Is Being Too Cheap Hurting Your Art Business?

Artists are worthy of more. You who contribute so much to our intellectual, spiritual, and creative lives shouldn't have to live leftover budgets. But that's exactly what happens.

It starts at the top with arts organizations and agencies, and then it filters down into all aspects of the art economy.

Mind you, the organizations and agencies aren’t cheap with the patrons and board members with the big bank accounts. They are cheap with the artists, without whom their passionate interest would not exist.

Artists, in turn, grow to feel they are not worthy of more.

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Frugality Isn't Bad

Don’t get me wrong. Frugality isn’t inherently bad. In fact, it can be good.

I don’t believe in spending for spending’s sake or in extravagance.

But frugality becomes detrimental when it feeds the notion that we are not worthy of more.

Many of my clients develop this sense of unworthiness that is perpetuated by the very organizations that were created to serve them.

I confess that I behaved similarly in the past.

Our former Client Happiness Officer, Karin Olah, is almost ready to open the doors for our guests at an event back in 2016.

For years I have been writing about how artists can show that their work has value. But I continued to allow the organizers who hired me for workshops to do things “on the cheap,” and I was doing the same with the workshops and events I organized myself.

How can I save money? was my modus operandi.

My first workshop, in 2003, was held at an office building that a friend managed. I recall my parents (!) picking up and delivering boxed lunches to the group.

At a much later workshop, I ran my team ragged making coffee all day long—trekking repeatedly to the kitchen on the other end of the building. Coffee! Because I didn’t pay for a venue that had food service. And because I didn't charge enough to offer these services.

No more.

Waiting for our guests to arrive at Art Biz Breakthrough 2016. Hope you’ll take your seat at this year’s Breakthrough.
Waiting for our guests to arrive at Art Biz Breakthrough 2016. I insisted on white tablecloths.

I began attending “nice” conferences for marketing, mindset, and software. These conferences were set up with white tablecloths, fresh flowers, music, sophisticated audio-visual systems, and bright spaces.

I realized that the people and companies that were producing these conferences would have never treated their guests as cheaply as artists are treated.

So I modeled what they are doing, and this is what my guests experience when they come to the workshops I host.

If I ask you to embrace an abundance mindset, as I do, you need to be treated like you already have on— and that you deserve it.

I decided back in 2013 to take over my own workshops and adopt a new mantra: How can I provide the best value while showing my artist-guests that they and the work they do are valued. And I charged more for this experience.

Are you Out of Alignment?

One quick pic before the doors open and our guests flood the room on day 1 of Art Biz Breakthrough. Little says abundance like a big bouquet of fresh flowers.

People who look for quality tend to look for it in every aspect of their lives.

You can’t advocate cheap materials, products, and services from one side of your mouth and ask for high-dollar sales from the other side. These are conflicting messages to the Universe and to your potential collectors.

I know an artist who makes beautiful handmade, high-end furniture. My husband and I were having dinner with him and his wife, and they began ranting about their daughter who had purchased a $25 toilet paper holder. $25! They couldn’t believe she spent so much money on a toilet paper holder.

Now I really have no idea that the toilet paper holder was or wasn’t worth $25.

All I know is what I asked him next: You do understand that the people you want to buy your furniture probably pay more than $25 for their toilet paper holders? Your mindset—that you shouldn’t spend a little extra for things you appreciate—is out of alignment with what you want people to spend on your work.

Your Penny-Pinching Can Hurt Art Sales and Opportunities

You must remember that you are not your ideal art buyer or collector. You can’t ask, “What would I pay for this?”

If you come from a less-than-abundant place, it’s time to do some work on your money mindset.

Consider these questions.

  • How do others treat you at your art organization meetings, in your booth, or online?
  • How do you treat yourself? Do you look for quality or do you buy what’s least expensive? Do you settle for what is worn down and broken even though you could do better work with new tools?
  • How do you treat your art? Are you using the best materials so that you can show the highest value? Are you investing in excellent photography or learning how to improve your own photo abilities?
  • How do you treat others? Do you share generously or do you keep the good stuff to yourself – afraid that there isn’t enough to go around? And the corollary to that … Do you place a high enough value on your time and expertise? Or are you giving everything away and keeping nothing for yourself. This is being frugal with yourself and your value.

Let’s start treating each other (and ourselves) like we are as worthy of abundance as our patrons.

Related: How to Feel More Abundant

This post was originally published on August 31, 2017, and has been updated with the very useful comments intact.

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126 thoughts on “Is Being Too Cheap Hurting Your Art Business?”

  1. I totally agree and a lot has to do with how we present our own work. For example, I am now culling out my cheaper looking frames. If it’s worth hanging on a wall, it should be dressed right. Same with doing my open studio tour. Putting on soft music and having refreshments and using tasteful decor such as flowers adds to the message of “I care about my work and you”. Does it add to the sales? Hard to measure, but I think so…most importantly, it makes ME happy!

  2. GREAT newsletter, Alyson! I agree wholeheartedly. This came at just the right time, too, since I have an open studio event coming up this weekend. Now I can go into it with a fresh mindset. Thank you, as always, for your words and inspiration.

