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When You Discount Your Art, Are You Only Losing Money?

My first solo exhibition was held in a large open architected space. It was easy to see my paintings at a distance and up close, the venue was excellent. I was graduating from Antioch College, the year was 1964. I hung the work, a range of large and somewhat smaller paintings and made a price list with my name and contact information. There was no formal opening nor a reception, just an opportunity for many people to see paintings and find out who made them.

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Learning to Write, Handmade paper with embedded calligraphy fragments, 14 inches square

To my surprise and pleasure I was contacted by someone whose name I do not remember but whose company name I remember well. Springfield Publishing Company. Antioch is in Yellow Springs, Ohio near Springfield, Dayton, Cincinnati and other far larger cities.

The price on the painting was $40. All of the prices were close in numbers, it wasn’t the least nor most expensive. After the high compliments and flattery, the person asked whether or not I would accept $35 for the painting. I hesitated, then agreed. The sale was made, I got paid, and the painting went to the new owner who said it would be hanging in the executive suite of the company.

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Balancing Act, Handmade paper with embedded calligraphy fragments, 14 inches by 18 inches

Now comes the tale for reflection. Rather than congratulating myself on the sale, I remember thinking that the person could have paid the full price had he wanted to. What did he think of the work, did he like it more or less with a discount? Why did he ask for a discount? But I was trying to imagine his motivations rather than thinking about my own decision making process. How I felt about the sale was what was important, and I did not feel good about it. I decided then that I would never again bargain for some perceived advantage in order to make a sale.

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Mu or Nothingness, ceramic plate, private collection

I have followed my own advice for 50 years and have never changed my viewpoint. I recommend the same to all artists. It doesn’t matter if it is an individual, a museum, a well known collector or collection, a corporate or private person (including relatives) who wants to buy your work. From the viewpoint of the artist, they should all be viewed as the same. Do not discount your art. If you do not respect yourself and your work in full, others will not either.

If you disagree or your experiences are different, please leave a comment below.

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Rona Conti

Rona Conti is a painter and calligrapher whose artwork is represented in numerous public, private and corporate collections and museums in the United States and internationally. English editor for Beyond Calligraphy, in 1999, she began studying Japanese calligraphy with (Mieko) Kobayashi Sensei of Gunma from whom she received her pen name (魂手恵奈). Invited to exhibit calligraphy at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art with the International Association of Calligraphers for the last five years, she received the “Work of Excellence" Prize three times. She was invited to demonstrate Japanese Calligraphy at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 2009. Her handmade paper artwork is produced in New York City at Dieu Donne Papermill.

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