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Why You Should Think Twice Before Asking an Artist for a Discount

Artists are often referred to as starving artists, because we've chosen to pursue a passion, rather than make a "true living." But let's set the record straight: Artwork is work and no artist has to starve. Quite honestly, artists are innovative, resourceful, and motivated. While many of us are dreamers, we are also realists. At the end of the day, we eat. Whether we choose to be full-time artists or artists in addition to another career, we all just want our creative output to be valued and respected.

Ask any artist, and they'll tell you that one of the most difficult things to do, especially when they are new to selling, is figuring out how to price their art. There is most certainly a learning curve as we figure out how our art fits into the market, and we adjust.

But here is why you should think twice before asking any artist if you can pay less than the price set, and some advice on what you can do instead.

Being short on cash is not an excuse to ask an artist for a discount.

Being short on cash is not an excuse to ask an artist for a discount.

This is what I hear when you ask for a discount...

You may have found a work of art that speaks to your soul and you may truly be short on cash. But when you ask me for a discount on something I created with my hands, what I hear is, "I like it, but it's not worth what you're asking."

Now, you may very well believe it's not worth what I'm asking, but that's your opinion.

Take a moment to consider that when you purchase a work of art, it's not just the final product you're getting. You are purchasing a piece of the artist's creative mind, the sketches that helped formulate the final artwork, the supplies the artist had to purchase, the time the artist took to create the work, the mistakes they had to fix, the rent they may pay for their studio space, the courage they had to gather to put their creation out for public viewing, the energy they put into promoting their website or social media so that you came across their art, and the insecurities the artist had to fight off so that they wouldn't destroy the art before you had a chance to admire it or buy it.

Studio shot with in-progress painting. Photo by Corinna Nicole

Studio shot with in-progress painting. Photo by Corinna Nicole

I'm not a factory.

But if I were to think of myself as a factory, let me clarify that the machines creating each piece of artwork are my hands, my intellect, my creativity, my originality, my vision and my heart.

I am NOT made of steel, housed in a huge building, operated by buttons that are pushed by a number of people, with the ability to produce a million copies of one thing.

Everything I create takes time, energy, care and attention to detail. Once I create something, I can never reproduce it to exactness with my hands. So when you buy original art from me, you are indeed purchasing something that does not exist anywhere else, and cannot be replicated by anyone, not even myself.

I empty my pockets in order to make art.

Unless an artist makes their work strictly of found objects, recycled/donated items, or trash, chances are the artist is spending their own money on supplies and their studio space. Especially if they haven't made millions off of selling their art.

Let's put things in perspective: I create art because I love it. It's an urge I have. So, I purchase supplies and accommodations in order to create the things that I want and need to create. Then, all I can do is hope that someone will buy my art, so that I'll make a profit and can then spend that money on more art supplies (and of course food and other things that help me survive so I can continue to make art). But let me tell you, I have a lot of art in my studio that has not been sold. So if you can imagine my art as a product of a loan I took out from myself, you can bet I've acquired quite some debt!

Remember this: Artists generally don't get paid hourly. We only get paid when (if) our art sells and what it sells for.

Art supplies and studio spaces generally aren't cheap! Photo by Corinna Nicole

Art supplies and studio spaces generally aren't cheap! Photo by Corinna Nicole

Art is worth more than the shoes you just splurged on.

I get it. We all have something we are passionate about and are willing to drop some serious cash for. For some it's designer shoes. For others it's getting a mani/pedi every 2 weeks. A lot of those things we splurge on last only a short while before we have to throw them out, or replace them, or maintenance them. Art, however, can last a lifetime as long as you properly care for it. Art can be appreciated for decades upon decades and can be passed on from generation to generation. Sometimes, the value of artwork even increases!!! You can't really say that about many of our "must-have" splurges.

"Ok, I hear you, but I really don't have the money."

You may genuinely be tight on cash, but still want to support an artist. I understand. I don't always have the money to buy art, either. So here are some alternative ways of thinking if you are really digging someone's art.