  3. This is so true! I have experienced this in both arts organizations and in my own life as an artist. One arts conference that does not skimp is the One State Together in the Arts in Illinois.

    As an artist, I’ve recently expanded the amount I’m willing to invest in myself and my business — seeking legal help, for instance. I regret the lost time when I was too frugal.

  4. Amen to this

    Some of the hypocrisy I’ve witnessed from artists is mind-blowing.

    On more than one occasion I’ve witnessed artists expect collectors to spend $16500+ for one of their artworks, yet minutes later roll their eyes and not so subtly criticize said buyer for being the kind of person who would spend $16500+ on a single painting.

    In my experience, these artists have a hard time making any progress in their careers. They shoot themselves in the foot at every turn because of their negative mindset about money.

  5. Alyson, This is so cleanly written and goes right to the bulls-eye. Yes, value is all around you/us, not just a few trajectories here and there. And I love Karen’s comment that just do it to make yourself happy! So, for my Open Studio this weekend, I will purchase those lovely flowers, polish my nails, love my art even more deeply, and embrace the fullest value of everyone involved as artists and as visitors. Thanks for your writings!!!!!

  6. Alyson, you always get a situation spot on! This is an area that is rarely discussed, but should be taught in art school! I’ve sometimes been guilty of not valuing myself or my art as highly as I should. I’m getting better, tho. In my upcoming one person show, I’ll spare no expense to demonstrate that my work is worth even more than I’m asking for it!

    1. I love hearing that, Janet (that you’ll demonstrate how valuable your art is). I can’t imagine art schools embracing this mindset because they are also underfunded. But wouldn’t it be way cool if they did?

  7. You seem to be talking about two different things here.
    First you talk about a conference. If I’m paying $200 for a conference, yes, I want $200 worth of value. If I’m paying $25 I expect the Organization to be frugal and give me $25 worth of value. Sometimes I just want the $25 Nut’s and Bolts and not the $200 flowers and music.

    Artists may be treated ‘cheaply’ because they don’t have the money for the high end treatment. That doesn’t mean they have a Cheap or Negative Mindset. It means they don’t want to go into debt just so they can have the flowers and Music.

    And lets not confuse Quality with a big Price tag. Is the $25 toilet paper holder of better quality or does is just have a fancier Brand Name? I think the quality of the artist’s work is more important than whether they paid $8 or $50 for a tube of paint. I’ve seen some really bad art with high dollar frames.

    1. I agree with a lot of what K. Henderson has to say. Expensive supplies, and a pleasing atmosphere will not change the quality of the art. Granted it might help in sales, but I think many serious buyers would see right through that.

      I think many buyers like going to an artist studio to see where the creativity happens. They like the feel of what the studio looks like on a day to day basis, to ask questions, look around to see old work, supplies that you use etc.. It creates more of a dialog between artist and buyer. There is a mystique in being in an artist studio that a gallery can’t capture. If you want soft music and flowers then the gallery is the route to go. If possible do both.

      But as many have said, you have to change the mind set, especially with people just starting to collect art. There’s a perception, that just because you love to do it, it’s not worthy of high prices, especially if you’re doing it part time. Many see it as a hobby and therefore not worthy of reasonable prices. There is a hobby mentality that we as artists have to try to eliminate. It’s also the venue. If you’re selling your art in an unjuried art/craft show, and the person next to you is selling pot holders or wooden ducks, don’t plan on selling at a reasonable price. You just set yourself up as someone who does this as a hobby, and potential buyers will see it as such.

      Choosing your venue to sell your work is important as well.

    2. Good point, Bob, about the venue choice.

      Sometimes expensive supplies do affect the quality of the art. I’ve seen cheap shortcuts falling off the canvas or paper with my own two eyes.

      And while atmosphere doesn’t change the quality of the work, it can affect the perception of the quality. That’s why art in a nice gallery is perceived of having higher value than art in a co-op space with crammed walls.

    3. K: I can’t disagree with anything you say, but I think my point might have been missed.

      Perhaps you haven’t come across it, but I run into artists feeling undeserving and unappreciated on a daily basis. I had hoped to stress that they have to appreciate themselves and watch how they present their value to the world before they will have the confidence to ask a fair price for their work.

    4. Agreed. I ran a Co-op gallery. We made sure we had background music, proper lighting and packaging worthy of their purchases. Two things I stressed. Not only thanking buyers, but congratulating them on their choice. The second thing, is wrapping the purchase like a valuable item. I have seen Artists put buyer’s items in garbage and grocery bags. Bubble wrap, protective corners, even a box. I have even offered to deliver a piece. Value your work, and others will also do the same.

    5. Personal appearance is something artists can also be too frugal with. Yes there is a time and place for “paint” clothes, but if the area is public, upgrading your personel appearance also upgrades a potential clients perception of you, your work and the prices you are asking. Upgrade your own frame. First Impressions!

    6. I’m struggling with this myself. I’ve always had a day job that had to come 1st because I require medical insurance for a serious medical conditions. So my art has come seconds.

      But I can’t hold a full-time job anymore and am applying for social security disability. I feel that my art will be an ideal part time job. So I’m relaunching my art business. I’m hoping it will eventually be successful enough to replace a full-time income so I don’t use up all my social security on disability and can save more for retirement (I doubt I’ll ever stop making art, lifetime creative works are a family tradition).

