Cockpit Arts: Pricing, Value and goals, an interview with Jacob van der Beugel

Following The Pricing Decision Series by Ellen O’Hara, Head of Business Development at Cockpit Arts, here is the interview with Jacob van de Beugel on his approach to pricing, values and goals.

Earlier this year, at Collect 2010, I took part in a panel discussion organised by Crafts Magazine.  The theme was ‘Crafting a Career’.  Also on the panel was ceramist Jacob van der Beugel, who touched on a theme close to my heart – the important relationship between pricing, value and goals.  I caught up with Jacob recently and posed a few more questions on the topic…

Ellen: At the Crafting a Career event, you talked about the importance of understanding the relationship between price and how people perceive your work.  Why is this so important?

Jacob: I think what I was trying to convey was more the general perception of a maker’s work. A positive perception can be generated through consistent appearances at respected galleries, events and talks, and to avoid, even if financially beneficial for the short term, lesser quality opportunities. This way a consistent picture of quality and ambition can be generated for the long term. An essential part of this perception is generated through price. I have always felt that to command a strong position in the Arts one must set one’s stall out right from the start. Putting a confident and strong price on one’s work is a statement of intent. It goes without saying that this price shouldn’t seem arrogant or enormously inflated. This way the public are immediately aware of your ambitions and a positive perception is created from the start.

This systematic building-up of one’s perception, has the unfortunate consequence of possible short-term financial problems. If one can withstand this, then one is the better for it in the long run. It is my opinion that the only makers who make a living solely from their discipline are the makers at the top. To achieve this, a long term strategy is key.

Ellen: Has your approach to pricing evolved as your career has evolved?  If so how?

Jacob: When I first started I increased my prices every year. I did this because I wanted to show that the work collectors had bought was increasing in value, also simply because I needed more return from each piece. This increase in price was in conjunction with more ambitious work and higher quality pieces. Eventually increasing the price in this way has to curve out, but it was important to do it methodically but never too aggressively.

Now my work is comprised of large scale architectural commissions and smaller one-off pieces. I feel that my pricing strategy, along with my long-term view has paid off. People feel confident to commission these large projects because of a general perception.

A very important factor has been to never remain static creatively. I have always had the need to refine, develop and explore. I have always embraced new projects, for my own personal satisfaction and possible further commissions, as long as these opportunities didn’t compromise my previous work. For people who have collected my work, it means they feel excited about what comes next and there is never an element of predictability. I suppose the increased price reflects this.

Now pricing is much more intuitive though. I worry less whether it is correct or what other people are doing, because I have got it right for how I work and live.

Ellen:  You have served apprenticeships / assistantships in the studios of both Rupert Spira and Edmund de Waal.  What did you learn from them about pricing work?

Jacob: Simply, that there needs to be an extraordinary amount of intellectual rigour and dedication to discipline and skill to attain prices that can sustain your practice and lifestyle. Without these assets one cannot command any respect or justification for high prices.

I learnt never to let anything out of the studio that wasn’t first rate. I also learnt to destroy anything that wasn’t up to scratch and avoided selling seconds. This way everything that is in the public domain is reflective of my high standards. In this way there is never the suspicion that someone else has a better example of one’s work.

Ellen: Increasingly your work is tackling more conceptual issues.  How do you think this affects the perceived value of your work and the price it can command?

Jacob: Now that my work is more conceptual it has certainly helped bring an extra dimension. This addition means that perception is brought into a different domain. This has definitely meant I can command more for my work. It also helps being able to back up my work with a degree in Art History. It just creates the impression that there is more substance. Whether there is, of course, is a subjective decision.

Expanding on this, I would say that bringing additional skills and knowledge to your work helps to distinguish you from other makers. It is vitally important to be a distinct and unique force within your field. This can all be beneficial for pricing.

Ellen: What would be your top tip for pricing as a contemporary maker?

Jacob: Back up high prices for work with a unique, well-considered and skilful approach, for a successful long-term future. Be justified in your boldness.

You can see more of Jacob’s work at his website. 

Let us know you responses to Jacob’s approach.

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