  • Consider trade. If you have something other than money to offer the artist, there's no harm in asking. If you have a skill or access to something that you think the artist might be interested in, ask them what would be a fair trade. Perhaps you build furniture and can build the artist a flat-file for them to store their drawings? Or maybe you're a tattoo artist and can offer them a tattoo of equal value. Are you a graphic designer? Well, artists need business cards - lots of them! Even if you're an artist yourself - I may be a huge fan of your work. Let's trade art! Just think outside of the box, but be fair. Don't offer them a copy of the book you just published that's selling for $15/copy, but you want an original painting that costs $150.
  • Put it on your wish list. Is your birthday coming up? Did your parents just ask what you want for Christmas? Well, if you've been eyeing a piece of art, there's no harm in asking your family or loved ones to get it for you as a gift! And I'm sure they'll feel a lot better about giving you some art you really want, versus a gift card.
  • Buy it in good faith. Chances are, if you support your friend/the artist by buying their art, they'll turn around and support you when you need it.
  • Buy a print (a generated copy), instead. If you don't have the money to buy the real thing and have nothing to offer for trade, consider buying a print (if it's 2-dimensional art). Ask the artist if prints are available, as they will be far cheaper than the original. Just remember, we (the artists) still have to pay for production costs to have the print made of our art. For an 8x10 inch print, it may cost the artist $15 to order plus shipping costs. In order for us to make profit, we have to bump that price up. So don't ask for a discount on a print either, because we are likely already losing half of our asking price.
  • Start saving! If you are an art-lover and know you want to collect art, start saving by setting money aside every paycheck for your future art purchases. When you've got money saved specifically for buying art, you'll be less inclined to ask for a discount and more inclined to buy art that's in your budget.
  • Wait. Often, artists will mark down their prices if a piece hasn't sold over a certain period of time. Sometimes, artists have Christmas specials or promotional discounts if you sign up for their newsletter. So, check their websites frequently if you are a fan of their overall body of work. If you're in love with a certain work of art, waiting might not always be in your favor. Someone else may purchase the piece you're eyeing!
  • Ask the artist if they have "lay-away." Some artists may be willing to hold art for you if you aren't able to pay in full up-front. Offer a down-payment and work out a payment plan that works for both you and the artist.
  • Be honest. Tell the artist how much you admire their art and that you'd love to own it, but at this time you only have X amount of dollars. Let the artist decide how they want to move forward. Maybe they're willing to waive the shipping costs. Maybe they were just about to mark it down. Maybe they offer you a lay-away plan. Or maybe they can't make any accommodations but they'll thank you for sharing your admiration of their art. The important thing here is that the artist gets to decide what they want to do.
  • Last, but not least, promote the artist and their art. If you aren't able to support an artist monetarily, you can still support them by giving them exposure. Share, share, share! The more an artist's work is viewed, the more likely they'll make sales. And who knows, if the artist has more sales, perhaps they'll be able to afford offering a promotional discount. ;)

The Real Value of Art

Hopefully, after reading this, you understand that art is so much more than the finished product. Art is quite frankly invaluable. As Christian Morgenstern said, "In every work of art, the artist himself is present." When you acquire an artist's work of art you acquire the artist's heart, mind, and spirit; their hopes, fears, and dreams.

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Some more thoughts to consider:

"Art is not what you see, but what you make others see." - Edgar Degas

"Every artist dips his brush in his soul and paints his own nature into his paintings." - Henry Ward Beecher

"Creativity takes courage." - Henri Matisse

"Art is not always about pretty things. It is about who we are, what happened to us, and how our lives are affected." - Elizabeth Broun

" The real value of art is not always revealed by the price set upon it." - Jeffrey Loria


Ziv Kong from Malaysia on November 20, 2013:

Good writing. I'm a Multimedia Design and I got quite a lot of engagement with clients that needed graphics for their products. I admit that I might not draw as good as some great artist out there but I kinda hate when some of them saying 'Just draw something, it's an easy job for you... you might not even have to think about it. So do it free for me' .... I feel you...

Corinna Nicole (author) from Huntsville, AL on May 06, 2013:

Thanks Boots Iacano! I think all different types of artist should write up a break down of costs, so people will better understand and stop asking for hookups!

