The Devine Guide to...what it really costs to sell original art.
Have you ever wondered why some artists only sell on their own website and some sell their art through galleries/online giants of the homeware world?
There are two main categories that artists fall into. 'Independent' artists and 'Represented' artists...although these lines get blurred more and more these days, essentially, some artists (like me) choose to do all their own marketing and sales whereas some other artists forgo that expense/time and sell through online or physical galleries/home decor giants. Many artists do a mixture of both.
If you do all your own marketing and promotion, it costs time, effort and (insert your marketing budget here) to promote your art so that people actually...you know...know that you exist to buy from you.
But if you go through an art gallery or online equivalent? They take a commission off your sale. The standard commission in the art industry is....wait for it...30-40%.
That's a lot.
Like...a lot, a lot.
Let's do the maths for a second.
Think about it. You buy a medium, framed piece of art for $2000 from an online art gallery.
With a 30% commission, the gallery gets $600. The artist gets $1400. Seems like that's still a nice pay day, right?
But out of the artist's $1400 they have likely spent (and I'm being conservative here)...
$200 - canvas (if they buy a good quality one - they might have bought a cheap, rubbish one for $50 - there's a scary thought.)
$200 - shipping charges and packing materials (many online galleries expect this to be paid by the artist - not them. It's the hidden cost of 'free shipping' for you and it can be much, much more than this amount.)
$50 - paint just for that one painting
$400 - framing
Total Profit left over: $550 profit for the artist. But wait! We haven't factored in general running expenses for their studio or taxes...
Suddenly, that $1400 for the painting is looking...well...like it has nearly disappeared...and all of that before the artist has been paid for their time and experience to actually paint the painting.
It is a very poor hourly rate and you can see why the 'starving artist' model/stereotype is alive and well.
Compare that with an artist that sells directly to customers and avoids paying a commission on the sale. In a healthy art business, to simplify and save you doing more maths, I would recommend that ALL expenses (including all taxes, studio costs, materials, marketing costs, website running costs etc) come to absolutely no more than 55% of the artist's total takings. Applied to this one artwork (in a very crude comparison but stick with me) the artist takes home $900 profit.
There are a few ways to think about this.
1. The gallery/online retailer has done the marketing and business management (a lot of the hard work, time and requires a not-insignificant, specific skill set) and has a larger number of buyers - that's an absolutely huge advantage.
2. The trade off is they sometimes expect exclusive rights to sell all of the artist's art and some have mandatory 'minimum quotas' of art that must be produced by the artist per month. That feels a bit like a trap. Oh, and the commission is...well...a lot.
3. Commissions either a) push the price of the art up in order for the artist to actually make a living or b) perpetuate artists working for very little.
4. An artist who sells all their own work independently potentially sacrifices 'making art' time for 'marketing and business running' time...potentially making fewer artworks to sell.
There is no 'right and wrong' way to think about it and no one model is better than the other - it depends greatly on the artist. However, in either scenario we see that a $2000 painting provides enormous value for the buyer and does not translate to a $2000 handout for the artist. Perhaps the advantage in terms of buying from an artist directly is that you know you've entirely supported a small business and, likely, the artist is charging a fair price for their art (a price they know they can sell it at but still survive on) rather than compensating and inflating for the cost of the commission.