I love doing my volunteer time as the Day Manager at the RAL Art Center. I really do. It gives me a unique opportunity to interact with folks who come in off the street who want to see quality art. I enjoy the interaction and trying to help art lovers find just the right piece to grace their homes or offices. Sometimes we are successful and sometimes, not. But it’s really interesting to me to find out from people what kind of art they like and sometimes what they really don’t like and why they choose to purchase original art.
The RAL Art Center, I have learned, serves another purpose in the community besides being a place for artists to display their work and a place for folks to purchase original art works. For many, it is a local opportunity to simply view quality art work. We do not have a local art museum and RAL Art Center serves that purpose for a lot of folks.
Living in a community with a lot of folks who are limited budgets due either to a fixed retirement income or simply because of their current circumstances, I’ve met and been able to interact with a number of folks who love art, would love to have it in their homes, but who simply cannot figure out how to afford to do so.
For these folks, I’d like to make a suggestion: Don’t assume there are no options. Many galleries will work with people to make it possible to purchase art. They may work with patrons and develop a payment arrangement which is very much like a lay-away plan. In other cases, you may be able to talk directly to the artist and see if they would be willing to offer a discount. Some will. Some cannot. Sometimes the gallery itself will be willing to offer a discount by taking a smaller commission. Most non-membership galleries keep 40 to 50 percent of each sale. It’s how they keep the doors open.
Another large portion of the cost of many art pieces is the framing. Sometimes an artist who does his or her own framing might be willing to sell the art work minus the cost of the framing (provided the artist gets to keep the frame (and glass and maybe matting). That way, the art gets to go home with the patron, and at a later time, when the collector is in a better financial situation, they can have the piece framed again. The artist will likely reuse the frame for another piece provide it was not custom built… in that case, they are not likely to sell the piece without the frame, but it may be worth asking.
More often than not, I don’t actually hear concerns about the prices, but more along the lines of “I love it, but I don’t know where I would hang it (or put it – in the case of sculpture).” Or, “I already have so much. I don’t have room.”
For these folks, I try to ask more questions: What kind of work do you currently collect? What is it you love about this piece? I also ask if they have considered rotating the art work in their home. I’ve met more than one (and I’m one of them) who moves art work around the house on a fairly regular basis. In fact, I move paintings far more often then I move furniture or change out seasonal decorations. But, I’m kind of in a unique situation in which I display and sell my art work so end up with gaps in wall arrangements which I then get to fill with new pieces. I think there might be one or two walls in my house with only a single piece of work and frankly, they are likely soon to be joined by others as I run out of space in other places or get bored with what I have displayed.
The other common response I hear is that they must first consult with their significant other before committing to a fairly large purchase. I sure can understand and respect that. At RAL Art Center, we don’t do a lot of follow up sales work. We probably could do better but we are volunteers after all. But if the piece in question is one of my own works or I know the artist personally, I will ask if I can get their email address or phone number so I can take a photo of them next to the piece and send it to them later. Then, either later that evening or the next day, I send along that photo and remind them of where they saw it and thank them again for their kind words and let them know how long it will be on display there. If it is for one of my artist friends, I make sure they are connected directly to the art lover.
If the potential patron’s concern turns out to be cost, I can decide if I’m willing to negotiate a better price. If I am sending the photo along for another artist, I let them figure out how they want to handle that concern. If the piece is one of mine and they are regular patrons of mine or the gallery’s I will try to seriously consider a discounted price although I may only offer that option for a multiple piece purchase or with a regular patron. If this follow up results in a negotiation (and it can), I work with the gallery to put a hold on the piece or pieces and then compensate the gallery for what they would have gotten in the first place if the price was not changed. That is less money in my pocket, but helps out my gallery.
So, if you fall in love with a piece of art in a gallery, ask questions and see if you can work out arrangements to own.