Boots Iacono from Northern New Jersey on May 06, 2013:

The same can be said of friends thinking they can get tattoos for free if their 'boy' is a tattoo artist. When you consider the cost of ink for a 1oz bottle goes anywhere between $7 (low end soy ink) and $30 (super high-end blacklight reactive ink), the cost of a needle is anywhere from $.55 to $5.95 if you buy bulk, disposible tubes are about $.55 each, the cleaning products that disinfect work areas, paper towels, aftercare, bags, clipcord covers, autoclave operation, skin disinfectants, stencil sheets, ink caps, grommets, rubber bands, electricity, mold spore detection kits, health department pop in visits, rent, employee paychecks, and all the damned time it takes for them to get you to make it absolutely PERFECT (because, for some reason, even though you're giving it to them for free, they want it done better than the tattoo they paid 300 for down the shore during prom weekend) especially when your walk-ins are walking out because they are taking too long. Yeah, I get it. great Hub.

Corinna Nicole (author) from Huntsville, AL on April 06, 2013:


Thank you SO much for reading and commenting! It feels good to be understood. All creatives should get paid fairly for their work, because while in most other careers you can clock in and out, we can not. We are only getting paid for our products - not the time we work to create them.

Thank you for voting up! :) I wish you the best in your writing career as well!

anndango on April 06, 2013:

Life of an Artist - thanks for this article. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Somehow people just don't get it - that you are making a living by being an artist. That is your profession. You have bills to pay and food to put on the table just like everyone else. Most people think of art as a hobby - that you are doing it because you love it and therefore shouldn't be making money. I'm sure many doctors and teachers love what they do to and we would never think of not paying them or think of haggling with them.

I'm a freelance writer and fiction writer. My mother is an artist (painter and potter) and it is how she made her living. She didn't haggle. She treated it like a business because it was a business. She was in the business of being an artist. Just like I'm in the business of being a writer. I expect to get paid and I demand fair payment, and I do.

People see the art side of things, but forget there is also the business side of it as well.

All the best with your endeavors! Voted up.

Corinna Nicole (author) from Huntsville, AL on April 06, 2013:

@W Dorsey

I appreciate your comment and input. You are right, art is about expression which is an artist's main purpose. It has become more of a commodity than it used to.

But I also have to argue that long ago, commissioning artists to do portraits, paint the walls and ceilings of buildings, etc, was very common. Artists were able to make a living from their talent - they were respected highly as incredibly valuable people.

But we don't get commissioned anymore like artists used to.

They say that if artists work on their art 50% of their time, they should put just as much time into promoting their art - the other 50% of the time. And on top of that, we all are expected to hold down part time and full time jobs just to be able to pay rent - so now we can't even fully commit to making art, without having to give up everything else we enjoy, like spending time with friends or getting some sleep.

Artists should be able to make a living from their art. I don't feel that I am being arrogant - but I understand that our requests to get paid what we're owed may sound arrogant to everyone else.

You're right - haggling and such is common in many places, but that doesn't mean I have to succumb to it. Many people do NOT know what goes into being an artist, musician, etc - this article is meant to open people's eyes to that, b/c many do not think about all that comes before the final product.

I recently chose to have an art auction of my art - at which I set the starting price as low as $5 for something I normally asked $40. Many of my friends walked out with pieces for $7-12. I did this b/c I still want my art to be accessible. And I will continue to make art that is accessible.

But when I set the prices I set, I set them for specific reasons - I need to make some kind of profit after all the money I've spent to make it.

W Dorsey on April 06, 2013:

It's part of the culture, cutting out the middleman always invites negotiations. That's the beauty of it, you control what you charge for your work. People who get indignant or lowball you to death can go to hell though, that is an insult. The parts of Mexico I have visited near the border have a lot of stands and kiosk type street vendors who usually make their own products and negotiating/haggling is expected. Artists need to be open minded and flexible to the consumer, just because you worked hard on something doesn't automatically give it value and if you expect a certain amount for a piece then you might end up waiting for a while for someone willing to pay it. I disagree with this article and see it as arrogant to expect that what you value your work at is automatically what people should pay. Art is art, if you expect to support yourself on it just because you consider yourself an artist then you already got away from what art is all about.

Many classic artists were not renowned for their work during their lifetime. Most artists have other jobs and seeking out commission work if they want to earn from their craft. I don't know why people expect it to be any different today just because a select few were fortunate enough or talented enough to gain popularity or fame during their lifetime SMH, what a world. Just like it says, artists are not machines, so why expect appreciation in machine form of dollars when art is about expression and not meant to be a job.

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