Can I Ask for a Discount when Buying Art?

Part of our Art Buyers’ Questions, Answered series.

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The Discount “Faux-Pas”

You might already know that there is a faux pas around asking for discounts when buying art, and that doing so might result in an artist or dealer getting offended, or even coldly rejecting your business.

When the time comes for your next art purchase, you might have the following questions…

Q: Is the discount faux-pas a real thing?
A: Yes, it is.

Q: So, discounts are never given in the art world?
A: Of course they are. All the time.

Q: Huh??? Ok, so how do I get a discount?
A: If you are fishing around for a discount simply for the sake of a discount, you are part of the reason why the faux pas exists. Read on!

Art professionals resent giving discounts NOT because of the reduced earnings on an individual sale (although that hurts, too) – but because they are tired of not receiving the professional recognition that is given (by default) to other professions, and constantly having the value of their service called into question.

Hence, the harsh reaction to questions about discounts, and the faux pas around asking for them.

Now surely some readers are thinking…

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Cry Me A River, Artists… Some of Us Have to Work Real Jobs

Remember – creatives have HIGHLY romanticized careers. In films, ads, social media, and beyond, we hear the same story of a creative career filled with struggle and suffering, but the sacrifices being rewarded by the act of creation itself.

While the stereotype is accurate in some cases – with many creatives choosing their careers largely out of passion – artists quickly learn that it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. They are running a business, and like any other business venture, it’s extremely difficult to succeed. A significant portion of the work comprises the tasks of “real jobs” – accounting, networking, marketing, writing proposals, and so on.

For most artists, aside from the rare (and blessed!) few, this romantic bubble is burst early on in their careers. In the public imagination, however, the illusion lives on. Creative careers have thus largely become detached from other (less romanticized) professional paths, where financial reward for services is implied.

For example. When you call a plumber, or get a haircut, there is rarely room for discussion around financial matters. Nor is it common, unless a mistake was made, or the services did not meet your expectations, that you’d consider asking for a discount.

Artists, meanwhile, are frequently asked to offer their services (which benefit society as per any other service) for free, for unliveable wages, or in exchange for something non-monetary, such as the ever-dreaded payment by exposure.

A minor digression on payment by exposure: it’s WAY more degrading than asking for a discount

It’s a tale as old as time: an “offer” from a commercial property to showcase our artist’s work in their lobby, and when we tell them this is not a free service, they describe the incredible exposure that would be awarded to us and the artist. The owner has their space transformed by beautiful, expensive art… and we get exposure. Does that exchange seem reasonable? Imagine telling your plumber that instead of paying them, you’ll tell the world about their amazing services!

But You Said Discounts Are Still Happening…?

Many artists have bought into a romanticized notion of their creative paths, as described above, and consider discounts, payment by exposure, and working for free, as a natural part of the process – a necessary evil. These artists tend to be early on in their careers. And to be fair – some artists truly are not financially motivated.

Other artists disagree with offering discounts, payment by exposure, or working for free – for all of the reasons previously mentioned – but are simply desperate and have no other choice.

So yes, you may get a discount by exploiting either of the situations above – but this is not behaviour we condone!

Now, if you’ve made it through the above caveats / explanations / rants about the perspective of art professionals, you might recognize where it could be reasonable or appropriate to ask for a discount:

  • The artwork has signs of damage or wear.
  • The artwork is older in the artist’s catalogue.
  • You are buying multiple pieces / are a regular customer, and are inquiring (respectfully) about a bulk discount.
  • You truly cannot afford the piece, but adore it, and are not just asking for a discount for discount’s sake. In this situation, we are more inclined to recommend long-term instalment payment agreements, which many artists and galleries (including us!) are absolutely open to.

Generally speaking, if:
1. You approach these conversations from a place of respect for the artist as a professional, and
2. The answer to the question “if this artist was repairing my furnace, would I ask the same?” is YES,
then you should be okay to proceed.

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Artwork by David Dawson

It’s not All The Buyers’ Fault

Traditionally, a sentiment has been propagated by the art world that it is gauche to consider art alongside money, and that the two should be totally distinct. There is merit to this argument: not focusing on the financial side of art allows artists to be truly creative, and art buyers to buy what they love, not just what’s popular.

That said, to divorce money from art in the contemporary art world is to reject reality. And keeping art separate from money has resulted in a major lack of transparency around art pricing, and a lack of discussion and understanding from art buyers on how to approach conversations such as this one.

It could be argued that if art galleries, dealers, artists, or other art professionals are unwilling to talk about money, they can’t reasonably expect to be treated as professionals.

At ArtMatch, our goal is to do away with the aura of exclusivity and unapproachability that plagues the world of art. We are 100% transparent with pricing, and are always open to discussing your budget, concerns around valuation, or any other questions that cross your mind along your art buying journey.