn’t sell in a reasonable time period I may have placed a higher price on it than comparative work. I have adjusted my prices often.
    Art is not real estate. It is not overstocking or last season’s blouse, an odd colored car, nor less than fresh seafood at the grocers. It is art.
    I have seen artists place an elevated price on their work hoping someone falls in love and pays it, thinking they got a bargain … that sets your benchmark for all subsequent work. But even then that spaghetti-thrown-against-the-wall-to-see-if-it-sticks might have been a fluke sale and not indicative of your other work. Be ruthless in your “comparatives” … to use a real estate term. It is all about real market value.
    If one must clear out inventory, pause for a moment and rethink that old adage one must paint every day! Paint eighty pieces a year! Paint, paint, paint! If they excite no one and haven’t sold … are you sure?
    I would rather paint a major piece that I reflected upon. One I planned. One I was inspired with. One I executed with supreme care. That is what I want to paint, not churning out assembly line work that demands a discount later because it was so hurried and lacking in quality. Please ponder that ….
    Maybe the best answer is to sand down the surface of those unsold pieces, gesso, and paint another work of quality.
    No one will buy a mediocre work regardless of a discount price.

  79. i totally agree with your reasoning. i have been a professional oil painter for 20 years now. i lived with a professional oil painter for almost 15 of those. we tried all manner of styles of sales and incentives. mostly people will buy what they love and they must love it 1st. get it into their home or office on a test-drive if possible. market creatively. irregular incentives, as mentioned by some, do assist without offending your regular clients, your galleries and designers or possible future clients. offer to add in the frame for free or perhaps pay the sales tax. necessity sometimes warrants a QT discount, or perhaps with the current sale add in a discount on an additional piece you know they love but are hesitant to purchase in the now. what has worked the best, is to get clients to assist you in marketing and promoting your work. give them biz cards. express your thanks (but not too much. i read that article of yours about not over-doing it) for being such a great client and you would love it if they passed out cards and let people know where they found their paintings. bundle/package artwork if people are purchasing numerous pieces, esp for a business. give them a slight discount for purchasing so many at a time. make sure you educate your client. explain what you will give them and why. (no back-lash later.) bulk sales do trump the discount “no-no” though. otherwise, people will generally ask if they want one. give them 10% for this particular sale. give it to close the deal. leave it at that. keep your regular price so you can “negotiate” with these types of clients. keep your value otherwise. years ago i had a very wealthy client ask for a 20% discount (as we stood in his 20,000 sq ft house.). i had just given that same amount to a charity so they could include the piece in their upcoming auction. i looked him in the eye and said, “are you a charity? because that is the discount i just gave to one this week…” ballsy. you cannot do this with anyone, but, it worked. he backed way down. i did give him 11% though, as he wished to feel special. every situation is different. keep your dignity. follow your gut. but regular discounts, esp of a large percent, do not seem the ticket. i also have a monthly newsletter and send out email bites.

    1. Art works of quality are not the same as a manufactured commodity such as a car, no matter its luxury status. Discounts on original art works dishonour the collectors who have bought the artist’s works at full price in good faith.

  80. Really appreciate the discussion here and agree that the word “sale” has a negative connotation in the art world. For what it is worth, here is what I have done and do not regret it for a moment. Whenever there is a neighborhood garage sale, I have an informal open studio and put out the word on Facebook. I get many people who would never go to a gallery. Like one of the other responders here, I teach and therefore have lots of demo pieces. I put those out on a table with my regular full price ones on the walls. Folks are thrilled to pick up a demo piece and that is so much better than tossing them. This is not a regular event so no expectation of any next “sale.”
    What is so darling is the children who come and purchase one of the affordable demo works…..I adore my future collectors!

  81. Well, good points can be made for both ends of the topic. Galleries punish late adopters many times with photo sales. Later edition photos usually go for more money than the early adopters pay.

    If an artists sells the cream of the crop or maybe the less expensive works early, then the market has spoken about the rest. For some reason it is not selling, so I see no problem in discounting it or having sales.

    If you don’t mind holding onto art or don’t need the $, then no reason to discount it, Just keep it for sales years on end. Personally I like to put my photos to work and money is secondary to me.

