Lightbulb moment: Works of art, like designer dresses, are rarely replaced free of charge
I recently delivered a two-hour workshop on pricing art to an audience of 25 photographers. The level of experience in the room varied from beginner to mid-career.
During the Q & A session, the most experienced photographer raised her hand to ask a question. A collector had contacted her several years after he purchased it, reporting that the piece had been damaged. He said that expected her to either repair the photograph or replace it. And she duly obliged.
As other numbers in the limited edition were still available, she sent him one to ‘replace’ the damaged one. She was clearly upset about this, and concerned that it would happen with other clients in the future.
The sad thing is that she didn’t think there was any other option. She thought that, as the maker, as and when a piece was damaged by whatever means – even by the client’s own doing, she was held liable. And as a result, another piece in the edition now off the market, with any possibility of profit eradicated.
I asked her:
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful, upon accidentally damaging a designer dress, to be able to get it mended or replaced for free? Fantastic, YES?”
I witnessed a lightbulb moment take place across the room. Aha! Suddenly, it didn’t make any sense at all for the artist to repair or replace the photograph.
This is not to say the client is in the wrong. He simply didn’t understand. As in so many conversations with art collectors, he needed educating.
The key of what to do in future lies in your own Terms & Conditions of Sale. Anyone who sells pieces (as maker or dealer) should clearly define how to care for a work of art and what you offer (or not) in the case of a piece needing repair. In addition to T&C, should a piece require replaceable components (e.g. lightbulbs), then you will want to provide guidelines for art care to clients, specifying the make and type of bulb to use for replacements. If something still goes wrong, you might offer repair / replacement in say the first x period but not beyond, clearly defined in the T&C.
Regardless, all sellers of art want to ensure that ownership and responsibility for a piece (including insurance) are passed to the buyer upon purchase. If you use fragile materials and collectors are knowledgeable of this, then they accept responsibility when a piece starts to disintegrate.
In the case of the photographer in question, the good news is that the next time a client goes to her reporting damage, she is likely to make an entirely new sale, much like a designer whose client reports a damaged dress. And in the case of a piece being destroyed in a flood, fire etc, then the client’s insurance company may well be the one paying the artist.
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Photographs © Chris King.