      I have quality art supplies stocked up. But am frugal because I’m on a severely limited income at I restart my art.

      I’d love suggestions on how to be a frugal artist while keeping the rich appearance. For example, buying used frames and refinishing instead of cheep plasic ones.

      I’m currently teaching myself wordpress web design, SEO a and social media marketing. I’ve a tech background so I feel confident I can do these for myself.

  8. I really enjoyed this post, and I agree with it 100%. My eyes were opened about this subject a little over a year ago when I joined a professional networking organization – not an organization of artists, but of business professionals. It has dues – which at one point I would have seen as an extravagant expense. But I’ve since changed my tune and realize how important that spending is to my business. I do not know how to sufficiently explain how different I see things now that I spend every other week listening to business owners and professionals speak about what they are doing. The level of finance that these people operate at is something that I think most artists don’t have a comprehension for. My fellow business owners in the group understand the value of what they do. It’s been a real learning experience for me.

    1. Boy, is that true….

      Here, a local arts organization recently put on an “art market.” I figured that with the informality, I’d be most likely to sell greeting cards and matted reproductions (which I did), though I brought along original paintings to show as well. I learned later that colleagues nearby were substantially reducing their usual prices – one had signs marked 50% and 75% off…. Because of it, another friend who loves my work (and can afford it – it’s not actually that expensive) chastised me for not dropping my prices.

      (Yes, I recognize that this will not be a venue for my original work. But, wow… artists really can do harm to their own and each other’s interests this way.)

    2. This is so true! I’ve done art festivals where other artists have reduced their prices and it has lost me sales. I had one person who was interested in one of my paintings come back and show “the deal” they got with another artist because she had sold her a painting at 50% off “because the gallery would have taken that much off anyway”!!!! If her gallery had known she was doing this, I suspect she would have been out of the gallery. It just really frosted me that I thought I had sold my painting, only to find out another artist was willing to sell her soul for a sale. If everyone would hold their ground on their prices, we would all win at making a lot more money.

    3. Nancy: We should kick those artists out of the union. Really! Is it okay that “anyone can be an artist”? I suppose it is, but in situations like this, you have to wonder.

  9. spot on! and thanks for the reminder…I will make a list of those non-frugal actions I have been “threatening” to do and do them. You have laid it out clearly with the word “mind set.” I will go the extra mile, charge for it and know my work is worth it.

  10. I agree with what you said.

    In addition,having worked in an arts organization, and volunteered in others I know first hand how many organizations have to scrimp and save. Also,how much needed funding may get approved six months down the road and they don’t get all they asked for to support their work. Certainly staff and boards can be creative in reaching their goals, but how much more successful might these organizations be if that creativity were to be directed in more outreach instead of having to sustain their organization?

  11. It’s hard to put a price on an emotion. But that is how art is sold. The emotion that is created in the buyer. That connection. When making art, I must think about that, always. Because I’ll get bogged down with, “what would I pay for that?” I have people buy my artwork for friends that are going through cancer, and eventually die. But the emotional connection and “She’ll love it!” As an artist we must value our passion, sweat and tears that go into every piece. Those that get it, will. Those that don’t, won’t. These are the things I strive for everyday, sometimes I miss, but keep aiming higher.

  12. Excellent post! Thanks so much….wish I could tune in Friday for the rest but I’m off to a show….and will keep today’s “frugal” post in mind. Cheers.

  13. What timing you have, Alyson. I feel good about my pricing as a result of the bootcamp and getting Flick to help me with my inventory. I feel good about the critical recognition my work has received this year. But, I do not feel good about my art business, because it is putting me in the hole. It is money out, money out, money out.. And not enough comes in to begin to cover my costs. If I hadn’t had such a good year “artistically” – that is one in which I have received so much positive feedback – I would be depressed over this.
    I totally agree with you that we need to treat our art and ourselves well – dress well, have a quality hair cut, present the art well – nicely framed, and yes, fresh flowers.

    1. Wouldn’t you think that a show with a well attended opening would help? I invested at least $1,000 in framing alone – no sales. I am beginning to believe that the market for my work is not here where I live.

    2. I am in the exact same position Jim. The only thing keeping me going right now is I know my art is good and it’s just a matter of time. I just have to hold out. Good luck and I hope you too keep painting.

  14. Absolutely agreed! High class begets high class. I had my “a ha” moment this summer. I’d very painstakingly crafted a very nice salt & pepper mill set from a particularly “rough” piece of black cherry burl: knots and bark occlusions all over the place. I filled the “worst” using a cold-cast copper process I’d mastered earlier this year, then French-polished everything. The result was stunning. Not willing to work for minimum wage on this set, I took a very deep breath and priced it at what I thought was a fair price (about $20/hour for labor, plus materials and overhead.) My wife told me I was out of my mind. But I pressed on and took it to my next show. As I was setting up before the show opened, a lady passed by. She went right to that set, grabbed it and paid cash on the spot! That situation repeated itself several times with other pieces and other shows until now, I have no problem with fair pricing. My attitude has changed from one of quiet desperation to one of “if it doesn’t sell now, the right patron just hasn’t come along. It’ll sell later.” I’m having the best year – by far – since I started.

