The art price mystery

Dear Artist, Yesterday, Mark Sharp of Invermere, B.C. wrote, “I was in a gallery looking at a large painting by a living artist. With no dramatic message or spiritual awakenings, it was just a really nice painting — and it was priced at $24,000.00. It probably took the painter one or two days. On the same wall was another same-size painting by another living artist. It was equally well executed, of similar effort, but priced at $6,000.00. Both artists are the same age with similar educational backgrounds. Why the vast price difference? Is it an artist’s mystique, proven sales record, better marketing, or what?” Thanks, Mark. Art pricing has to do with control. Artists who seek professional status should not be seen selling their work irregularly or at lower prices. Dealers (and artists) who control supply are better able to control demand. Scarcity is important. That $6,000 artist may be three times as prolific as the other guy. Another consideration is location. If an artist offers work in barber shops or less prestigious galleries he cannot expect to get the same kind of prices as in high-end commercial venues. Further, artists whose work is exhibited in public museums or loaned out from significant private collections can be expected to demand more. There’s another factor that’s a bit harder to quantify. The higher-priced painter may just happen to be the better painter. Artists whose work is of higher quality (or merely consistently marketable) are sought out by leading galleries. Further, dealers have a collective interest in seeing an artist’s prices escalate, thus adding the sniff of investment to an otherwise mostly emotional purchasing decision. For the artist, a few years of 10-20 percent annual price increases leads to eventual high prices. Serious artists have an obligation to themselves to secure a strong cash flow so money worries are left behind. Travel, study, challenge, exploration and even down-time can be expensive, but they are the life blood of creativity. My democratic inbox is frequently loaded with questions on prices, marketing strategy, recession ploys, distribution and sales methodology. One might conclude that art is a branch of economics. While the burden of money will forever be with us, quality is still ahead of whatever is in second place. That’s why artists need to go to their rooms. Quality needs to be made. But please don’t ask me to define “quality.” With the exception of markets based on unnatural spin and hype, quality (whatever it is) is often the harbinger of higher prices. Best regards, Robert PS: “Nowadays nothing but money counts: a fortune brings honors, friendships; the poor man everywhere lies low.” (Ovid 43 BC – AD 17) Esoterica: Younger and early-career artists need to enter the market at prices low enough to tempt collectors, but high enough to make it worthwhile for potential dealers. Even dealerless artists need to keep this in mind when laying the groundwork for a career in art. Everyone loves a penny stock that goes up. “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” (Warren Buffett)   Talent not always a factor by H Margret, Santa Fe, NM, USA  

“Off Grid I”
acrylic painting
by Margret Henkels

Price is also factored by race, gender of the artist and “congruency” with the prevailing myth of what’s good. Having just seen the movie, “The Radiant Child,” it is clear that Andy Warhol, a chic if rebellious white man, trumped Jean-Michel Basquiat, a seminal influence of our times, in collectability. Furthermore, almost without exception, white men demand and get higher prices than women artists. Talent is not a factor until the woman is very old or dead like Agnes Martin or Georgia O’Keeffe. There are 3 comments for Talent not always a factor by H Margret
From: Loretta West — May 13, 2011

I often wonder just why that is, when there seem to be more women artists than men artists?? Perhaps buyers are still intrenched in the idea that men bring home the bacon while “she must be just doing this for fun”?? Any other thoughts??

From: Patrick — May 13, 2011

Please… would you women just move on and start kicking some other dead horse. Need you be reminded of Vincent van Gogh?

From: Tatjana — May 13, 2011

Actually, Georgia O’Keeffe’s prices were steep from very early in her carreer.

