In most businesses, you are trying to sell something to someone. The more perfected your offering becomes, the more it is wanted and so, the more you are supposedly able to sell. This is how business works.
But not Fine Art. It has a peculiar way of reacting to the commercialization of itself. “Successful” commercialization in “Fine Art” actually diminishes the possibility to engage or even participate in exclusive markets. Mass appeal eliminates the possibility for growth in pricing and market positioning. If you sell your work too cheap then it will be considered cheap. If everyone knows of it and desires it, then it appears too commercial.
But artists need to eat right? Isn’t it better to sell at ANY price so you can sustain your business, your art making? I am not so sure.
You kill yourself to survive, doing what you can including selling at any price. Maybe your selling prints, originals out of your studio—Success begins to creep in and then you realize the galleries and prices you are after are possibly becoming more distant as your lower end commercial success increases. By selling prints for example or in the local ice cream store or doing open studios perhaps, you are signaling that your work is at a certain price point. It is at a certain level and is a certain kind of work.
Making prints of your work—taking a popular image and selling it as a more inexpensive offering does, I am afraid to say, have an effect on the more higher quality originals—It cheapens or lessens the possibility of your work being taken seriously. This is only a perceived effect of course. It is not real but only matters because consumers – collectors seem to have this perception. It matters not that you need to survive. It seems the only way to avoid being placed in a particular market (even if it is profitable and that takes a LOT of work) is to avoid it. The only recourse an artist has is to limit and turn certain income possibilities away if they are not part of the eventual desired market you are seeking.
After surviving on selling prints of my originals for years, I finally stopped even though this was profitable. I have no problem with selling prints that are inexpensive compared to my originals. The market, however, does. So I stopped. I am focused on making my originals more exclusive and more and more expensive.
I recently had an email conversation with a designer who I have worked with for years. He inquired about purchasing a series of prints for his clients of my work. Since I no longer make prints it took me a minute to decide to say no and turn this possible income away. Oddly, once I told him I am no longer selling prints he wrote back “I am thrilled to hear that you have discontinued doing prints! It is always what I wanted for your work. I am keeping an eye on you and hope to sell a painting one of these days.”
His congratulations and the tone of his reply felt like I had won something. Basically I sold nothing and he goes and finds another artist who he can purchase prints from…It is like I have broken through a glass ceiling of somehow elevating my work so fewer can afford it. Now I have even fewer possibilities for paying for my life! What a strange business.