Monday, July 6, 2020

The art of pricing art

Much in the same way that the Barclays Bank branch at Game City caters for almost everyone, the ongoing exhibition at the National Museum and Art Gallery has something for the shallow to the deep-pocketed.

The cheapest piece sells for P350 but if you have any compelling desire to have that huge acrylic-on-canvas painting hanging on your sitting-room wall, then you must be prepared to fork out a cool P34 680.

Each of the artists whose paintings are on display would have their own reasons for why they priced their work the way they did but in as far as art business works, all art is priced according to the same basic principles.

The latter are quite a healthy smorgasbord and include considerations of an artist’s reputation, who they are exhibiting with, collectability of their works, experience, record of consistent sales in a particular medium and price range, prices charged by other artists in a geographical area creating similar art with comparable accomplishments, experience, and quality of work and record of consistent sales in a particular price range. It is also generally recommended that if an artist is in a group show or exhibition, his/her piece should be priced competitively with those of fellow artists and that oil paintings should cost more than acrylic ones.

Basic physical characteristics (size, subject matter, colour, complexity, weight, detail, cost of materials) as well as time taken to create artwork and mental labour are as important.

Whilst some artists make the size of a painting the main factor when they price their works, it says something that the Mona Lisa is relatively small in size. This is the most famous masterpiece in western culture that was created by Leonardo da Vinci and now hangs at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. There are also artists who price art on the basis on what emotions went through them during the creation phase or what level of attachment they have with a particular painting.

They would do well to seriously consider the viewpoint of someone who observed that all professions evoke varying levels of emotional intensity “but you rarely see the prices of milk, plumbing, clothes, or other goods or services fluctuate wildly as a result.”

A case can be made that on one level, the pricing structure of the National Museum exhibition seems to contest instead of preserve the aforesaid principles of pricing art.

Uhuru Kgope, an art teacher at Naledi Senior Secondary School, agrees with that view and offers reasons why that is so. Firstly, he says that it would be extremely difficult to apply international best practices in the Botswana case because of where the general level of art development is.

“Most of our artists didn’t go to art school – some only went as far as Form 5, and if we were to use international standards, they would be kept out of the market,” Kgope says.

To what has been stated about elements that influence pricing art, he adds that the general level of art appreciation and critique in the local media is way too rudimentary to be used as a yardstick to appraise an artist’s work.

“That is what happens in other countries: one’s art is valued on the basis of what has been written about it. Generally, Botswana don’t have writers whose criticism can be used as a realistic basis for evaluating the quality of an artist’s work,” says Kgope who, in 2009, won Thapong Visual Artists Centre prize for artist of the year.

The National Museum and Art Gallery exhibition runs until the end of this month.

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