  Evaluation please by Mario Engel, Cape Town, South Africa  

“Chalk board”
oil painting, 35 x 24 inches
by Mario Engel

I’m just starting out as an artist. I read the part where you spoke about the two different paintings and their values. Because I’m not known yet, some people value the attached painting at R50,000 ($7,000.00) and say the least I can ask for it is R20,000. ($2,840.00) If possible can you perhaps give me your opinion? (RG note) Thanks, Mario. It’s been my observation that smallish paintings or drawings that are very dependent on photography, no matter how well rendered, have difficulty finding homes in the best of times. While there are exceptions, artists are more frequently rewarded for the imagination they bring to their subjects. On the other hand, if your painting of Nelson Mandela was twelve feet by eight feet and happened to be in someone’s National Gallery, there would likely be people who thought it to be quite valuable. Perhaps some of our readers might like to put a more exact value on your work. There are 2 comments for Evaluation please by Mario Engel
From: Jackie Knott — May 13, 2011

Public or government institutions would be more likely to display such an iconic image rather than an art patron. The painting itself is photographically rendered, more along the work of Chuck Close, who did wall sized paintings. He brought a shocking aesthetic to portraiture never seen before, hence his success. Painting portraits is likeness, interpretation, individual technique, and allusive characterization: attributes that limit photographs but a painter can strive for. Don’t paint a photograph, paint a person.

From: Liz Reday — May 16, 2011

Mario, Keep painting no matter what anyone says. Portrait painters can make good money, but they need to paint from life for a few years before they build up a practice. Experienced portrait painters can work up a quick study from life and do the final portrait using a number of photographs (like 20-40 photos). But even long time portrait painters like to start off from life. Some contemporary painters work from photos but they have an original angle or rendering. I’m sure there are local classes you can take to paint from the figure, some where you get together and pay a model, with or without instruction. I still do classes and I’ve been painting for 40 years. Portrait painting commissions are actually one of the few ways that artists can make a living, if you can deal with people and perhaps flatter them a little. Get half the money up front and have them OK color studies before proceeding. Social skills a must!

  It’s all about marketing by Judy Singer, Toronto, ON, Canada  

“Therefore Speak”
acrylic painting
by Judy Singer

I think you are off the mark with this one. I would highly recommend the book The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of the Art World by Don Thompson. Pricing has nothing to do with quality, skill, supply or demand. It has to do with marketing and with what wealthy collectors perceive to be return on investment. A lot of collectors and dealers don’t know what quality is.       There is 1 comment for It’s all about marketing by Judy Singer
From: Karen R. Phinney — May 13, 2011

I agree with you! It can be a fad for that artist, too!

  But is it fair? by Peggy Kopkie, Battleground, WA, USA   You raised some good points in your letter. Too often I see people calling themselves “artists” who paint a few paintings, are just starting classes, and immediately consider their art marketable. I’ve found that to claim the title of “artist” a person should learn their skill and pay their dues to become a creditable art seller. What is your idea of a credible artist asking a lot for an early painting? What about trying to pass yourself off as an artist in a gallery with other artists? Do you feel it is fair to those who work hard to create a great piece with the knowledge of composition, color, etc.? (RG note) Thanks, Peggy. Ours is a democratic business. Remarkably unskilled “artists” are seen to rise into the economic stratosphere quite regularly. As Marshall McLuhan said when asked for a definition of art, “Art is what you can get away with.” There is 1 comment for But is it fair? by Peggy Kopkie
From: Suzette Fram — May 15, 2011

Your note sounds a bit like a 2-year old saying ‘but Mom, she’s got more than I do’….. You can paint with all the training, knowledge of colour, composition, etc. that you can muster, and still not produce a really great painting. And someone can come along with little training and produce a really fantastic piece. Who decides what is a ‘good’ painting? Who decides which artist is ‘skilled’. People like different things. Different elements speak to viewers and influence what they think is great, or not. Once you get beyond the really amateurish stuff of total beginners, who’s to say what is good art, or quality art. It’s easy for the successful artist to speak of quality art; he’s invested in believing that the reason for his success is related to the quality of his art; but is that really so? Very subjective subject in my opinion. It’s all in the eye (and the heart) of the beholder.

