Meaningful art is an important part of our society. You may purchase art for the joy it brings and to enhance your home’s interior, but it also helps support artists so that they can devote themselves to their craft. How does one become an artist and how is art priced? In my last article, I explained how one becomes an artist through formal education and practical experience followed by the challenge to create a professional and consistent body of work. The final steps include getting the work from the studio to exhibition, then hopefully to being purchased.
Accomplishing the goal of creating art ready to be sold is daunting enough, but there’s a lot left to do to get one’s art in front of the public, specifically those interested in purchasing it. Art galleries are an obvious and traditional choice for partnership, but finding a commercial art gallery that is accepting new artists and is suitable to an artist’s style of work is extremely difficult. Submitting a proposal to a gallery is akin to applying for a job, and involves creating professional materials for submission.
Many artists desire to spend the bulk of their work day creating art while a gallery manages sales. A good commercial art gallery will accomplish most aspects of selling, which include maintaining a physical location and associated overhead. Especially for an emerging artist, the opportunity to have work seen by a dedicated and interested audience is vital. Maintaining a commercial art gallery is costly, which is taken into consideration when pricing art. But artists who sell their work from their studio and at art fairs realize the costs involved in both, which include travel and studio overhead, add expenses analogous to a gallery. Thus, the pricing calculation is similar to partnering with a gallery.
In addition to displaying their art at commercial art galleries, art fairs, and open studios, many artists also work to show in art centers, museums, and other nonprofit spaces. These exhibits are good exposure, which can add to the interest in an artist’s work because supply and demand affect art prices just as other commodities.
When the value of art is raised, we may think about the work of established—blue-chip—artists heard about in the media: work that sells for hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. This is a very small group of artists. Most professional, full-time artists are emerging or in midcareer, and work extremely hard to make a modest living.
There is often a correlation with work by an artist that has reached a prominent level of excellence and demand for their work, but there are also wonderful artists making work that appeals to a very select audience and never commands sales prices that would even pay the artist a living hourly wage. Two artists may create work similar in subject matter, style, and quality, yet one of the artists is able to garner a much higher price. Often it is simply that this artist has had greater success and notoriety in the market place. They might live and exhibit their work in a locale where art commands a higher price, so they benefit from the environment. Chances are that a little luck and business acumen are also in play.
I want to be clear that sales are not the motivating factor for most artists. There are artists who create work that is not a commodity at all, and create their art with grants and other funding from outside sources. But for most, selling art is a necessity to allow them to continue to work in their chosen field. The arts enrich our lives, adding value that has nothing to do with money. Like music, literature, theatre, and movies, once you live with original visual art, you will wonder how you lived without it.
Theresa Abel is an artist and owner/director of the Abel Contemporary Gallery, a fine art and fine craft gallery in Paoli. She studied painting at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the Scuola Lorenzo de’ Medici, Florence Italy, receiving her BFA in 1991. Theresa works in oils and recently has been creating a body of work incorporating silver point drawing.
Photographs provided by Abel Contemporary Gallery.
View additional photographs at homeelementsandconcepts.com .
Abel Contemporary Gallery
6858 Paoli Road
Paoli, WI 53508