    1. I have an 80 something artist friend who told me years ago that there is a person for every one of your works of art. That was so comforting to me as I worried things weren’t selling. Looking back, she is pretty darn close. I have found that virtually every piece of mine has found a home. Some have ended up as bin work or a donation (lol!), but usually not.

  15. I am an artist, I have paid for much of my supply costs over the years through working in the arts (as well as sales). I KNOW frugal first hand.

    It starts early. I worked as a elementary school art teacher at minimum wage or even as a volunteer just to make sure my kids had art in school (for 14 years). We generally relied on donations for supplies. This was in a wealthy school district.

    The museum I work at as a Docent (volunteer) has us teaching ALL of the fifth grade students in the district (population: 510,940) about Museum and art appreciation and etiquette – most of these kids have never been in a museum until we see them for 90 minutes. Without volunteers this program would disappear.

    I am 100% too frugal. My passion is 100% revived every time I go to my studio to paint. I would love to feel worthy of more. My value is in the fact that I have never given up hope for the arts as an integral part of society and culture. I’m in, I’ll read more on Friday. I am open to the possibility of abundance. Thanks Alyson!

    1. Oh, Suzanne, art teachers have it worse than anyone. They end up buying their own supplies for the classroom, which is a travesty.

      As a docent trainer for years, I know how valuable those volunteers are to the museum.

      I hope I can help give you a little shot of abundance.

  16. Thank you, Alyson! I needed to hear this from both the collector’s viewpoint and the creator’s viewpoint. I have worked in places where yes, we got the leftovers and had to create quality art with little supplies.

  17. Victoria Pendragon

    I too, agree with the majority of responses and with this post. The key being, as I see it, the importance of the mindset of the artist.

    That said, your irritation with the treatment of artists at certain events – being held precisely because of the artists – helped to validate my own irritation at an upcoming event I’ll be attending. The event is a ticket-necessary, fund raising event for an institution that does rehab work. All the artists represented in the show are disabled, some far more than others. It’s always a very high-end event and quite wonderful but…

    Collectors who want first shot at the art pay $65 per ticket for the privilege of doing so; artists have free admission…and can have one ‘guest’ but that guest has to have a paid-for ticket. Granted, it’s a half-price ticket for the one guest but in so many situations that ‘guest’ is the only way the artist has of showing up! That seems unfair and, well, cheap. It galls me just a little every year. I know from experience that they’ll waive the fee… if you ask, but for heaven’s sake. Really?

  18. Interesting, and a subject I have been battling with for some time. A book I recently read addresses some of this same issue from a different perspective and more broadly than just the artist, titled:

    Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Shell

    Add to that the habitually low value our society puts on artists creativity and we are often trapped. Even the IRS acts the same way giving only the cost of materials and nothing for time spent creating when artists donate original works. It makes donations of originals a bad idea, you lose money and gain next to nothing. Exposure? Give me a break.

    If you can figure out how to conquer this cultural bad habit you will be the first. I for one have refused to put low prices on my work but in a sea of others locally taking much less I’m in a very difficult market.

    I have worked in galleries for years and seen frustrated artists fed up with getting little attention for their work at low prices, angrily double prices only to find sales increased because the same pieces now seem to be of value. If you don’t value it first nobody else will. Artists have to stop acting like they live in a 3rd world country and demand a fair professional price otherwise nothing will change.

  19. Hawra Harianawala

    I agree Alyson – I was living in Pakistan and doing huge commissions but I never invested in the photography and now I am having a hard time entering the US market because my work is not presented professionally:( –

    Thank you for ur wise words look forward to each read.

    1. Also, if your art is small enough (or can be Photoshopped into one complete piece from several parts), don’t forget the possibilities of scanning. Especially if you have a work situation where this is accepted. I’m able to have (free, luckily) high-resolution scanning of my art — some of which is as large as 22 x 30″– scanner is 11 x 17 and we turn art multiple times, then “sew” together via photoshop photomerge panorama. Even if you pay someone to do your scans, it may be less expensive than hiring a photographer. I’d feel guilty saying this, except either way someone is employed, and I’ve found scans to be way, way more accurate in terms of color and detail. Hope that’s useful!

  20. I completely agree with you. I find it so frustrating that my co-op gallery hosts First Friday opening with a sad table of food and beverage. My husband and I spend a good bit of time coming up with something tempting and special. I have made comments to the effect that a tray of store bought cupcakes ought not to be the image we put forth but it falls on deaf ears and lopsided card tables.

    1. Step 1: Put the cupcakes on a beautiful tray – preferably silver or artist-made.

      Step 2: Get a white tablecloth that covers the tables.

      Step 3: Buy a $10 bunch of flowers at the grocery store and divide them up into small (3″ high) vases (shot glasses work for this – or brandy snifters or . . . endless possibilities). For or five of these will add to the ambiance.

    2. If you go to thrift stores in upscale nieghborhoods you can find pretty tablecloths and cakedishes, cases etc. Priced similarly to the normal thrift store fare found everywhere.