  The high value of caring by Ken Paul, Eugene, OR, USA   I’ll wager that you and many of your subscribers can remember reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Persig. A major point of inquiry being undertaken by that text is about what we generally call “quality.” Everyone acknowledges that it exists, but nobody can say with any degree of objectivity what it IS. I recall coming away from that book with the lingering impression that “quality” — even though not directly definable — had something to do with deep caring, particularly in a given context, whether that be fixing a motorcycle or making art. And, furthermore, that this caring remained somehow embodied in the thing being cared for/about, still accessible to whichever other souls were able/willing to invest some of their own caring into the experience. Of course, it turns out to be the viewer’s own caring that generates the experience! One reviewer of the book noted that Persig’s take on quality (“…the indescribable that exists before description…”) matches closely with the conception of Allah in Sufism. There are 2 comments for The high value of caring by Ken Paul
From: Jim Carpenter — May 12, 2011
From: Karen Lynn — May 16, 2011

Excellent book, well worth reading! Robert Pirsig.

  Sticker price shock by Teresa Chow, Vancouver, BC, Canada  

“Tofino surfers”
original painting
by Teresa Chow

When I go into galleries, I always get a sticker price shock. At times, a painting has a list price of over $10,000 and it’s not even framed. Who are the qualified artists who deserve to have a price tag like this? I remember hearing an artist saying, “Nowadays, anyone that can hold a paint brush call themselves an artist.” He continued to say, “In the olden days of Rembrandt, the first few years of apprenticeship is just grinding paint and you watch and learn from thereon; an apprenticeship program runs maybe 12 years long.” Lucky for us, we don’t have to grind paint anymore — squeeze the tube and voila, there’s paint. But do artists really deserve such high price tags? I can’t seem to find a quality standard line in the galleries anymore. Another artist told me that his paintings have to be up in the thousands range as they are driven by the buyers. Is this a valid statement? (RG note) Thanks, Teresa. Part of the mystique of art is the high prices. Diamonds would not be thought of highly if they were commonplace and cheap. And yet they are just tiny little sparkly things barely distinguishable from glass. There is 1 comment for Sticker price shock by Teresa Chow
From: Karen R. Phinney — May 13, 2011

Actually, Robert, diamonds are quite commonplace (lots of places mine them), compared with some other minerals. However, there’s been a mystique built up around them, with smart marketing. Who wants a Cubic Zirconium, which looks as sparkly (pretty much) as a diamond? We’ve been sold on the idea that “diamonds are forever” etc. A lapis lazuli stone is FAR rarer, but due to lack of demand is pretty cheap in comparison. Which proves that marketing can be a huge factor….. and yes, I would like a nice diamond!!

  A whole new market by Darla Tagrin, Montgomery Village, MD, USA  

“Door Into Dreams”
original painting
by Darla Tagrin

I know your column is directed mainly to fine artists rather than commercial artists, but many of us are both. Have you ever looked into the relatively new phenomenon of e-books (digital books that are bought and sold online)? The May 8 Washington Post “Arts” section has a large article about writers who sell their books online rather than going to a traditional publisher. The royalties are so much larger proportionately for e-books that some established writers are dropping their publishers. Many of these books are self-published, and they all need cover images. I’ve seen many posts about how hard it is to find good cover artists at a reasonable price. The “covers” are often more like logos in one sense: they will be shown as postage-stamp sized images online, but must also be detailed enough to look good on a Kindle, Nook or other e-reader. I’m thinking that there is a whole new market waiting to be discovered. It sort of reminds me of the heyday of pulp fiction, with a lot of writers and artists making livings from books. Some writers just cobble up a cover on Photoshop, but you still need a good visual sense to do a cover that will get people interested enough to buy the book, and a painterly cover will suit many books better than photos and type alone. For prolific painters, it could be a great addition to your market. There are 3 comments for A whole new market by Darla Tagrin
From: Anonymous — May 13, 2011

A friend of mine just did a cover for an e-book, then recommended it to me. I will confess, the cover made me more willing to try the book, as did the lower price. I’m wondering how an artist would make connections with authors looking for cover artists?

