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My Seasonal Stress Disorder: DISCOUNTS

DollargrIn early December, we are mid-stream in the holiday shopping frenzy including open studios and holiday craft shows. This could be the right time to bring up the important topic of discounts.

I strongly disagree with the premise of discounts for one-of-a-kind art or craft. Every holiday season, I whither like a dried-up fall leaf as I watch the art and craft world try to compete in a shop till you drop world of consumer discounts.

Ten years ago I wrote a document about DISCOUNTS for the PROFESSIONAL GUIDELINES. The opinions in this document were reviewed,  evaluated, supported, and edited by Bruce Metcalf, Board Liaison and Contributing Editor; Suzanne Baizerman, curator; Tami Dean, production artist; Marilyn da Silva, artist; Lloyd Herman, curator; Cherry LeBrun, owner of DeNovo Gallery; Marc David Paisin, Attorney at Law; Dana Singer, Executive Director of SNAG; Lynda Watson, metalsmith; and Caroll Webb production artist.  

HotbuttonRecently an article was brought to my attention titled,
Discussion: Are Promotional Sales Appropriate in the Art World?  This article chooses to focus on very important points regarding the issue. It is well worth the time to read the article. Jason Horejs actually combines several points under three headers.*

Here are the
Disadvantages of Discounts

               from the

Discounts can create disadvantages for both the artist and the gallery. 

A) Discounts create uncertainty about the VALUE of the artwork.  Discounting gives the message that the work was perhaps not worth its initial price, and may diminish what customers are willing to pay.  Thus, in the long run, discounting can erode value. By not discounting, a consistent value is maintained for the work.

B) Discounts create uncertainty about the stated PRICE of artwork.  If it is widely known that a gallery will negotiate prices, buyers will regard the posted retail price as fiction and will expect a discounted price as a starting point for negotiation.

C) Discounting creates the impression that art should be bargained for, like items in a flea market.  Many craftspeople find this highly undignified.

D) If an artist’s work is discounted in one gallery and not another, and buyers become aware of it, sales at the gallery that refuses to give discounts may be discouraged.

E) Discounts can encourage price competition between galleries, which is not in the best interest of either artists or galleries.

F) Giving discounts selectively may imply that some collectors are more important than others.  Many collectors know one another, whether or not they live in the same area.  If some customers receive discounts and others do not, word may get around and cause ill feelings.

G) When buyers negotiate for discounts, the discount becomes the object of discussion instead of the artwork itself.

H) Once a customer receives a discount from a gallery, he or she will expect a discount on all future purchases from that gallery.


Password Mezuzah © 2012
Recycled post-consumer tin cans
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman

In our society, price establishes worth and value.  For better or worse, the common denominator in the marketplace is the dollar, and worth is measured by what is paid.  It is the job of both the artist and the gallery to establish the value of the artist’s work (by virtue of its uniqueness, craftsmanship, reputation, and quality), and remind people that this worth is reflected in its price.

Berman Mezuzah Yellow Flower  from recycled tin cansScrollLEM
Yellow Flower Scroll Mezuzah © 2012
Recycled post-consumer tin cans
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman



The actual selling price confirms the value.  If the selling price is negotiable, then the value is questionable as well.  And then the discounted price is the true value, not the retail price.  As a result, it’s in every artist’s interest to maintain close control over the selling prices of his or her work.

More insights and remedies can be gained by reading both the article listed above by Jason Horejs AND the DISCOUNTS document from the PROFESSIONAL GUIDELINES.

Be aware of the impact of discounts on your work.  Approach the holiday season and the whole year with a firm understanding of the financial and reputation impact of discounts.  
*Read the comments (and clarification) below offered by Fiona Purdy.

This post was updated on July 1, 2022, to provide current links.