  82. Great discussion as always. I have to put my vote in for “sometimes” having a sale is a great way to get business. I don’t think professional galleries are the right venue, but personal artist studios are. I don’t think an annual sale is a good idea for all the reasons listed above. I have had occasional “get the work out the door” sales that have been quite successful. Last fall I did a “Celebrate My Birthday” sale that garnered good sales of a lot of older work. Most of the people who bought are those who have been interested in certain works for a long time and don’t have the means to buy at retail. Now I have room to do more art. I put away works I didn’t want included in the sale. I’m really glad I did it. But I would not do it annually or at the same time of year, for the reasons above.

  83. I quite agree on the ‘end of year sale’, though I do also see the point, and success of Barbara Pitkin’s moving sale. I would likely do the same thing if I were moving. I did hold a sale at the end of last year, but it was with a few specific pieces that had gotten slightly damaged; not enough that a client would not enjoy them, but enough that I couldn’t sell them at full price. Of 8 paintings, 2 sold, 2 I have potential clients for (yup, it’s follow-up, follow-up time….), 1 I think I will probably keep, which leaves three for donations, which is about what I need for the year.

  84. When I was first getting started as a artist, I moved into a new community and offered a “one-time introduction sale” in conjunction with a big community event, primarily to introduce myself and my work to the neighborhood. I sold only one small and inexpensive piece, but it did gain me some recognition, from which I was later able to obtain some commissions and to make additional full-price sales.

    Several years later, I had accrued quite a large number of very small watercolor studies. I couldn’t see leaving them to collect dust, but they were smaller than I normally offered for purchase, so I offered them in an “appreciation sale,” which I advertised to my previous buyers, encouraging them to let new neighbors know about the opportunity, too (we’re in a very transient and still-developing community). I moved quite a number of these seemingly insignificant pieces, and again, although I didn’t make much immediate income from it, it served as a good-will gesture to my collectors and followers and as an introductory offer for newer neighbors.

    Those events took place before I had firmly established rates for my work. I agree with Jason’s reasoning about not devaluing my body of work or leading buyers to anticipate “bargains” in lieu of purchasing NOW. Since I have begun working with a local gallery and have established consistent price points, I have no intention of offering any further discounts, except in negotiating with individual purchasers for specific pieces or multiple works.

  85. Jason,
    I don’t have a yearly sale as I just opened my studio-gallery, but since my studio is in a VERY out of the way small town in Idaho, i usually give locals and ‘pilgrims’ who make their way out to it a discount on my work, sort of a thank you for taking the extra interest and time. Each year during the Christmas season I do give an extra discount for any commissions that they pay for before Christmas, but are willing to wait until after the new year to receive. My clients understand it is a logistical issue to create art in time for the holidays, and this is just an incentive for them to either order early, or be willing to wait . I agree with you that Art is a Different beast than other retail venues, and I see even seasoned artists that I know offer sales when their money gets tight. But, I will never forget what one of my mentors Scott Rogers told me at my first show (3 years ago), “it’s easier to sell a $4000 piece than a $400 piece, everything else being equal” So it is the actual perceived value. this was at a time when the price on my most expensive piece was $249.00. two hours later a customer came by and told me he loved my work, but would wait to buy when there were a couple more zeros on it. I offered to put them on, but he said I needed to learn the value of my work first. these two comments really struck home to someone who finds it hard to part with money and couldn’t understand that mentality. It’s been a struggle, but I have raised my prices tenfold over the past two plus years, and I am selling more now than I did previously. I hope this helps someone else, struggling with their marketing strategy. I had to finally chime in, as I have been following this blog for almost two months now, thank you thank you thank you, the info is awesome!

  86. I think it was Barney Davey who told a story about an artist that had a promotion of his work at current prices prior to his annual price increase. This apparently worked quite well for the artist and motivated people thinking about a piece of his work to go ahead and make the purchase now.

