Why Are Artists Poor? The Exceptional Economy of the Arts

By Hans Abbing | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Structural Poverty Do Subsidies and Donations Increase Poverty?

Subsidies Make Artists Lose Interest in Selling

Nicole draws in Alex's life drawing class. She has recently left art school.
Although she is a good artist, she has yet to find a gallery. The following
weekend she is going to join an annual `open studios exhibition' in her
neighborhood and she asks Alex for advice about pricing her work. Alex
asks her what kind of prices she has in mind. Alex thinks they're much too
high. He asks her if she really wants to sell. Nicole says she's desperate to
sell. If she doesn't earn some money soon, she may have to stop making
art. So Alex suggests that Nicole lowers her prices by approximately forty
percent. (Couching his words, he advises her to set prices so as to maxi
mize sales.) Nicole is shocked and objects, but in the end she lowers her
prices. That weekend she ends up selling some etchings and three draw
ings.

Alex has come to the realization that after art school, most students tend to
price their work too high. They determine their prices based on the costs it
took to make a particular work including a fair remuneration for their labor.
Gallery owners usually inform them that with these kinds of prices they
won't sell a thing and in the end recoup none of their costs. Low prices
seem unfair. Nevertheless, gallery owners demand lower prices from start
ing artists.

Robin is an ex-student of Alex's. He left art school a year ago. He recently
received a government grant for promising young visual artists. He has
been offered a show in an alternative space. As there is no dealer involved,
he has asked Alex to help select the work for the show. Alex casually asks
about the prices he intends to ask. Predictably, his prices are far too high.
In a long argument, Alex tries to convince Robin to lower his prices, unsuc
cessfully.

At some stage in their discussion, Alex tells Robin that like other young
artists the prices he is asking are way too high for his work. Robin furiously
objects that he cannot be compared with other novices. To be subsidized
by the government means that he is a `promising young artist'. Only then
does Alex begin to realize, that the foolish behavior of Robin has been

-124-

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