From: Sandra Donohue — May 13, 2011

I love your painting. It gave me goosebumps!

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — May 13, 2011

I love your painting and your idea…I wonder how the writers find the artists? Is there a website market-place?

  Riding out the storm by Phil Chadwick, Southampton, ON, Canada  

“Northern Trickle”
original painting
by Phil Chadwick

This ageless question is the balance between survival and price. Price is the proxy for artistic respect but survival depends on how long you have to wait for Aretha’s mantra. The value of something is only what people who are exposed to it will pay. To be fair to collectors and galleries, the artist must wait to get the going price but that requires a survival Plan B. Galleries can help by promoting the art to the right market — but Plan B provides the income to sustain life and family while allowing the artist to be true to the art and not “sell out” too cheap. How long can an artist afford to “starve” until the right buyer comes along at that right price? That’s another riddle but if your Plan B is solid, stick it out and just paint to become a better artist! For a meteorologist, there is weather everyday (and you don’t even have to be right) so just ride out the storm until your work sells. There are 4 comments for Riding out the storm by Phil Chadwick
From: Anonymous — May 13, 2011

I agree ,it is not the destination but the journey that provides the greatest satisfaction

From: Karen McConnell — May 13, 2011

Surely the picture which appears beside your remarks is not one that you claim as your own? The same work appears on my wall calendar this month, almost stroke for stroke, it is the work of Tom Thomson.

From: Anonymous — May 13, 2011

I was about to say the same thing Re: Tom Thompson…

From: cpr — May 13, 2011

Me too !

  Art by the bag by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA  

“Clearing in Manganese Blue”
pastel painting
by Paul DeMarrais

Artist A had the crust and ego to put a $24,000 price tag on his painting. A buyer had the money and either the foolishness or wisdom to pay that much for it. Artist B and his representatives lacked the same ego and chutzpah and priced their work at $6,000. Was that painting 25% as good? Such an assumption would be based on a rational quantifiable system that doesn’t exist. The cheaper painting much of the time could be a better painting. A Van Gogh painting might bring fifty million dollars at auction while a Sargent might bring a million. Is Van Gogh a fifty times better artist than John Singer Sargent, or Delacroix, or Ingres or Michelangelo? Is it because he did fewer paintings or his work hangs in a better neighborhood? Come on, Robert. Much of the art pricing has a lot in common with the pile of manure behind my neighbor’s horse barn. I am a flower gardener so the stuff has value to me. If it’s refined and packaged well it might bring $5 a bag. Someone might claim it had mystical powers and sell it for a hundred bucks a scoop and someone might pay it. I’m not fooled. That’s about the level of science I see in art pricing. Unfortunately, art buyers often have a similar opinion. There are 5 comments for Art by the bag by Paul deMarrais
From: Peter Heuscher — May 12, 2011

Hi Robert – Hi Paul, It seems to me that nobody mentioned this point of view. Since the gallerist put one painting for on his wall (he will earn about 50%) of it – it has nothing to do with the painters expectation or sticker-price. On the other hand I doubt, that the same gallerist would be interested in two artists with the same price range. He has to have something more exprensive and something cheaper to offer to his clientele. Maybe that’s the only reason why one painting apears so much more expensive that the other. But this is how artist’s careers are created. I relly think you can be as good as you can – the gallery decides finally if they want to give you a chance and what kind of chance you have to be happy with. If you look what Sotherbys and Christies are doing. It’s just insane, that you can buy artworks for 9 or more million dollars – very few people really did work for that kind of money and buy artwork priced so high.

From: Suzette Fram — May 15, 2011

Thank you Paul deMarrais. VERY well put.

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — May 15, 2011

I totally agree with you Paul! There is really very little rhyme or reason to pricing. It just happens to be whatever gallery, location, ego of the artist, etc. that can be handled by the public. Now I would want to know if either of the artists are selling at their respective prices?