  87. (Please disregard my earlier incomplete post.) Art comes in many forms, sizes, media, etc. The category ‘art’ is tricky but similar to other products that may be produced as one-of-a-kind, limited production, mass produced etc. — each carrying its own price points, potential promotions methods, and perceptions, and likely customer markets — Many decisions to be made. I entirely agree that the price-quality/value/image perception is very real so there are many things to consider when pricing, promoting, and so on.

  88. I’ve never really had us “sale” for my art, but this year we did something different at our annual open studio show. I, and two other artists, hold this annual sale and last year added a patron night where we served especially nice appetizers and drink (we always serve appetizers and drink, but patron night there are extra special.) and gave a 15% discount to patrons. We sold quite a bit of work but as the patrons were paying many mentioned that they forgot there was a discount. It became obvious that the discount was not a motivating factor and was unnecessary. We will continue to do the extra special hors d’oeuvres and drink, but not offer the discount. I really don’t think they’ll notice.

  89. I don’t think promotional sales are appropriate for the art world. It devalues the work. I have tried it myself a few times several years back, and it did not result in an increase in business. I suspect if it did anything it made people wonder why my art was priced that way to begin with and why I could discount it so heavily. I appreciate a gallery that doesn’t “horse trade” my work, but rather stands by its value.

  90. Spot on Jason, as usual. There is a famous art show in Kalamazoo, MI called the garage sale. I avoided it for many years. After much chiding from fellow artists, I decided overlook my reservations and give the show a try in Feb. 2015. The idea behind the show is that you can get rid of scratch and dent sort of stuff, maybe that odd piece that has been hanging around a long time and that sale prices on everything else will generate huge sales. I knocked off a significant portion of what would be the gallery cut from my retail prices. That was off 2014 prices, not the then to be new 2015 prices. Folks reacted just as you predict. They thought that the prices were artificially high and that they should be able to negotiate even more significant price reductions. I had a guy pestering me via email for weeks after the show about a particular piece. I finally had to tell him that I was confident that I could sell the piece in Chicago the following summer for full price and I saw no need to give it away to him. Not exactly the sort of interactions that you should have with your perspective clients I know, but it did eventually get rid of him.
    Funny, insightful, story from the show: the artist next to me came with an inventory about equal in value to what I brought along ($8,000 – $10,000). She sold out her booth. I sold only one significant piece and a couple of small items. We left with the same amount of money in our pockets. She does the show every year, and spent most of the weekend complaining about how cheap the folks that come to the show are. I had fun, I love to talk to folks about my art, and will never do the show again. Seems likely that the attendees have been trained to buy low, in support of your thinking.

  91. Count me on Jason’s side.
    Yes, we artists are in a business. We sell art. However, the value of almost everything commercially sold in general decreases in value the moment it is purchased. Not so art. It has the potential to increase in value. However, art increases in value only due to the reputation of the artist.

    Value is a perception. I only discount work to people who already own one of my pieces. They deserve a discount and it is not a large discount. Everyone else pays my asking price. Because I’ve been successful and because my work is well known in my community, no one asks for discounts. When they are ready to buy, they have saved up.

    Want to make art “affordable”? Make smaller work! Many artists I know make a bunch of very small work for the holidays. They price it along their normal parameters but the work is maybe 3″ x 3″. Or get into the print business.

    You have to figure out who you are. I am not prolific. It would take me more time to make several tiny works as a larger work. I also want nothing to do with the print business. So, I do what I do and ask the price for it.

    At an opening in LA a very wealthy person asked my gallery owner for a 30% discount on one of my large pieces. She took me aside and asked if I wanted to do it. I asked her if he was a client of hers and he was. I said I’d do 10%, 15% max. She smiled and went back to him and he refused. We later sold that piece for full price to a much nicer person.