      And if there’s a Trader Joe’s near you they have awesome florist quality flowers at great prices. They last a long time on my art desk too.

  21. Wow Alyson, what a great topic and very cool to see so many artists respond!
    Frugality is often born out of necessity, but I scanned through this post and a word you used stood out. PRESENTATION and how that helps with perception of value. A person might go to Goodwill and be able to find a clothing outfit and with a little tweaking make it look like a million bucks, but cost next to nothing. In contrast, I remember seeing a work at a local juried show that had (if memory serves) a $19,000.00 price tag on it, which was out of place for this show. While no one was looking I looked at the back of the canvas. It was regular cheap store bought canvas and the frame looked as though the artist dragged it out from underneath the bed or got it from a Garage Sale Free box. Nothing about the presentation would make me think the painting was worth that and if the artist was getting that kind of prices for their work, why was it presented in such a poor fashion?
    Perhaps too many artists vacillate between buying into the notion of being on the low end of the food chain with the way others in the industry treat them and still wanting their work to be taken seriously. Granted sometimes artists make some definite no no’s like walking into a gallery unannounced with paintings under their arms and then want the gallery owner to handle their work. Those actions reinforces the negative that we’re unprofessional. Still, entire industries would not exist if it were not for artists. Framing industry, print industry, art materials, interior designers and decorators use artists, art galleries and dare I say even art marketing consultants. 🙂

    So artist’s are not on the low end of the food chain. But they can be if they put themselves there. Even if forced into frugality by necessity with regards to money, it doesn’t mean your mind set has to be there and that too is part of presentation. Artists should have some respect for themselves, (without going overboard and coming across as being pompous with this new found value)and treat others respectfully as well and maybe some of these long held perceptions about artists will change, but don’t expect others in the art industry to change until we work on ourselves by not giving out valid reasons for them to think otherwise.

    1. I’d like to credit you, Alyson, with helping me first, think of myself as a professional artist when I was starting out 10+ years ago and second, think of my art as valuable. I do sometimes cringe if I hear someone pointing out my art as overpriced, but having worked with galleries and consultants, I’ve got to tack on that 50% to cover what they may take (which I always feel they’ve earned). Thank you for encouraging us to value ourselves and what we do, even if on a budget!

  22. Alyson, You’ve hit a very important point with me. Over the last year, I have been battling that myself. I have needed to be frugal. But now that there is more coming in, I have been working very hard to remind myself that I am worth more and deserve more niceties. Pricing and selling work has to come from the viewpoint of the audience that I’m selling to, not from my budget. So, a few “luxuries” help in my attitude.
    Thank you

  23. Great article Alyson – Always love getting your newsletters. Actually one of only 2 I receive and I read both.

    The other is by Robert Genn – You are coming from two different places but both wonderfully thought out. Best, Lauren

  24. Alyson – excellent article. I think the key is mindset. I have found that if I value the work of others that create quality artwork and enthusiastically embrace the price point they place on their work although it is often beyond my means to purchase it, that mindset carries over to the pricing of my own work. I consciously accept that not everyone will want to spend the price of my work, but I do not let that affect my pricing as I have learned that there are those that are more than willing to do so. And every once in awhile, I make a purchase of artwork a little beyond my means and from that I have learned how enjoyable it it is to have it. By experiencing this pleasure, I find it easier to believe that others will get the same amount of pleasure from owning the work that I create.

    1. Well said, Terry! I find that I don’t personally spend a lot of money on art (which I want to change), so I tend to price my work thinking others have this same mindset. I’m working on changing this!

    2. I am myself starting to collect other’s work, as I am now a bit more financially able to do so. I love my collected works very much. But I have artist friends tell me I am way too low on my own prices. I price them as if I were buying I suppose. Its a very hard mindset to change.

      I have also stopped using junker frames, or trying to ignore framing, as if it doesn’t matter. Good art in bad frames doesn’t sell. PRESENTATION!!

    3. Terrific attitude, Terry. “value the work of others”

      I try to do this every day in little ways – like valuing the checkout person at the grocery store or the janitor at the airport.

  25. We can be as frugal as we want in our personal lives, but in public we must present a successful image. But it has to be genuine, so first and foremost, the artist has to truly, truly believe in the value of his or her own work. If not, expensive frames, fine wines and hors d’oeuvres won’t make a bit of difference, because you cannot convey success without believing it. We are seen as “starving artists” and as Alyson says, it’s very hard to fight public perception, but I think fighting our own self-doubt is even harder. When my husband tells me I’m very talented but won’t be able to build a business out of it (because art has no value), I have to resist the urge to (smack him upside the head) let his opinion drag me down. Someone in the comments said it isn’t necessary to spend money on flowers and fancy food, but it most definitely IS. Mostly because people are judged by their appearance, but also because “acting as if” is the best way to learn self-confidence. I know my art is good, no problem there, but whether I deserve to be rewarded for it is my biggest battle. I’m so guilty of accepting a compliment with a “shucks, thank you, just a little thing I threw together” kind of attitude. (Reading that sentence makes me cringe!) I’m “acting as if” but I haven’t yet got past knowing it into believing it! It just occurred to me that what we’re really dealing with is the “impostor syndrome,” that feeling that we’re faking it and that some day people will find out. And it’s harder for artists because we’ve already been found out – hence that frugal, starving artists mind set. It’s a vicious circle! Sorry if I’m rambling a bit. I’m in my “stream of consciousness” mode. Alyson’s post is something of an eye opener…and thank you for that!

