Wednesday, September 27, 2023

What is "Affordable Art"?

This is a discussion for artists, art galleries, art fairs and art dealers - over three blog posts today, tomorrow and Friday - about:

  • What is "affordable"?
  • What is Affordable Art and how is it defined?
  • How to price Affordable Art - the really important things you need to know - find out:
    • who determines what is affordable
    • why people attach importance to specific numbers
    • what are the big price hurdles and 
    • how they can vary between countries
  • The importance of the minimum price to sales in open exhibitions
These all point in the direction of more information on this very important topic for all those trying selling art in a difficult economic context - particularly all artists, art societies, art fairs and art galleries.


What is "affordable"?

"Affordable" means something different to everybody, 
but generally means 'not expensive' relative to income
and can vary over time, place and economic context

It's a concept which relates to a very wide variety of products and services. 

"Affordable" is emphatically not the same as "cheap"
Very often it means
  • the price that people can "afford to pay" for a non-essential / discretionary good or service using any surplus income....
  • AFTER other necessary / essential demands on their income have been covered 
  • BUT it also depends on 
    • how financially secure they feel; and 
    • How big a financial 'buffer' they feel they need - and how much is left over for discretionary spending - and hence what feels "affordable"

The importance of substitution within the economic context

What seems very affordable in one year can look much too expensive in the next IF essential demands on income have increased (eg mortgage interest rate rises; inflation rate increases)

In this context, people can still have budgets which allow some spending - but not so much as before. Which means "affordable" can have moving goalposts.

Practical examples include:
  • people still have treats - but they are maybe not as big or as expensive (equivalent to still buying art - but at lower prices)
  • people take staycations rather than holidaying abroad because they are deemed more affordable. ( equivalent to people buying art online rather than from galleries because it's a popular thing to do - and also because nobody needs to know you used to buy more expensive art elsewhere)

What is "Affordable Art" and how is it defined?

In the context of art, very rich people are still very rich and can still afford to buy expensive art. But this is utterly irrelevant for most players in the art marketplace.

In my view (and from observation), in a time of economic difficulty, something usually happens within the vast numbers of people on "middle incomes" who like art and have bought it in the past
  • People who have bought expensive art in the past can 
    • start trading down and 
    • start buying more affordable art when they are feeling the pinch. 
  • They're still buying art - but just not spending so much. 
    • So they buy less (reduced sales)
    • or they buy at lower prices (changing the range of prices they're happy looking at)
Plus let's not forget, many artists who sell their "more affordable" art online commented that they made MORE money during the pandemic than they had ever done because people had the money spare for small treats - and couldn't get into the art galleries who were typically also much less good at marketing online!

So what's my definition of Affordable Art?

Affordable Art is:

  • the artwork people buy when starting to collect
  • the artwork artists sell when starting to exhibit (or should be! Some artists have absolutely no understanding whatsoever of how prices are determined)
  • the artwork that people buy if their budget is somewhat constrained
  • the art which keeps selling to those on middle incomes when the economic context is difficult/not good;
  • the artwork artists sell to create a steady stream of income - because it's much easier to sell volume at lower prices because there are more buyers
  • a brand for getting people into "affordable art" fairs - even if they don't always sell only "affordable" art!

Art Galleries and Affordable Art

I'm very much of the opinion that some art galleries "get it" and some don't - in terms of identifying themselves as places to buy affordable art. 

However I have noticed that some have started recently to use the term "affordable" more often. Needs must etc. "Affordable" is very much a keyword in marketing art right now!

However others have been doing it for some time. Below is what came up on the first page of Google in response to my Google query about "affordable art" and it is, by the way, NOT a sponsored advert.

For example, The Bankside Gallery gets it! It is
  • a public gallery - which is FREE to enter
  • an educational charity
  • home of the Royal Watercolour Society and the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers
  • has a meta description for the home page of its website which states 
"High quality, affordable, original artwork, available to buy online from a diverse group of over 200 artists. Bankside Gallery is the home of the Royal Watercolour Society and the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers"
  • plus they ALWAYS have 
    • stacks/racks of unframed artwork for sale - which is unrelated to the current exhibition 
    • regular (typically at least annual) small works sales of more affordable art - typically just before Christmas
    • a website which enables people to buy affordable art online
Thus they have a marketing drive around affordable art reflected in the way in which
  • it markets itself online
  • it provides affordable art to buy in the gallery all year round.

Art Fairs and Affordable Art - the price range for affordable art

Interestingly "affordable art" is a term which has typically been more associated with art fairs rather than art galleries. 
  • I'm minded to think that's because many galleries are being a bit too snooty about themselves - even if the majority of art they display falls within a notional range of affordable prices. 
  • However now that art galleries are very keen to have a presence at art fairs where shopping for art is so much easier for people with limited time budgets, I think we're beginning to see art fairs trying to look more like art galleries and the price range for affordable art INCREASED as a result!! (See the pricing guidelines for Affordable Art Fairs below to see what I mean)
Some art fairs try to be helpful - but in my opinion they fall short. This is the Affordable Art Fair's article about What does Affordable Art Mean? In summary:
  • affordable does not mean "cheap"
  • the focus is on living artists rather than the secondary market (of art being resold)
  • they like to spot emerging artists and trends
  • it's all quality stuff
The term ‘affordable’ clearly means so much more than just the price tag. 
BUT interestingly they don't discuss what "affordable" means or provide any guidance on the range of prices at all!! I'm not surprised. In my view the Affordable Art fair has strayed way outside most people's understanding of "affordable art".  (see more below!)

This is the information that suppliers - those wanting to take a stand at an Affordable Art fair - are told.
What are the price ceilings for each of the global fairs?
All works submitted must fall under the price ceilings listed below, per fair.
  • Amsterdam – €10,000
  • Brussels – €10,000
  • Berlin – €10,000
  • Hamburg – €10,000
  • Stockholm – SEK90,000
  • Battersea – £7,500
  • Hampstead – £7,500
  • New York – $12,000
  • Austin – $10,000
  • Sydney – AU$10,000
  • Melbourne – AU$10,000
  • Brisbane – AU$10,000
  • Singapore – SG$15,000
  • Hong Kong – HK$100,000
  • Shanghai – Y100,000
I have one simple question. What percentage of the population would define ANY of these as their limit for "affordable"?

Also note that back in 2010, when I did some research - since when inflation has largely flatlined  until recently - I identified that different places define the price range for affordable art it in different ways.

Tomorrow I'll tell you more about what the public think is affordable in "The important things to know about pricing Affordable Art" 

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