  92. Thank you Jason for reminding me of all I have learned over the years as a professional artist. This morning especially I needed the reminder, as I was considering participating in a widely advertised online studio sale. I will not reduce my prices for this sale and here’s why.
    My pricing structure is sound. I have not raised them through the recession. In fact, I have introduced a new line of mixed media works in addition to my oil paintings. The mixed media works are priced less than the oils, as one would expect. Since I am a mature artist (closer to the end of my career than the beginning) my prices are very reasonable.
    My galleries rely on this pricing structure, as do commercial art reps. Their businesses count on me to be consistent. Their reputation and credibility is affected by my presentation of my “brand.” Doing anything that causes them to explain my actions to a client takes away from time they would be talking about my newest paintings.
    I am not desperate for sales. Why would I do anything that would put all that I have invested in my art career at risk?
    This is not to say that it has always been this way. I have been desperate to sell at points in my career. What got me through those times was not discounting my paintings. Yes, there have been isolated sales private individuals, dear friends who gave me money to pay the mortgage in exchange for an older painting or two. I like to think that all artists have these few cheerleaders to support them. Accepting their help wasn’t easy.
    Being an artist is more than being one who creates a product. Being an artist means accepting the responsibility of inspiring others by sharing the gift of vision. To accomplish this, a platform is required. The creation of a SALE conversation takes the conversational platform away from the artist and mixes it with commodities. This is not what people look for in an artist.
    I say an artist, not artwork. We are not selling paintings. We are selling inspiration, vision and dreams. Our collectors see themselves through us. We owe it to them and ourselves to hold the platform dear ~ that inspiration, vision and dreams may become tangible. Doing this for 40 years has made mine so.
    Thank you all for the reminder!

  93. I think there are many variables to consider in a discussion on sales promotions. What I think makes this a difficult subject is that art is tied to emotions in creating, buying and selling processes. Emotions aside, art is a product that is bought by a particular customer. The type of art, artist, and customer all play into whether or not to offer a sales promotion. If your product is high end and is purchased by a customer that is focused on high end art for investment purposes then a promotional sale is probably not a good idea. Creating work at different price points is better. However, an artist that sells an art product that is not considered high end to a more modest or casual buyer then a sale would be beneficial.

  94. Jason,
    Thanks for the article and the chance to hear so many different viewpoints. I agree that having sales devalues originals and disappoints collectors who have paid full price. For some, seeing older paintings around collecting dust is a deterrent for producing more. I like to see my work flow out the door to make room for fresh ideas and fresh paintings. Once a year I have my grown children and grandchildren choose their favorite piece, new or old. Knowing that I’ll have to produce twelve or more paintings in addition to the amount needed for my income goal, keeps me motivated to paint. The work hasn’t been devalued and has gone to family, where I know it’s appreciated.

  95. I agree with Jason 100%. Great topic, great discussion. Here is something that I am not sure was asked in the discussion (so many good responses!) What about offering “free shipping” instead of discounting the artwork?

  96. First I do not think a sale offering a discounted price devalues an art work. The value we place on our works is arbitrary anyway even if well considered. And a buyer receiving a discount will not feel that way, they will welcome it and still value us and our work just as much. Moreover there are many places around the world where negotiation of price is the way business is done, including art. Also about those who have tried to hold a sale a few times without much success, often it is that as artists we don’t know how to go about running a sale or when to offer discounts. Some artists I know of have done quite well with a sale so it does have the potential to be successful. Finally we live at a time and in a society where discounts and sales are used by many smart and savvy marketers, even with high priced items like clothing and automobiles and sometimes with unique one of a kind items like art. Artist can can learn from these people and experiences to find our own way. After all most artists do make art to sell and hence to earn a living. If sales and discounts work they are worth considering.

  97. I agree….NO sales. However, I love the idea of creating a selling “event” that creates buzz like the 150 Sale. I think anything that captures attention could potentially grab new buyers who’ve been on the fence. I’m an artist and a gallery owner currently representing 40+ artists who sign a contract allowing a 10% “wiggle room” on anything over $100 at my discretion and it’s been very effective when clients are hesitant at the thousand dollar+ level and has made the difference in acquiring a sale or not when I offer it to them at that additional 10%. It’s psychology and it works, but a “sale”….no Bueno.

