Friday Tips: Starting Prices Low, Ending High

Mark Twain, by Jim Brothers

I discuss Jim Brothers’ monument of Mark Twain, and how we placed it in Hartford, CT, in the book. It’s a pretty good story. In a nutshell, some scheming Missouri businessman tried to “commission” the piece, meaning the guy wanted it for nearly nothin. The deal fell through. I began representing Jim at that time, presented the piece to the City of Hartford, and in 1994 they bought it–although for far less than what Jim gets now.

Why did I take the lesser price? You know why: I desperately needed to place one of Jim’s monuments in a national venue, even if we had to do it for less than we wanted. Using this as a springboard, I was able to exponentially increase his prices over time, until eventually he could command the fees he wanted. If we hadn’t placed that first piece in so prominent a location, this would have been much more difficult to achieve.  At the same time, if we hadn’t promoted him so extensively, his prices never would have risen, and we’d still be giving his skill away. 

When you’re starting out, you will likely deal with much the same thing. The point is, later on you must be bold enough to ask what you’re worth, once you establish what that is. You’ve paid your dues already; no need to go on paying them.

By the way, why did we place the monument in Hartford? Twain built and lived in a mansion there for 25 years. That structure is now the Mark Twain House & Museum. Sure Twain was from Missouri, and most people associate him with this state, but the truth is he got the heck out of Hannibal the first chance he could.

The noteworthy thing about this monument? It’s all in the face. Twain’s life, like that of most artists, was an emotional roller coaster. His mood swings were enormous, and his last years were plagued with depression, despair and bitterness. His middle years were the happiest of his life, but after his bankruptcy, the loss of two children to disease, and eventual estrangement from one of his daughters, he was never able to regain his former vigor. This shows in the face, which Jim sculpted flawlessly, and faithfully, showing the real artist rather than the myth. And when it comes to history, I am not particularly interested in myths. 

This is why I feel Jim’s “Twain” is the best yet sculpted. Am I biased? Of course.

Final note: the twist in the torso is borrowed from Michelangelo’s David; nothing like an immortal reference.

9 thoughts on “Friday Tips: Starting Prices Low, Ending High

  1. Great sculpture…of course. I have a question…I am an uprepresented artist at the moment, and how do I know when I have established my worth? Is it the number of paintings sold or maybe how many shows I have done? My prices have been increasing for the past three years steadily, but I am not sure what to do now…when you’ve done the first steps to becoming a recognized artist…what is step #2? How do you get from moving on up in the art world to the next level? Thank you in advance for any help you might offer, I know you are a very busy person.

  2. First, thank you, thank you, thank you, Paul- for your book, your blog, your encouragement through your writing, and for “laying it out there” for us. You’re a source of information not widely shared.

    I’m hoping you’ll get a chance to reply to Heather’s question, as pricing is one of the most difficult aspects of making art as a living. And I can’t believe how timely your piece has been (again)- I have been soul-searching all weekend, because a gallery has invited me to an upcoming show where their minimum pricing would cause me to raise my rates a significant step. I’m going to send my pieces and see what unfolds-

  3. Dear Paul, Thank you for your descriptive example of pricing artwork. It is one of the most difficult things for artists and one of the most asked questions. Over the years I have agonized on this issue like many others. You describe Jim Brothers’ experience succinctly. Also, I love the Michelangelo “twist.” A clever technique like this one always adds a bit of intrigue and a connection to the past.
    Thanks for a splendid story.
    Margret Short

  4. Heather: I wish there were an exact science for this, but unfortunately there is not. Even so, the best way to move to the next level, after you’ve proven yourself with collectors, exhibits, and juried awards, is to gain acceptance with a credible gallery. Their job should be promotion, and little else; yours should be art creation, and little else. Still, you’ll have to understand the nuts-and-bolts of promotion to help them do their job.

    I discuss steps for gaining gallery acceptance in the book. No, you don’t need to go out and buy it. Just get the freaking thing from the library if you want. However I will, next Friday, begin posting excerpts from that section. Naturally, once you get into one established gallery, it makes it easier to get into others.

