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What price, cost?

Posted in Debate, Opinion by Adele Todd on May 31, 2008

Recently a friend called me quite aggravated by something that happened to them. They had gone to a show and had enquired about the cost of work by two artists. One of the two they have known forever, the other, they have supported from the start of their career. My friend wanted to know the cost of the work, and the artist said that he had not priced anything. Then when my friend was taking his second walk through, he saw a friend of his buying the same work that he had enquired about.

The second artist did give him a price for his work, and it was so very, very much higher than the work that he had bought from him before, that it gave him pause.

It may seem that I am obsessed with what things cost at the moment, and in a way, I am. I am focused on it because I am concerned about the trends in art pricing in Trinidad and Tobago at this time. I am concerned because artists might be doing themselves in with the way things are being priced. The reason that I write so much about cost is because I want to know more about quality and what people are buying. Will the work appreciate in value or not?

Artists may be running the risk of their work staying within the pricing range that they presently believe to be higher, for a very long time. So in the end, their work will not keep up with inflation and other world market trends. This can happen if the market does not manage to educate the public about value.

This upward cost trend is certainly new, and I do believe that an artist has all right to value their work as they see fit. It may not be known that some artists deliberately value their work higher when they do not want to sell it. Or they want a particular person to have it. It may seem an odd strategy, but it is done. Also the higher prices can mean that the artist gets more of their value for their work as the seller gets for their commission of the work.

Of late, watercolour works seem to be priced neck and neck with oil painting, and the technical skills of both are not discussed at all.

Dead artists continue to sell well, and for some people having a work is more important than having a great or good piece by the deceased.

In some ways, the art market in Trinidad has become a real market place. Yet the concern is, do people actually ask the right questions about what they buy or would like to buy?

So often, people ask me things about art that they should ask openly. But they ask me in a very tentative, shy way, afraid that they may sound stupid.

When you invest your money in a piece of art, whether you spend $50 or $50,000, you have all right to ask whatever you need to ask. At the end of the day, you are moved to buy art for the impression it leaves on you, so ask the questions, your worth it.

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