    1. I don’t know what has been most helpful- the wonderful article or comments! I am just starting out with my art after a long hiatus and my pricing has gone through many stages after a year and a half of painting again. (with the prices I have now more in keeping with earning a living from my art) I so agree with what Allyson said about putting value on your work by not being frugal. What’s hard is when you’re surrounded by others (as I am) who are supportive but don’t see the same value in the art. I also like another comment that all good work has a potential buyer waiting for it. I think the lesson for me is the hold the course and keep trying to find venues that do put value on my art. But also to teach others around me by paying attention to the care and detail of my own work. Thanks so much Allyson and fellow artists!

    2. Carole, here is something that might help you when someone gives you a compliment about your work. Just accept the compliment and say, “Thank you.” No excuses. No explanation. Just “Thank you.” It is surprising how well it works!

    3. Jim: YES! So important to practice this. And it does require practice. But it helps to remember that people don’t compliment you to receive a reply of humility. Most compliments are generous gifts. Deflecting them could be seen an insult.

  26. Alyson, This message is So needed. Thank you.
    The concept is much easier to hear and implement if it is reinforced by those one likes and respects.
    Peace and blessings,

  27. Alyson, your thoughts on this issue are spot on. I think one of the most harmful things we artists do to ourselves is setting our prices based on our own financial means. Because we might not be in a position to acquire art or other luxury goods carrying substantial price tags, we worry we’re pricing our work “too high.” Erroneously assuming all potential buyers are just like us (“If I couldn’t afford it, they can’t either.”), we price based on an internal “fear scale.” I believe this faulty thinking, which seems so prevalent in our profession, has gotten us the loathesome Starving Artist label, which no other profession suffers, as far as I can tell. And that brings up another thought: if we want our profession — and our work — to be taken seriously and valued and respected, we could start by refusing to participate in any event that refers to “starving artists” in its title or its promotional efforts. Why help perpetuate such a demeaning and insulting stereotype by taking part in such a thing?

    1. Lynn: You will never hear or see “sa” from me. Maybe old posts and programs referred to it, but for about 4 years I have refused to use it. And for at least 2 years I refuse to use it even in the negative – as in “no more sa”.

      See, I won’t even write out the phrase.

  28. alyson, i applaud your passion on this issue and encourage to keep shouting it from the rooftops.

    i have heard you say this before and it landed. did i immediately take it in? no.

    i am so much closer to “there” now than when i first heard you say it a few years ago. i think its a bit of chicken and egg issue as well. you have to charge more to make more to spend more to charge more — around and around.

    while my work is not fine art (i am a portrait photographer, so i think of it as “personal” art), it still needs to be priced and valued appropriately. i don’t want to starve.

    in my more recent experiences, my clients value my work more when it costs them more. whoa. it seems so obvious. try to tell that to “a few years ago” me. like i said, i heard it but it didn’t quite stick.

    the shocking part to old me is that there ARE clients who want this work and are prepared to invest in it. my job (or at least part of my job 🙂 has been to find them and i am getting better at it. as i find one, i find their friends who are similar and have similar values. so the footwork is paying off.

    i think that is true for any artist. of any flavor.

    it took me a little while. i am a bit of a slow learner, but i can come along.

    as far as the window dressing goes, YES. i treat my clients in the first-class manner that i feel they deserve. they get all of the bells and whistles from me so their total experience is easy and hassle free. it’s luxury.

    that’s they way i want it. this is part of my service. part of the total package. all i can say is that is working for me.

  29. Thank you Alyson! I feel as if you were talking to me directly and I am (finally!) hearing what you are saying. There have been too many instances when people have made comments about how “reasonable” my Glass Art is priced. I will take a good look at my Studio today to consider presentation for next weeks Art Studio Tour and go over my pricing formula.
    And next on the list is the website that I am not too happy with.

  30. Roger K Lawrence

    Your points are well made. I am amazing that Artists try to sell their their original work using the cheapest frame they can find or worst with no frame at all.
    In my opinion They are afraid if they frame their work it will be too expensive for the buyer.
    Their excuse is they think all buyers want to pick out their their own frames.
    In my mind the work needs to be “Ready-to-Hang” when the buyer takes it home!

    1. I agree, Roger. It’s too difficult if I have to go find a framer. Most people don’t “have” framers so they start from scratch.

      You could also do frames as “upsells”. $800 unframed or $1050 framed.

  31. Alyson, good advice, and yes… It applies to me. I’ve had a lifelong struggle with asking for stuff and favors from others, and that affects my willingness to ask for $$$$ for my artwork. I need to get over my insecurity with asking for money. My friends, who have comparable skill to mine, are getting much higher prices for their work. Your words are something to keep in mind.

