Monthly Archives: July 2011

Costly signalling behaviour – art better than a Ferrari

Normally I hesitate to share what I’ve been reading, but, in case you’re interested in the underlying psychological reasons for why we buy things, you might find American author Geoffrey Miller’s book ‘Must Have’ thought-provoking.

Miller, an evolutionary psychologist, sets out to explore the theory behind some of the key reasons we buy things, and the choices we make during the process of selection, purchase and beyond.

The book is primarily an exposure of the unspoken mechanisms of consumerism and how marketers sometimes adroitly exploit them, and sometimes show surprising ignorance of them.

The ‘Costly Signalling Behaviour’ in my title is the central thrust of the book and describes how many of the purchases we make are designed to signal aspects of our personality to others – especially as mating preludes.

The section that made me smile (as an artist) considers how commissioning a piece of art or jewellery from a local artisan displays many positive qualities about us that others should find attractive.

Miller writes: ‘A custom item, designed or specified by oneself, and handmade by a local artisan whom one met face-to-face, is a much more distinctive possession or gift.  It displays one’s resourcefulness, creativity, taste, and social skills in collaborating with the artist.’

Hear, hear!

Elsewhere Miller writes: ‘If you truly think that driving a Ferrari F430 will impress a particular person on a particular date, just spend the $1750 to rent it for a day from Gotham Dream Cars…rather than the $259,000 to buy it outright. You’d need to drive it on 150 dates before it would make more sense to buy it than rent it.’

He goes on to calculate what else one could do with the money saved, even if it takes 20 dates with the rented Ferrari to ‘close the deal’!

So if you really want to impress someone special, buy or commission for them a work of art, or a handmade piece of jewellery and walk arm in arm straight past the Ferrari dealership!

Let me know what you think!
Happy commissioning – Mike

What does a gallery do for their 40(or more) percent?

The sculpture Garden at Obsidian Art

The sculpture garden at Obsidian Art

45% commission for selling my art work?

I hear this quite often – why should I pay a gallery 45% commission to sell my art?

Well, I expect the answer varies according to how serious one is as an artist, or which other channels one uses to sell one’s work.

I know for sure that aside from achieving sales, working with a gallery can be a valuable learning experience for the new but talented artist, and in fact that 45% or whatever they charge has to cover a lot of outgoings we artists might not think of!

First and most obvious, the gallery owner has to make a living by selling art – so they need to charge a commission that reflects the skill of selecting good work that matches the audience, displaying it attractively and the costs of being present and well-informed enough to sell it.

And don’t forget – we all have business premises to pay for – but a gallery, especially on a high street, will have much higher rent or other property costs to pay than we artists usually do.

And the gallery owner has to market the gallery (and by extension, your work) – advertising, PR and website promotions all cost money.

Then there are the general running costs of a gallery – electricity and water, display equipment to buy, and so on. Even just having a credit card machine costs around £30 per month, plus an annual merchant account fee.

I sometimes wonder if artists occasionally forget that galleries are businesses?
They have to make money and are often the owner’s sole livelihood, plus their pension pot.

So what does the artist get for their 45% surrendered?

I think I can summarise these in bullet points:

  • Access to an audience of potential buyers or commission enquirers
  • Professional feedback on what the public thinks about what’s on display
  • The means of finalising the transaction – taking cards, etc
  • Marketing exposure
  • The opportunity for one’s work to be seen alongside other artists, many of whom may be well established and highly sought after
  • Lastly – credibility – being in a gallery can be a real boost to self-esteem, and professional standing

And what might a gallery expect from the artist?

Any gallery owners who have more to contribute are invited to add a comment!

  • Professionalism – deliver what’s been agreed, keep the correspondence up to date and respond to enquiries quickly
  • Submit genuinely saleable work of a high standard
  • Turn over the pieces on show often to keep the display fresh
  • Be available to answer questions
  • Be realistic about what might sell and how to price the work
  • Undertake marketing of their own and include gallery details on their emails and promotional work
  • Don’t undercut – if the piece you delivered is on your website, don’t offer to sell it for less than the gallery is charging

So,  in the spirit of my penultimate bullet point, here are the galleries Jenny and I (Vitreus Art) work with most regularly!

Do get in touch and tell me about the best (or worst) galleries you’ve visited, worked with, or bought something from!

Happy selling,
Mike