From: Anonymous — May 16, 2011

Yay, Paul! If there were a “Like” button, I’d click on it.

From: Liz Reday — May 16, 2011

Paul- Magnificent wallop of color! Just love the violet bouncing off the turquoisey-viridian (manganese blue? wow) balanced beautifully by the mustard trees. Works as an abstract in terms of color relationships, plus I love the looseness. Priceless.

  What else is there? by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA  

“Chalk board”
original painting
by Peter Brown

My first painting sales were American Eagles on barn wood! This was during the Viet Nam War. Eagles and flags. This crap helped me to pay my way through college. I learned that I could be an art whore, and sell crap. I gave that up, even though I made quite a bit of money. I actually took a higher road. I kept painting, but never worried about selling anything. I took an art job working in a museum. I turned that into a career, and then, quite by accident I started selling my paintings. My paintings were bringing in more than my job as curator but I kept my job. My gallery sold to another owner and I was out. My point is that I do not want to be financially dependent on my art. I want my art to be my art. Do I paint in my spare time? Yes. Do I make the exact paintings I wish to see in the world? Yes. In my view, my painting is mine. I have sold a lot of it, but it is still mine. What else is there? There are 2 comments for What else is there? by Peter Brown
From: Anonymous — May 13, 2011

This is a great note…thanks for it…I like your courage. Linda Anderson Stewart

From: DA — May 14, 2011

The first comment by anyone that feels real. Thank you.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The art price mystery

From: Eric — May 09, 2011

One thing I can say with near-certainty is that price has only the slimmest connection to quality. At the local gallery level, name recognition of the artist is paramount. (I guess this is true internationally as well.) The problem I have with the hustler, self-promoter artists I’ve known is that almost to a person they believe that sales success is irrefutable proof of their excellence as an artist.

From: Darla — May 10, 2011

For artists (like portrait artists or illustrators) who work mostly on commission, the pricing is simple: when you get a significant waiting list, it’s time to raise your prices! Otherwise, it’s tricky: too low, and you won’t make any money, and people might think less of your work; too high, and no one will pay the price. As Eric said, it doesn’t have a lot to do with quality or skill, except maybe skill at marketing.

From: Marvin Humphrey, Napa Valley — May 10, 2011

A work of art holds a subjective value for each observer. Venue is all-important. For a more universal market value? Only time will tell.

From:John Ferrie — May 10, 2011

Dear Robert, The pricing of art is a crucial thing. I see a lot of artists who hand the pricing over to a gallery or agent with the caveat of “whatever you can get”. I have also seen lovely artists who are beginning to getting some notoriety and suddenly their work jumps from $1200.00 to $35,000.00! This is a difficult bell to un-ring, especially when the artist is also required to bring in buyers. Galleries can be like selling your soul, but that is another subject. Artists need to treat their career like a business. They also need to approach a gallery with the prices they get and want for their work. There are a number of artists I know who have started a new trend where they will only sell their work to a gallery and not put it in on consignment. This consignment thing has been the rule in galleries since the dawn of time. Personally, I respond better to an artists pricing when they have some thunder behind their work, they have studied, exhibited a number of times, had some press, done several interviews and have made a ‘difference’ with their work. That is to say I want to see a journey in an artist before I can accept they have sky-rocketing prices. What I do for pricing, is figure out the price of my work by the square inch. Then I do some simple math depending on the size of each canvas. That is to say, the price of a 36″ x 48″ canvas is the same as every other canvas the same size at an exhibition. I increase my prices a steady 10% each year. I offer a small “pre-exhibition discount” to early buyers and I can do pre-arranged payment plans. But other than that, I do not offer discounts or “Deals”. Artists need to also understand that art is a luxury item and usually the last thing people will buy. Also, despite any pricing glitches, resolve yourself to the fact that 95% of the population, won’t like your work. Yup, thats right, 95%!! Always, John Ferrie

From: Richard Smith — May 10, 2011

It’s my guess there are two types of art buyers. Those who buy a piece because they like it and those who buy it as an investment. If you sell to the former you can charge whatever you like, if you sell to the latter then you have a responsibility to the buyer to continually raise the price of your work so their purchase is always going up in value. R.