  98. I am always disappointed and saddened when I see an artist’s work advertised at a “sale” price for whatever reason. It damages the artist’s reputation and devalues the works bought previously in good faith. I have never offered “sale” prices in my gallery and would cease representing any artist who offered “sales” of their works independently of me; something I make clear whenever I agree to represent someone.
    I have been collecting work on paper in various ways since 1973 and showing work by both deceased and contemporary artists for the past 10 years. I would cease collecting any artist whose work was offered on “sale”. As you say, the pricing of art is a very fragile thing that depends on the intersection of so many intangible as well as tangible variables, the most important of which is trust. The trust between the artist and the buyer and the gallerist (if there is one) is fundamental to any future relationship.

  99. Last year I attended a workshop on the business of art. The speaker’s suggestion was to take the sum of all your costs, include an hourly charge for yourself and a charge for overhead. This was the wholesale price. That amount divided by .40 resulted in the Retail Price. Is this correct and is it the norm for figuring the retail price?

    1. I don’t think you would divide a wholesale price by anything to get a retail price. A retail price is usually 2 to 3 times more than a wholesale price….You use multiplication not division….Maybe you misheard the speaker? Maybe he said you take the wholesale price and multiply it by 4 to get the retail price?

      1. A number divided by a decimal produces a larger number. So, John’s math was multiplication.

        But as to the question, in my experience galleries set their commission – but the artist sets the retail price. The retail price has to remain the same across all galleries, which charge anywhere from 35-50%. Therefore, the artist does not set the wholesale price. Has anyone had different experiences?

  100. Email blitzes are tacky I think…..an invitation to an art reception sent out to an email list of patrons and other artists and friends is one thing, but doing marketing is another. I never met an artist who did that sort of thing. I do marketing for a business and design mass emails about sales, but it is for a store/online store not for an individual artist. The open rate is rarely over 30% and there are usually ‘unsubscribes’. You have to be careful about who you email or it will be considered ‘spam’ and that could bring on some trouble…the business uses email to advertise sales and send out coupons. I don’t think an individual artist would want to do that. Just would seem weird….none of my artist friends or myself have ever done it for our art…..never that desperate I guess. No offense intended to anyone that does…..

  101. I agree that art should not go on a mass, public sale. However, during our annual open house in August I do let individuals who have made prior purchases that for two days only and only to them personally will Moosewalk Studios pick up the state sales tax (6%) on purchases. This is the only time of the year that we do this and the sale must be made in the gallery not over internet or by phone. I found this is a good way to get people into the gallery to see new work.

  102. I happened upon a bit of a different perspective on this topic this morning. I am an artist, but I am also an art lover and follow many artists and have a good collection of art by other artists. This morning I received a newsletter from an artist that I have admired for a long time. One who I think is a brilliant, successful artist. They are having a studio sale. I went to their website to see and my reaction was a bit of a surprise even to me.

    Where their works sell in the gallery for $1000 and up, their ‘studio sale’ had paintings for under $100. This is not a studio sale, this is a cry for help! Did I scoop up several paintings from this admired artist? No I did not. What this studio sale did was completely change my thinking about this artist from admired successful award winning artist, to well, I’m not sure what I think now, but it isn’t the same respect and admiration I had before seeing the fire sale prices.

    If they are willing to let paintings go for 1/10 (or less) of the gallery price, this tells me a) they don’t believe in their work b) they don’t value art overall c) they may have won many awards and be in several galleries, but they are not very successful. d) the chances of their work appreciating in value is slim.

    This was not just one or two paintings either. There are over 60 paintings available. I won’t be following this artist any further. Their sale has caused a complete lack of respect from at least one fan. Granted this was a very extreme take on the studio sale. Had it been a 10 to 30% reduction and there were just a handful of paintings available, my reaction may have been to purchase a piece at this reduced priced.

  103. Once, years back when my gallery closed, I held a “fire sale” of older pieces in a desperate move to feed my daughter and I – it took a while after that to build up sales again at my standard prices and I don’t plan to ever do that again.

    I do offer collectors up to 15% discounts.

    All that said, I am seriously considering hosting an Open Studio with the higher-quality, professional-level work I’ve been doing since 2014 prominently on display with their prices at the professional level – and offering for sale my older abstract figuratives, many of them on cheap canvas, at the same prices I used to ask and get for those. I’m figuring that this will make my older art look like a deal (and I have a lot of collectors of the past work that can also get the discount) and clearing out my storage space at the same time. I won’t offer it as a sale but as a last chance to own one of my figuratives and at their old rate (which was almost half of my new work).

