To Render Worthless

What’s about the worst thing you can do to devalue your art, no not that! That just devalue’s everything.

What I’m talking about is something that’s pretty common in the art field, and that’s auctioning your art for a charity.IMAG0258

How about you, are you guilty of this?

Does it devalue art? If so, why?

For years I’ve been asked by various groups, and if you are an artist I’m sure you have too.(doctors, and lawyers not so much) And that’s to donate art to their cause as a fundraiser. Do you do it? I used to do it much more than I do now, but  I still donate a few pieces a year. I have narrowed them down to the ones that either I really care about, or that still in some way benefit the donor (me!)

For some reason, unbeknownst to me, foundations feel that artists need to be the ones donating their skills with no real fiscal benefit to the artist. This is a subject chalked full of fodder for discussion that I’ll leave for another time.IMAG0260

What happens when you donate a piece of art, and it is auctioned off for less than it’s value? Who wins? The buyer wins that’s for sure, but does anyone else? The artist? The auctioneer, or organization? How about the gallery’s?

I was in the “Art About Town” weekly gathering where the discussion was exactly this. “Auctions hurt the art, the artists, and the gallery’s.”

…this made me think

I can see how it does this. Donate the painting, and it goes up for auction. Collectors and bargain hunters peruse the auction houses all the time looking for quality pieces that they can get for a fraction of what they would normally have to pay at a gallery. What sort of % goes to the artist? Sometimes nothing, zero, zip, nada! There are some organizations that will give the artist a % of the sale, but rarely does it go for what it sells for in the gallery.

More and more gallery’s are suffering because of auction houses, online sales, direct internet sales. Is it the artists responsibility to ensure that galleries prosper and continue? If you are in a gallery, the artist does bare some responsibility to the gallery. Better check your contract.

A good gallery knows the business and gets the artist the best price for their art. Bargain hunters rarely go to a gallery to purchase fine art.

nigro-brothersBut what happens when an artist in that gallery is approached and donates to cause and then auctioned off to the highest bidder? Typically only a few pieces of art are bid up beyond their valued price. The brunt goes for below value benefiting those who come to these events looking to purchase outside a gallery. Will they resale it at a higher price? They could, who’s to say?

I will reconsider those programs I donate art to, my gallery’s work hard for their 50% commission. There are a few things I donate to where the artist gets 50% of the sale price. Will it be close to it’s value? We’ll see.

I just finished a little auction of my own online using Facebook as the marketing tool. The smaller paintings I broke even on, the larger pieces went well below their value. As an artist, I still need to eat, and purchase materials, and travel expenses are crazy nowadays. I pulled 4 paintings off my shelves to sell online to help pay for expenses during the upcoming plein air season. If sales in the galleries were a little more brisk, I probably wouldn’t feel the need to do this, but as the case may be, I cannot rely on gallery sales alone. Workshops, commissions, and direct sales are a must.

For art to live and continue, the artist must live and continue.

This topic is like an outdoor artist looking for something to paint, just wandering around and around. So many different ways to go!

On the artists donating to auctions, I know this will never happen and that is a guideline that we follow before agreeing to “give” our art to the organization. Artist Drew Brophy has written up something that one might seriously take a look at. That form went something like this…

“Thank you for the opportunity to donate art to your organization.  Drew Brophy would be honored to have his artwork and his name associated with yours.

Due to the extremely heavy volume of requests from many important charities, we’ve developed guidelines that enable us to donate artwork at less than retail cost.

These requirements also help us reduce losses since current U.S. tax laws are unfavorable to artist donations.  (There is little to no write-off for artwork.)

Please consider that by offering these terms for all artist donations, your organization will:  Attract top quality, high value artwork; and over time, will become known as the go-to-organization for unique and valuable art.”

Our donation guidelines are:

  • The organization agrees to split the proceeds from the sale or auction 50/50 (50% to Drew Brophy and 50% to the organization).  We ask for payment within 5 business days of the sale.  The name, address, phone and e-mail of the buyer will be provided to Drew Brophy for his “collector’s club” records.
  • A minimum or a reserve price will be set and will be designated by Drew Brophy.  (This is required to honor the value of the artwork for our existing collectors and our partner galleries.)
  • In the event the artwork does not sell, it will be returned by the organization to Drew Brophy’s studio San Clemente, CA, within 9 business days.

If these guidelines are agreeable to you, please sign below and return this form via e-mail to ___________________

We agree to the above terms:

Name, Title______________________  Date ___________________”


Here are some benefits of giving art to charities:

1.)  You feel good about giving to a charity that you love & you get to help them further the cause

2.)  You may get media coverage (usually not)

3.)  You may gain new art collectors (this rarely happens, but it can)

I recently gave an award winning painting to a favorite charity and watched it go for less then what my gallery would have gotten for it. Not a good way to keep in favor with your gallery for sure, but it was a good cause. At that same charity function another piece went for twice it’s value. (20 times it’s value if you ask me!  😉 

There is no real rhyme or reason what will happen when your painting goes on the auction block. When I do it for myself I do benefit directly, and I will continue to do this when I need money. I equate it to the musician on the street with their hat out, or guitar case open taking donations.

We all need to eat, charities need money, and the world needs art. (some will argue that)

An artist should not have to wait till he is deceased to benefit from his art. The galleries of the “crème de la crème” are just that. Sotheby’s and Christie’s if you’re not dead or dying, slim chance you’ll be selling here. These places inherently increase the value of everything… if you get in there, let me jump on your coattails please.

Does it cheapen his art to put it into an auction with a starting bid of $25.00? Heck yes! I like what artist Diane Overmeyer said this on the subject when I did an auction to benefit my favorite charity… me…

“I have known many artists who past from this earth with a houseful of art work. Much of which is sold for pennies on the cass_street_sunflowersdollar or given away. Auctioning a few pieces of work now and then I believe might be a good thing to move some work that has not sold through other venues. This is beautiful painting and I am sure that Judy is tickled pink to be able to purchase it at such a bargain price! I’m also sure once she lives with it for a while she will be even more apt to purchase another piece from Greg! It’s high time artists get with the real world. Good sound business principles are something more artists could definitely benefit from learning about!”

I agree wholeheartedly.

What it boils down to is this intrinsic need for money. Charities, artists, galleries… even lawyers! We all need to survive and in this capitalist world we live in, and  it’s the survival of the fittest! Do what we can to create the art. Think a government that subsidized the artist would be better? Would the art then belong to them, and would they then dictate content? I like the free enterprise system myself, and that’s what we have here. Learn to work within it, and cope.

For me it’s not the person with the most possessions at their time of death that wins.