I often hear from artists that they sold a painting for a very low sum because the collector they were selling to negotiated down the price. The artists agreed with the price because they were afraid to lose the sale. This is entirely understandable. Negotiating is hard, particularly when you are at the beginning of your career or if you are starting a new relationship with an art gallery or with an art collector. Where do you assert and where do you acquiesce? Is negotiating a matter of principle or pragmatism?
Here is what you need to know. Negotiating comes down to three things: leverage, type of negotiator and walk-away point.
First and foremost you need to understand the power dynamic of the relationship between you and the party you are negotiating with. If you are an emerging artist, for example, at the beginning of your career, and you have never had a gallery show, you don’t really have any leverage to speak of. Which means that when discussing a contract, you’ll probably want to be a bit more flexible than, say, David Hockney, who I imagine can pretty much dictate his terms to galleries. Please note that being flexible does not mean signing up for contracts with onerous exclusivity clauses or working with a gallery who does not pay you when your works sell. More on this below.
What type of negotiator are you dealing with?
There are different types of negotiators. Most people are fair negotiators who understand the value of compromising, even if they are tough and even when they have all the power in the relationship. They understand that the best deals are reached when every party leaves the table happy and that this is the way to build long-term, lasting relationships. Other negotiators take a more mercurial approach and will try to squeeze everything out of you without giving anything in return. My approach to the latter is to be as inflexible as they are, which sometimes will get you results and other times not.
What is your walk-away point?
Therefore, you have to decide when it is in your best interest to walk away from a deal. Perhaps you are asked to sell your painting for 50% of its wholesale price, which would devalue all your work. Perhaps a gallery contract being presented to you is so limiting that you would really damage your opportunities if you signed up with them. These are difficult decisions to make but if something feels wrong, it may be better to walk away - even it if hits your bottom line in the short term.
Two bonus take-aways
Luckily, negotiating is a skill that can be learned and as with anything: practice makes perfect. Here are some tips that will improve your chances of achieving a great result.
Firstly, never go into a meeting with an art collector or art gallery unprepared. When negotiating a painting sale, have your price list handy, including the maximum discount that you are prepared to give for each painting. For a gallery contract, review the contracts your friends have with their galleries (ask them nicely if they’re willing to share) and prepare a detailed list of questions. Make sure that the gallery owner explains everything to you: before signing any kind of contract you first need to understand what you are signing (and when in doubt it may be worth consulting an art attorney).
Secondly, never let yourself be forced into making a decision during a meeting or call. You are perfectly within your rights to take time to consider the terms of a potential agreement or run it past your legal advisors.
If you want to get into shape for your next painting sale or contract meeting, book a coaching session with me and we’ll sharpen up your negotiating skills!