  32. Thank you as ever Alyson. I spent several years trying to make my work spending as little as possible on materials and framing and selling less and less! Now I am making the best work I can and only framing examples so people can choose how much they spend on the finished item. I am going for quality over quantity and to quote Oscar Wilde “Moderation in all things, including moderation!”

    Having tried various events selling direct to the public, it was very refreshing to see the Banksy stall in New York selling so few pieces, what a difference a name makes and someone thinking the work is worth a lot of money.

    These days I know the price I value my work at and I am as pleased if I sell a greetings card or a large painting. Knowing someone likes my work enough to buy it, encourages me to make more…

  33. Alyson, I think you have indeed hit the nail on the head. The fact that most artist’s entry into the lifestyle is several years of poverty at the start,we don’t really have an understanding that collectors are of a completely different mindset. I learned this from a commission that I received from a high end collector through my gallery. I quoted him a price based solely on sq/ins. The price was $9000.00, which included the 50% Gallery commission. In my mind the price seemed to be extremely high and I worried that I would not get the commission. But he quickly agreed to the price and we shook hands on the deal. Then he took me aside and told me privately “if you had told me the price was $900.00 I would have had to really think about it” He obviously had a completely different mindset about the price than I had expected and I hope learned the lesson. Yes these collectors are difficult to find and yes the average Joe at an art opening may not be of this collectors mindset but they are out there. A well connected Gallery will have connections to several of this level of collector. Yes presentation is everything but if you are frugal about what part of the presentation you spend your resources on you will recoup the expenses. I guess the hard part is surviving long enough you find them

  34. “Fake it until you make it. Pretend to be something you’re not until you are. Kind of like dressing for success….” That’s what Austin Kleon says in his book “Steal Like An Artist”.
    I treated myself to an art retreat for my 60th BD this year. I saved for years to finally be the student instead of the instructor. I created a visual manifestation for financial abundance. It was difficult to create just like it has been difficult to achieve this type of abundance in my life. This personal experience led me to create a workshop called “Discover Your Inner Diva”. Every workshop has been a success!

  35. Pingback: How to Feel More Abundant in Your Life and Art « Art Biz Blog

  36. I’ve been asked to paint three charity events, and for some reason I said yes. But I’d like some kind of thank you for it. Or at least free parking. The last one that I painted, the painting was auctioned for 2800 and they didn’t send me a thank you note. Maybe I should put that in a contract: free parking at the event and a thank you note.

  37. Early in our careers we are asked to donate works or our time, because we have so much fun doing it.We’re often told, we’ll get good exposure.
    I’ve always said,I’D RATHER JUST DONATE MONEY. We all agree that has value and the government agrees it’s tax deductible for me.

    Artists have held people together for centuries through their paintings, music, writings and performances. The Arts have transformed places and nations. As an art director of a 90% poverty community once told me about her arts program, “We can’t change their outside world, so we try and change their inside one” and maybe that’s where it needs to start. As Picasso said “Every child is an artist…they problem is staying one, once he grows up.

  38. Really Really GOOD advice Alyson! I’ve discovered that , if at the moment you do not have this powerful mindset, just ACT like it anyway. Others don’t know it’s an act; then it becomes a habit.
    Here’s to you and your success…

  39. Locally, all the money seems to flow into the development of a budgeting précis for the feasibility study preliminary to the comprehensive report by the planning commission. After that, for the artist, it’s mostly entrance fees and rejection notices. (Although things might be improving: it’s been a year since I was asked to donate a work of art.)

  40. Thank you for the terrific article Alyson. There are many parts to this – the mindset and the willingness to stand for that my art is worth it and then the actions to take such as only using the best quality materials and raising my prices.

  41. Perfect timing Alyson. Earlier this summer I made a decision to upgrade the experience of a studio visits for clients. That meant a total clean out, upgrade of my creative space so that all 5 of their senses are met with something pleasing and special. This required me to spend money on non art materials; not my normal mindset.
    As I am coming to the end of the re-do, it feels like I should cut corners…save! I have to remind myself that this is not foolish spending. It is an investment in my art business and giving visitors something amazing to share with their friends.
    See you in Portland!

  42. What a great article. You have pointed out attitudes we have that I think many of us are unaware we have. They kind of creep up on us. When you point out the effects, it’s a “Duh!” So I am really rethinking how I do things. Thank you!

  43. Thank you for this….food for thought! Just last night I was talking to some art friends on IG about sales….and thinking about “Hope” afterwards. Then I got to looking at my feed & a piece I had posted a few days before caught my attention & I remembered it’s title “Hope still shining through the Darkness” & I decided to give 100% of proceeds to fund the hurricane relief. (I’m from Texas) Now, this is not an expensive piece but it was the title,it’s imagery & thoughts behind it that spoke to me. Hopefully this small offering, coupled with 15% on every sale until the new year (at least) will aid in recovery efforts for this disaster……thanks for letting me share & for your great post!!!!???? P.S. I’m lisahendersonart on Instagram! (Working on getting my new website up!)

