Should You Bargain or Haggle With Artists and Art Dealers?
by Lorette C. Luzajic
Now here’s a loaded subject no one likes to discuss. Should you bargain with artists or gallerists ? Should you try to get a deal? Should you offer your budget, or walk away because you can’t afford the full price? Is it good manners or ethical to request a discount? Isn’t it unethical to let art go unsold and leave the artist with nothing, just because you can’t pay quite pay the ticket price?
There are mixed views on the subject, but new or occasional art buyers are often left in the dark because it’s almost taboo to talk about it. Many folks who don’t know the ropes walk away empty handed because they don’t know how to broach the subject. They want to err on the side of respect for the artist, so they respect the price and walk away. But is this always what’s best- for the artist, the curator, for the space provider, or for you?
The main reason that prices must be consistent is simple: it isn’t fair to other buyers who paid $1000 for something when someone else gets it for $500. And it isn’t fair to our dealers trying to show our work to a larger audience.
Many folks assume that since gallerists get half in commission, the consumer should get half price if they buy directly from the artist. There’s one big problem with this, however: if I undercut the people who work hard and provide expensive real estate in order to show my art, I’ll soon be selling it all by myself. Who wants to represent me and show my work if I’m selling it half price? Ultimately, a few extra hundreds in the artist’s pocket costs them a great deal more.
That said, here are some things to consider:
- No two works of art are the same, and value is subjective. Two identical works in different colours might have disparate values: an admirer is willing to pay $10 000 for the blue and no one is willing to pay anything for the yellow. Or, two paintings of the same size may have taken very different amounts of skill, labour, or inspiration, meaning the artist prices one at $1000 and one at $350. From this perspective, a collector who paid $1800 for a work they love is hardly undercut when you sell a different but similar work for $1400. Only when the exact work is priced one way at a gallery and another at home and or on a website is there a conflict with different prices.
- It doesn’t hurt to ask. Trust me, most artists prefer a smaller sale to zero. The same goes for our reps. Maybe the snobby gallerist will give you a withering look, but so what- maybe she’ll give you the deal! Asking for a price reduction on a painting or sculpture or photography piece can feel embarrassing, but if you are seriously interested in purchasing the item at a reduced cost, just say so and keep it simple. “I love this piece and I will buy it if $xx is okay.” The worst they can say is no.
- Don’t fleece artists and galleries. If you’re just bargaining to see how low you can go, please examine your heart. Giving a piece up for less than the ticket price when the buyer is being honest about what they can afford is one thing. Toying with artists who may be desperate for any sale, since many artists are the working poor, is another thing altogether. If you can easily afford $500, recognize the value and don’t try to get it for $350.
- Remember, galleries don’t have sales. “Galleries never have sales, it’s considered bad taste,” Manhattan gallerist Renato Danese told the Wall Street Journal. Clearance sales or Boxing Day sales are gauche, so many artist or galleries not only accept negotiation but depend on it. If you don’t ask, we can’t offer, in other words. Sure, we hope you’ll want to pay full price- all retailers do. But at some point, moving stock to bring cash flow to pay the bills, or find a match for a lonely product, or create space, is just practical.
- Become a regular customer, or buy multiples. If you’re honouring me by buying several pieces at once, of course we can discuss a volume discount. And if you have been frequenting the gallery or visiting my studio for years, and told all your friends about my work, and have three pieces in your home, yes, you are a VIP.
Lorette C. Luzajic
Contact Art Bomb curator Carrie Shibinsky at firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about purchasing shown artworks. Yes, you can try out today’s blog topic and negotiate!
Lorette C. Luzajic is a Toronto-based creative who works in mixed media collage, paint, photography, and writing. She is a journalism graduate, a lifelong student of art history, and an Art Bomb artist. Lorette is the editor of The Ekphrastic Review: writing and art on art and writing, and also writes a regular column at Good Food Revolution on Wine and Art. Her artwork is currently being exhibited at The Backhouse in Niagara on the Lake. Visit her at www.mixedupmedia.ca.