Should you lower your prices?

Basic economic laws shape the art market. That doesn’t mean lower prices make for more sales.

Dead Wood, by Carol L. Douglas

Yesterday a reader sent me this, which says that if demand for your work is modest, you should lower your prices. I am not an art appraiser like Alan Bamberger, just an artist who makes and sells art. But my own experience tells me otherwise.

Bamberger bases his argument on something known in economics as the ‘supply relationship.’ This refers to the correlation between price and how much of a good or service is supplied to the marketplace.
The higher the price of something, the less demand there will be. As its price goes up, so does the opportunity cost. The consumer elects to do something else with his or her money.
More work than they bargained for (Isaac H. Evans) by Carol L. Douglas
At the same time, producers make more of things when they can get a higher price for them. There is a point at which it is no longer cost-effective to produce a product for market, and producers go offline.
At some point, supply and demand meet. This is called the equilibrium point. Suppliers are selling everything they produce and consumers are getting everything they demand. In truth, capitalism is a little messier than that, and the market constantly pushes prices around—upward when there’s more demand, down when there’s little demand.
All flesh is as grass, by Carol L. Douglas
A great example of this is the lowly tomato. Back in Rochester, NY, where they are plentiful, I used to buy a basket of them for $2. Yesterday a friend bought a single tomato for the same price. Tomatoes are hard to grow in Maine. The lack of supply drives up the price.
That’s classic economic theory and it’s amply borne out in goods and services marketing—in things like gasoline, Ford F-150s, child care, etc. It is not necessarily true in luxury goods. There, the matter of perceived value mucks things up. Unlike tomatoes, paintings have no easily-quantified value. The price set for them is purely subjective. The late Thomas Kinkade is an unfortunate example of this.
In some art forms, supply is inherently limited by the time and skill of the makers. This question has been resolved in some areas of art. Music and photography, for example, can be reproduced infinitely. It hasn’t been solved in painting. I will make a finite number of paintings in my lifetime. When I’m gone, that will be it.
Packing oakum (Isaac H. Evans), by Carol L. Douglas
That doesn’t make artists immune to larger economic forces. In fact, as a luxury good, painting is the first thing people cut back on in hard times.
My prices were set in collaboration with a gallerist who sells my work. She knows the market and where I fit in. I keep them consistent across venues. Most professional artists do the same.
An artist may make work that is beautifully executed and explores the art questions of its time and place. It still may not be monetarily valuable because he or she hasn’t shown it where buyers congregate.
As my friend Bobbi Heath likes to say, if you’re not selling paintings, it’s because not enough people are seeing them. Don’t lower your prices; don’t be down on yourself as a failure. Just work to be seen in more places.