    Lauri: You’re welcome. Go ahead and take the jump. In all liklihood, you’re selling for roughly half of what the market would bear anyway.

    Margret: My pleasure.

  5. I’ve been told that I am underpriced by artists and visitors to my site. I suppose it’s true.

    The problem with being an artist is that you do have to wear so many hats. I still do. It would be nice to let my galleries handle it all while I just paint but that isn’t realistic. I have to do my own bookkeeping, photography, website and self-promotion in addition to what galleries do. So many galleries carry so many artists, unless an artist really hits it big, those jobs are still a part of it. I’ve had some great successes, but these things are still necessary. Just as long as I can paint…. that’s all fine with me.

  6. Thank you for your answer Paul, I really appreciate it. The one step I guess I have not put enough work in is the Juried show…I have done some of them and gotten accepted when I applied, it’s just so darn expensive on a whole and well I would rather spend the money on art supplies most of the time…but I understand that this is part of the process…so I will try to increase my efforts in that area. Like Brian said in his comments…we have to wear so many hats even after the gallery acceptance, because I have been represented in the past too (only by smaller galleries)…and it still is a lot of work to keep all the balls in the air and create new exciting work…anyway… Again many, many thanks to you for taking the time here. Have a wonderful weekend,

  7. Hi Paul,
    My work has been accepted by 4 out state galleries in the last 4 months & a 5th coming in the fall. I am represented locally by Perlow-Stevens Gallery in Columbia, Mo. Prices are low to mid-range at this time. I believe my thinking is correct,that if I have been selling very succesfully for 3 yrs. with these prices, then by placing myself in 4 outstate galleries & seeing which location sell best for me, I can begin to raise the bar during this yr. or at the end if adequate sales occur. I continue to submit to more galleries, looking for good locations & will then weed out the galleries that won’t work.
    I believe the gallery/artist is a joint effort, one hand washing the other to create sales. I am also expecting the gallery to send good feedback on the sales & constructive critisism of the work in a grooming type situation.
    Technically I am an emerging artist, but have been painting for 30 yrs., of that, Fine Art for 4. I sold 40,000$ last yr.
    It’s been my expierence with pricing, to look at what other artist are charging in your catagory etc. compaire your work & pick a price, & if you’re selling, let it ride for a while, raise the bar & watch what happens.
    While I want the prices to rise, for value sake, it’s not about the money for me as much as seeing where I can take the work from a quality standpoint.
    I do my own marketing/research, search for sales, both corporate & residential & consider myself a career artist. It’s a business.
    I read your blog & receive other art related web mailings. I try to stay on the pulse of it all!

  8. Brian: Well stated. As a writer, I’ve had to wear far more hats than I ever wanted, or thought I’d have to, in order for my work to succeed. For most of us in the arts, I’m afraid that’s just how it is. Better to accept it, and work with it, than blindly hope that someday it’ll all just somehow click. Amazing how a lifetime can pass while waiting for that click.

    Heather: Juried shows, yes. Doesn’t have to be expensive, but those lines on your resume do count. Just develop a goal to be in a certain number of shows within the next year.

    Patty: Sounds like you’re on a very good track with pricing, and all the rest. Congratulations on your success thus far. Now that you’re in a series of galleries, I’d advise raising prices 10% per year until you hit the current market ceiling. Make sure you have at least one one-woman show each year.

  9. Paul,
    I am hoping that sales in the new galleries will win me a solo shows. At this time, shipping large work out state is my next concern & the creation a great working relationship with the new galleries be established. My 1st shipment to Knoxville, is being boxed today & when it arrives @ the gallery, I have already emailed the director there on the price of the pieces reflecting the shipping costs on the front end. That way, it will remain consistant when the time comes for the buyer to pay shipping costs for work not in the gallery, but sold from my website or CD. So many things to consider as I am growing quickly.
    Art is a business & the art is the product, & with a business comes all the rest. I have no capitol to pay anyone to run my business, so based on yrs. of expierence, I do it all myself.
    I realize I am not your average artist. I am very lucky to be able to wear so many hats.

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