Should an Artist Discount ?

“Yosemite Humpback”
an older watercolor painting
22×30 inches


Recently, I watched a bona fide buyer offer an artist $1000 for a $1500 painting.   That would be 33% off or 2/3 of the asking price.
Should the artist have accepted the offer?
Let’s have a look at the thoughts of the artist  before we decide.  . . . . . . . .
This painting, an original painting without any reproductions of any sort, is the ONLY PAINTING LIKE IT IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE.  This painting exists completely ALONE in the entire world!!  That is to say that this painting did not come off a production line where everything before it and after it were exact clones of each other.   In the case of manufactured multiples, where there are myriads of copies of any product, the inherent value decreases.  
Moreover, what is not considered by the buyer is all of the years of developing the skills and all of the spoiled paintings that led up to this one painting.   For all that the buyer knew, there could have been 50 failures in the attempt to make this one painting (in many cases there are far more than 50!!).   When one really thinks about all of the experience, study, trials, errors, frustration and years of non success, which must accumulate before such a painting can come to life, it is almost overwhelming.   In fact, when it is all put in front of us, we would actually wonder why anyone would attempt to become a painter?
We painters refer to this process of accumulating experience, in a humorous vein, as brush miles.    Thousands of brush miles must accumulate before an artist can actually become “good” at what he or she does.
And did I mention the artist’s frustration and emotional angst  (that we live with daily) to make this one painting come out as it was intended?  
Some art viewers, and, sadly, buyers, believe that artists are born “talented”  . . . or skilled.   That making paintings is some magical gift and that the artist has done this, effortlessly, since birth.  They somehow have the impression that painters make paintings without sweat or effort.   Obviously, considering all that has been said to this point, that is not the case!   Talent is only the desire or the compulsion to make art.   The skills must endure the crucible of hard won experience and lots of failure before becoming refined.
So, do you think the artist should be insulted by the obvious underlying meaning that the buyer doesn’t acknowledge the value in the painting?
This artist declined the offer and the painting remained for sale at the asking price.   Aside from the need for money, was she right in doing so?
And all of this discussion really brings into focus the question:  “How Much is a painting really worth?”
Your comments are not only welcome, but solicited!

15 thoughts on “Should an Artist Discount ?”

  1. No point in being insulted, because the "bidder" is merely someone who doesn't understand "all of the above," but obviously likes the painting.

    Simply clueless.

    Don't discount unless you want to. This will vary depending on the person, I suppose, and how much they value "all of the above."

  2. Hi Mike,
    I was curious when I saw your title. I'm in the position where I don't have to sell to earn a living. Still, I sometimes feel that a person who asks for a discount doesn't understand or respect the work. For me, the answer is "no discount".

    I do like that painting!

  3. It's funny, when people are in a small shop (I worked in a clock shop in the past) they think they can bargain down the price. They would never dream of doing that at Macy's, or Saks, they know the price is set. I guess they think the prices at galleries, like yard sales, are arbitrary.

  4. Occasionally, in frustration at the comments like "but you can paint another one" (not true), I have replied along these lines: "I am an artist who cannot afford to spend money on buying art. I prefer to keep this work in my own home, thank you, so that I can enjoy it. If this were an item of clothing and you really wanted it you would pay what was being asked; if you think of this as an item of furniture that you will have forever you will realise that it is not expensive at all. You are buying a quality piece produced by someone who has studied and worked for (many) years to achieve this standard".

    But mostly I simply say "No, that is the price" and keep the painting at home where I, and my friends, do enjoy it on my wall.

    All that said, however, if the potential buyer truly can't afford a smaller work and loves it very much, I will sometimes make it a gift.

    What bothers me perhaps more are the constant requests for donations of paintings for good causes. The "persons" requesting the donation would not consider donating three weeks of income, but expect me to do that regularly.

  5. ps I am the happy owner of a work that is now officially in the "private collection of the artist"… a wealthy potential client spent six months trying to beat me down to what would be less than cost for a particular work. The more he did that the more I appreciated the work. I am VERY happy that I held out as it is one of my better works that I would have regretted selling anyway. Too often the best works go and family are left with those that didn't quite make the cut, or earlier works only. When, after almost two years, he again sent a message about the painting I replied that it had gone into a collection and only prints were available now. Absolutely no regrets about that, even though the sale might have been useful at the time.

  6. I am always flattered when someone wants to add my work to their collection. If I think the buyer is simply uneducated about why my prices are set as they are, I try to educate them. If I feel they are asking because they can't afford the piece, I offer to create a payment plan. Consequently, my work has sometimes been the first piece of original art to go into a collector's home. I love that!

  7. Love this post! I have struggled with valuing my work for years. It's difficult in a region where people don't spend money on art, and I sometimes I feel like I have to justify my prices. Especially since my sales are few and far between. I've concluded that I cannot in good conscience discount my work. Whether the sales are there or not, the value is still at least what I'm pricing at, if not much more.

  8. I have worked hard to build up my prices, not as fast as i would like of course as it takes a long time but still they have increased ever so slowly. The work that goes into this is not often understood by a potential buyer. I would not accept a lower offer because then everything you produce afterwards is worth that much less as well. I might entertain a break on the price if two or more pieces were involved but only then. Mike your watercolour is stunning. I love your work.

  9. Your Yosemite painting is stunning Mike!
    It is true that the hard work that has gone behind a painting is not fathomed by a buyer. Some artists can afford to stay at their asking price because they already made a name for themselves. But there are several who are upcoming and who want to get in to the market, who can not stick to a price. When I went Italy , I saw buyers bargaining with the artists who had set up little kiosks on the street. Artists were yielding finally, it is sad but true.

  10. Mike,

    I think your Yosemite painting is wonderful.

    As for selling work, I find it difficult to know how to set prices. I am not trying to earn a living at this, but do enter the occasional show. Sometimes I am tempted to discount a painting that has been "sitting around" too long. My newer work always seems more valuable to me. But I don' think it is wise to offer discounts as it devalues your work.

    It is a problem though when all of the walls in the artist's home are filled and the stack of unframed paintings under the bed gets too high!

  11. Would the $1000 be the equivalent of what the artist wluld have recieved in a gallery selling the art for $1500? As a long-time professional musician I have fought the what is my art worth question.

    Side note: As I approach 70 years old, and I do love music dearly, I kind of wish somewhere along the way I had spent a lot of those hours practicing music, and writing and arranging… on painting in stead. Seems to me that old artists are loved and appreciated more than old musicians.

  12. Thank you for posting this topic. When I see artists having a "blow out sale" online, I just want to tell them that their work is good and when the right collector comes along, they will buy whether it is on sale or not. Of course pricing should be competitive. When I discounted a painting because of inexperience, I later regretted it because many other paintings sold without discounting. I also do not like it when I am frequently asked if I could "just donate one of your paintings, anything you have laying around…" I will donate to fundraisers that have personal meaning to me, but, when there is no connection, I have no problem answering, "The work I have is for my next show."

  13. Don't discount. At some point, you might realize that your prices are simply too high, and decide to put lower prices overall. But don't discount a posted price. Most art, below the Chelsea gallery class, is in fact underpriced. Give it to someone if you want. I have often sold "on time", if the person really really loved the work and I knew they really really would have a hard time coming up with even $200 all at once. It has always worked, and both of us are happy.

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