I recently had a conversation with an artist and close friend who raised the question of how to price work that is outside the range of work that an artist normally does. He was experimenting with a new style and different media, and his question was, should he price it the same as his normal work, or should he introduce it at a different price point? I’ve heard this same question in a number of different forms over the years, and it raises several interesting issues.
First, is the value of art created on the merit of the work itself, or on the reputation and name of the artist? How can an artist introduce a new style of work without hurting his or her brand? How should the new work be introduced to collectors?
These are actually some pretty difficult questions, and I don’t pretend to have all of the answers. I do have some thoughts, however, and I would love to start a discussion with the reddotblog community to hear your thoughts.
The Importance of Consistency
My first thought is that the topic has to be approached with great care. I am fanatical about the importance of consistent work. I’ve done broadcasts and blogposts on the subject. For artists who are building their careers and just beginning to show with galleries, creating a body of consistent work is vital to early success. In fact, I would argue that it is the single most important factor in establishing a successful career as an artist. So for those of you who are fairly early in your careers, instead of thinking about how to price different bodies of work, I would encourage you to think about how you can eliminate variations in style and medium so that you can have an extremely focused, consistent body of work. If you don’t understand my perspective on this, please stop reading this article right now and read my post on consistency.
Once an artist is well established and sales are strong, she/he earns a little more latitude to experiment and evolve. Many great artists have tried new styles or media. Sometimes they are continuing the exploration of a theme, but need to find new ways to express themselves. Sometimes they feel they’ve gotten stuck in a rut and need to break free. Whatever the reason, there are many examples of artists who have suddenly changed gears and started doing something new and different (I’m thinking of Picasso and the Blue Period, or de Kooning and his experiments in sculpture.) Sometimes these experiments have been commercially successful, and sometimes they haven’t, but I suspect that for these artists, the commercial success of trying something new is secondary.
Starting a New Body of Work is Like Starting Over
If you do start a new body of work, in many ways it is as if you are starting a completely new art career. Unless there is some direct tie to your previous work in terms of style and subject matter, chances are your current collectors may not be particularly interested in it. Unless you’ve reached a status where collectors are after your name (or they have an incredibly deep relationship with you and love your vision, no matter what the work), your new style is going to have to win over new buyers, and possibly even new galleries.
If you’re moving from abstract art to ultra-realism, the galleries showing your abstract work may not have a ready client base for the new style. You may need to seek out new venues for the work. Your galleries showing your former style may have an exclusivity clause that prevents you from showing in other galleries in the same market. If this is the case you may have to not only find a new gallery, but a completely new market.
Pricing will be Different for the New Work as Well
Your pricing on your current style of work has been set by years of experience and supply and demand, a new style may require a completely new pricing structure. Instead of basing your prices on your current work, I would recommend looking at other artists who are doing work in a style similar to the new body of work and seeing how they are pricing. I would suggest you follow all of the principles that Barney Davey and I laid out in our recent broadcast on pricing.
I can actually imagine a scenario where the pricing of the new work could be higher than your current work if the market finds the style more saleable. If you are continuing to do your former body of work and can rely on it as your bread and butter, you might feel like you’ve got nothing to loose by pricing the new work at a higher price-point and seeing what happens.
Confusing Your Collectors
Finally, you should go into a new body of work fully aware of the risks. If you change your style dramatically but continue to produce your former style, you are now going to be dividing your time between the two and your sales may decline because of the split attention. You also risk your collectors becoming confused. “I like the artist’s work” they might say, “but now she’s doing this new style. Does that mean she doesn’t believe in the old style anymore?”
I’ve seen artists who are concerned about these questions begin marketing their new work under a pseudonym in order to avoid this kind of problem. That approach introduces its own set of challenges.
Going for It
Looking back over this article, it feels like it is mostly an argument against trying new things. For an artist who is still in the building phase of his/her career, this is exactly how it should be. You should think long and hard about the consequences of doing something that is dramatically different than your core work. In the end, however, I suspect that there will be times that it’s not a question to be dealt with logically. You may have an inner vision for new work that compels you to work through it and see what happens. It may turn out that your new work is the best that you’ve done in your career (and ends up making you famous and fabulously wealthy!) My intention here is not to dissuade you from experimenting with new work. I simply want to provide you with a pause to think about all of the implications surrounding your choices.
Have you Tried a Radically Different Style?
Why or why not? I would love to hear from readers who have experience with trying new styles. Was it successful? What did you learn about yourself and your work by moving in a different direction? How did you price your new work? What impact did it have on your relationships with collectors and galleries? Please share your thoughts, experience and questions in the comments below.
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