    Since down the line I plan to incorporate the use of figurative in the pouring medium I’m doing now, there should also be an interest in the collectibility of the old figuratives.

    btw youse guys all make interesting points, above – what a huge response to this question, Jason!


  104. The point of my business strategy is to constantly increase the value of each successive work. The clients who appreciate what I do and happily purchase, without questioning, understand that I am protecting the value of their investment. Requests for a discount are a red flag that this is someone who doesn’t grasp the significance of my work nor the investment in fine art in general. When Alfred Stieglitz showed Georgia O’Keeffe’s work in his gallery, he interviewed prospective clients as to their qualifications to become one of her collectors. Respect and value are a hard won accomplishment. There is no point to sales, for sale’s sake. There must be protected and ever increasing value.

  105. When i was recently mounting a show of completely new work, I considered a price drop on pieces from a previous subject (which if I’m honest were not the best works in the series, hence they didn’t sell). A student who is now a collector of my work said at that time “well, that might make anyone who bought your work at those earlier shows feel badly”. I canned the idea, and am so glad I did.

    Instead, I am re-working those pieces with abandon, and some have been completely repainted. They make me happier, and I have in fact slowly increased my prices this past year. I had sold 100 paintings in 12 months, and developed a decent collector base, but now I am raising the bar in terms of quality.

    Now we have a 2nd home, I have an entirely new market to enter half of the year, so I am trying to edit myself and be more self critical than ever….a work in progress am I as well as all the canvases in the studio. Good discussion, thank you.

  106. I have a friend who has an open studio event once a year. Finger food, drinks, etc. This is a good way to show off the bulk of your work for the year that has not been seen or sold through regular channels. Discount, absolutely not. I agree, absolutely not. I have, and probably a lot of artists have, to pay their bills too. From another point, if you work for someone at a regular job, you get bonuses, not discounts, for work well done.

  107. If you just need to clean house, donate work to a good cause and let someone benefit from your goodness. I have done the scholarship fundraiser for a local college, symphony guild fundraiser, and a mission trip fundraiser for my church.

  108. As I read the comments, I’ve been wondering how much the size and type of communities figures into the personal experiences of artists. Most of the published wisdom about sales and marketing of art comes from large communities which would bring more anonymity to buyers. In fact, most books published on art sales come from cities.

    My husband and I (both non-artists) opened a gallery in a mid-sized, mountain town of Missoula Montana and as I test the wisdom offered by larger populated cities, it doesn’t always work. Although I heartily agree that “value add” approaches to sales are resoundingly better than “discount,” I have seen occasions where discounts work without effecting sales. I wonder if it isn’t because in this more intimate and highly artistic community, buyers are more aware of the pressures of artists. So they are less likely to apply concepts like “devalued” and “desperate” onto people trying to make a living from art.

    Also, it seems the reasons for buying art are different in this community from what I’ve heard here. Many buy art because it’s fun to live with a vibrant and thoughtful piece of creative work. My buyer is buying for that dynamic charge that art adds to their daily living experience, NOT for appreciating value or to cash in on it later. They aren’t high end collectors; they are regular (smart, interesting) people who live with art in their homes for the daily pleasure it brings. So the “devalue” argument doesn’t work in those cases.

    Just some thoughts…


  109. I am an artist and an art collector of good art. I recently purchased a painting from an artist that I admire but his paintings are out of my price range. He put some paintings 1/2 price at the end of the year putting his painting in my budget. I realize that they aren’t his best work but now I could own one of his paintings.

  110. I was going through a dry spell and tried a promotion over the holidays (small discount and free shipping). It did not make any sales, which was a bit demoralizing.

    But a gallery I’m in has a sale for their members during the holiday with a small discount, and they have gotten sales for me. And an artist whose blog I follow and who seems to make a decent living has sales randomly a couple times a year and while I don’t know if they’re effective, it does seem like her red dots keep coming afterwards… I’m feeling more and more like there’s no one answer for how artists should market ourselves.

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