On potentially underpricing artwork

This past week I was in the process of helping organize a large show of my work (25 paintings) at a gallery in downtown Durham. The gallery director and I ended up having a very interesting conversation about assigning prices to artwork. She said that she had read my statement about why I price my work the way I do and understood what I was doing, but nevertheless was concerned that I had priced the work too inexpensively. She said she feared that if you price work too low, people might not have respect for it. I countered that if there were people who thought that way, I didn’t really want them buying my pictures anyway because clearly their motives are not in alignment with mine.

But it did make me think, and I’m still thinking about it now. Does she have a point? This echoes something I heard recently on the art world documentary The Price of Everything on HBO. One of the gallerists or auctioneers on the show said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “art has to be valued as highly as possible so that it gets taken care of. If art didn’t have a high monetary value, it wouldn’t have survived all these 100s of years.” I found this statement very interesting, and there’s definitely logic to it. Let’s say you’re moving and you only have room for one more thing but there are two things you really want to take—one with high monetary value and the other with high sentimental value—which one would you choose?

Of course, there’s always the chance that my work will increase in value over time and the people who purchased something of mine because they loved it and connected with it will eventually be rewarded financially (most likely after I’m long gone). But the immediate question is, will the work be taken care of in the meantime in order to outlive me? That’s ultimately the question that this gallery director was asking, and I don’t know the answer.