  44. This post confirms what I thought was a worthwhile practice in my studio. During a tour I set up a lovely seating area outside my studio that includes a view of the ocean and our boat at the dock.. I serve home baked goodies and smoked salmon as well as fresh tea and coffee served in one of a kind mugs purchased from the potters on the tour. I display items of inspirations for people to view and handle. Fresh flowers out of the garden, collections of my tools and examples of art that I have purchased from the other members of the tour. My clients love when I express how wonderful and talented other members of the group are. I grow my client list by leaving a sign up sheet for me to email them the recipes I have used and usually get a good list of contacts from each event. I value them for having made the trip out and giving me their time and I feel valued by them which translates into decent sales, I even have had returning guests bring me gifts.

    I still have areas to improve on as for instances I tend not to wear “event” clothing and rarely do my hair or wear jewelry or makeup. I am stuck on bluejeans and white shirts with a new studio apron.

  45. Alyson, I agree with you about too many art organizations. We have several in our community, all run by very nice people, but I don’t really see how they contribute to helping artists. They seem to exist to keep existing.

  46. Hooray for a great post with wonderful comments!

    Next up can you address how artists are supposed to spend hours and hours crafting proposals and documentation for all sorts of art projects, prizes or internships without any assurance that anyone will actually look at them? I don’t understand why there is not at least a two-part process. One to get accepted as a finalist and the second to actually send the proposal or documentation for the project, prize or internship. Why do artists think so little of their time?

    1. Someone absolutely is – “no assurance that anyone will actually look at them” is the most persistent myth about grant/competition processes (or possibly the second most persistent myth, after “You have no chance of winning unless you know someone on the panel”).

      I’ve been part of many evaluation processes and in every case, the panelists’ first priority is to make the process fair and ethical. Yes, there are a few unethical calls out there (usually combining a high fee with an unstated clear aesthetic preference, meaning applicants who don’t fit that aesthetic won’t have a fair chance). But I have never seen an application processes run by an established non-profit org that wasn’t set up to absolutely give an equal chance to all applicants who submitted fully complete applications by the deadline.

  47. Great article! A twist on this is for workshops I run out of my studio. I provide a selection of beverages and snacks for my attendees. Nothing extravagant in expense, but I try to present it as nicely as possible in a “working studio”. People are always pleasantly surprised (people always appreciate a snack when getting stuck in a process 😉 and I often get repeat attendees and sales. I tell people I’m glad they came and they are worth it!

  48. Fantastic article!

    I’ve been working on a money mindset change since end of 2015 when I realized I super NEED mindset changes.

    Last week, I bought a super fountain pen…and two small bottles of ink…for a whopping $190 at a lovely pen specialty store. A year ago or more, there was NO WAY I would’ve considered it, much less go into the store. Now? I’m enjoying my “Corvette” pen and dollar cost averaging my usage (because it makes me feel better) while I ZING! through drawings with lovely sepia ink!!!! So far, I’ve used my pen enough to require a refill. YAY~!

    I’ve slowly replaced my cheaper supplies with better supplies, too. Using better paints has a notable affect on how I feel applying color, textures, and just the paint itself. I am using up the cheaper paints as much as I can and celebrate every time a tube drops (almost) empty into the trash.

    I am slowly, perhaps too slowly, changing my mindset to what you describe.

    Hugs. Keep up the wonderful articles!

  49. Framing! The simple upgrade from inexpensive — aka cheap framing to high quality framing changes EVERYTHING. Work that looks so-so, suddenly looks professional and alluring. Lower pricing in cheap framing does not enhance sales, it lessens the opportunity for sales. Bite the bullet up front and frame your work professionally and you will get professional treatment from your collectors!

  50. Dear Alyson,
    I send the following email on September 3 but have not had any response. I really would like your input and help.
    Looking forward to your response.
    Thank you,
    Marcelle Zanetti

    Was wondering if you could suggest how to respond to an email I just received regarding resale of purchased paintings. Please see below.

    Hi. It’s been a while.
    I have loved and enjoyed your paintings for 25 years or more. It is time now for me to start my new life. My husband passed and I have to move. In my new place there is no room for the attached paintings. I’m hoping you can find a way to get them to new and grateful owners for a monetary value you think is just. I can bring the paintings to you.
    You can’t imagine how much I’ve enjoyed your work these many years.
    Please advise what you think can be done to honor your work.
    Thank you

    I really don’t know how to respond to this. Any suggestions would be most appreciated!
    Thank you,
    I was one of your Art Biz Students
    Sent from my iPhone

  51. It’s been a while since I took your class when it all felt so new. I should really go back to my notes and check through everything again! When I do that I’m always amazed at how much what felt almost impossible previously, has now become part of my normal practice.

    This post really struck me… I remember getting to this stage where I felt like I was always worrying about costs. And I decided that I just had to go for it – book a bigger space, buy larger panels, invest in upgrades to my work space which would make a difference, outsource the framing to someone who could do a great job.

    I’m not sure if it’s all those things, or just the mindset behind them, but since then things are really changing for me. Apart from anything else, working to create the best I can rather than the most affordable I can is just sooooo much more fun 🙂 I’m on track for my income goals this year and some really exciting things have happened as a result of switching away from a frugal mindset. I’ve sold larger work (can’t sell it unless you’ve made it first!), had work used in the launch of a top-end wallpaper range and appear in glossy interior magazines and am just starting a large commission which is significant both in cost and scale – exciting!

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

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