Every answer about pricing is right, but its often an answer to the wrong question

Every few years the issue of pricing for our art comes up and cycles around the internet before we move on to other things, settle our opinions in relative discomfort, and get on with life. Maybe that’s a metaphor of something in it self. I dunno. The one thing I can sense, however, is that the idea of pricing is a big question, but the answers I know are only ever very small.

Most recently Whitney Smith related her own tribulations and gave insight to a sales experience that many of us I’m sure can relate to. You can read that post here.

My own response went as follows:


There are so many different ways to look at this, from our own perspective of how much we have invested in the making, how much we need to be payed to sustain our work, pay bills, etc, how much we like particular outcomes and what counts as our best work in our own opinion, but also how our audience sees things, what they are looking for and why they should care. None of these things match up easily. Its not bad enough that we can legitimately be conflicted about our own values, but once we stop to consider our audience we can see how the perspectives on value and worth multiply depending on who we are talking to and even where our work is being found…..

Seth Godin ran a post last month that a few folks in arts advocacy circles are discussing. Well worth a read, but here is the gist:

“Thirty years ago, I asked the fabled rock promoter Bill Graham a question that I thought was brilliant, but he owned me in his response. “Bill, given how fast a Bruce Springsteen concert sells out, why don’t you charge $100 a seat and keep all the upside?” (In those days, $100 was considered a ridiculous sum for a concert ticket).

“Well, I could do that, but the thing is, I’m here all year round, and my kids only have a limited budget to spend on concerts. If I charged that much for one concert, they wouldn’t be able to come to the other shows I book…”

Bill wasn’t just spreading the money out over time. He was investing in a community that could develop a habit of music going, a community that would define itself around what he was building.”

That has to be insightful. He ends the post with this observation:

“The promise of our connected economy was that it would reward the good guys, the long-term players, the people who cared enough to contribute. The paradox is that this very same economy has become filled with people who are easily distracted, addicted to shiny objects and too often swayed by the short-term sensation or by short-term profit.

The extraction mindset leads to intelligent short-term decisions. If it costs too much to exploit a resource, move on. The network mindset values the long-term impacts of co-creation.

The network (that would be us) then needs to decide if it will continue to reward short-term thinking in order to enhance extraction, or if we care enough about the long-term that we’ll act up in favor of sustainability, raising the costs of short-term (selfish) action so it becomes ever more profitable to focus on the long-term instead.”

You can find his post here.


Seth’s response doesn’t answer every possible concern, but it does explain how valuing one thing leads in this direction and how valuing another thing leads to other outcomes….. Right and wrong are beside the point. It all depends on the end game you are targeting. Pricing is a means to an end, and therefor cannot have some objectively true determination. If you ask a different question the same answer will no longer fit.

Perhaps the best we can do is to not go into our art commerce blindly. Perhaps the best we can do is to acknowledge that there is no one right perspective, but that we can educate ourselves on the possible variety of perspectives and form our own opinion of how that works for us. Which is only ever provisional, if we suddenly discover each strategy gives with one hand and takes away with the other. The benefits of doing it one way are offset by the limitations. If you charge top dollar you no longer necessarily market to regular folks. If you ‘undercharge’ you may appeal to some folks looking for bargains but you will potentially turn off the collectors who are looking for investments. For every advantage we take aim at we no longer aim in other potentially profitable directions….. There is no one universally ‘right’ way.

If this leaves you confused, just remember that big seeming questions don’t always have big answers. Sometimes the confusion is simply the truth of having to deal with a jumble of smaller answers that each answer different but related questions in different ways. And that’s okay. Welcome to the human predicament 🙂

Happy potting!

Make beauty real!

Peace all!


About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
This entry was posted in Art, Arts advocacy, Creative industry, metacognition, Pottery. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Every answer about pricing is right, but its often an answer to the wrong question

  1. togeika says:

    You don’t have to only price one way. You can have different kinds of work for different people. Many folks have a gallery line and an everyday line. I have everyday functional work and tea ware. So there is something for everyone.
    I am shipping the tea bowl in the link below to Germany and the Keramikmuseum Westerwald, to be in their permanent collection.

  2. I love what Seth Godin quoted about community and developing a habit. Your thoughts on one hand giving and the other taking away is with who you market to is spot on!
    Thanks for the great post Carter!

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