From: Haim Mizrahi — May 10, 2011

I was wondering what qualifies you to give the answers. How did you earn the right to stand as an authority that people depend on and look up to. I think you should examine your right very closely, and maybe for a change you, yourself ask the questions and seek the answers from those who usually ask the questions. And by the way, let’s see you define quality, give it your best try, strip it naked, look it in the eye, chew it and, gently, send your wisdom forth to the needy.

From: Carol Lyons — May 10, 2011

My response is exactly based on what you said and relates to me. In addition, prices are based on the last several sales of similar works. It is that which determines current prices. Also,if any of my collectors should ask me about why two similar pieces have different prices, this is what I would tell them–“Gut Feeling”–it is something the print expert, Robert Blackburn, told me several years ago.

From: Cathy DeWitt — May 10, 2011

…it is in the eye of the beholder, I think… And that includes the artist! So, why not consider your own work high quality?

From: L. Klepper — May 10, 2011

I had a small framed 16×20 inch acrylic painting for sale in a local art center. The clerk called me and relayed this story. An interior designer had come into the center in the morning, liked my work, but thought it was too expensive for her budgeted project. That afternoon an artist came into the center to promote an exhibit of his work and was disturbed, visibly mad, because his work was similar to mine in subject matter and size, and his were four times as expensive. He claimed I was undercutting his market. Too expensive in the morning and too cheap in the afternoon. I tell this story to my students all the time.

From: Purell — May 10, 2011

Haim, Why did you came to Mr. Genn’s web site to read about his oppinions? The answer to that will give you a hint how Mr Genn earned the authority you were asking about.

From: Gavin Logan — May 10, 2011

Why does the dung beetle push his ball of dung across the desert?

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — May 10, 2011

The dung beetle pushes his ball across the desert because he can. Because it’s there. Because in the pushing is the knowing. Because a dung ball covered with sand is more beautiful. Because he can get a better price for it at the oasis. Because he likes pushig sh*t around. Because the Earth rotates.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — May 10, 2011

A discussion on pricing is always a good thing, and there will always be artists (like me) who will never be able to fit themselves into it. So- it’s cute and nice, but it just makes me laugh. I create work in a medium that is still barely considered real. All the fiber-based galleries I’ve ever walked into have gone out of business or changed their focus because none of them can survive as a fiber-based gallery. So a gallery to take me on doesn’t exist. I market my work myself, poorly, with no funding. I negotiate a price because I sell to people I’ve gotten to know. They all buy my work because they have an interest in me. They can see my commitment and want to help me AND own something. And they can see the quality in my construction as well as be astonished by my vision. I’m barely staying afloat right now, but that’s been true on and off for more than 30 years. Right now it’s less good rather than less bad. I have a long history of being accepted into juried shows, being published again and again and even a string of awards. The one main difference in my pricing is that I now get what I get for a much smaller piece than I used to. But it makes selling the large ones very difficult. But it’s the larger impressive ones that garner the most attention, and that got me into Fiberart International 2001. Within 20 years of my death people will be standing in a gallery/museum somewhere dumbfounded by the visible lifetime’s work of a single human individual. Guaranteed.

From: Holly Ulrich — May 11, 2011

Wow great stuff. I really needed to hear it. Thank you very much. I will seriously consider what’s been said here. Always enjoy reading these letters. I actually pasted a couple of parts, giving credit to the source, in my Facebook page Eva Marie Originals~Holly Ulrich. Just thought it was worth sharing.

From: Nancy Stephenson — May 12, 2011

I just wanted to share a comment concerning the “Art Price Mystery.” I was involved in a co-op a few years ago but ended up having to leave. There was an artist whose work was hung close to mine; she used wall paint and plaster-of-paris on canvas to create her artwork. I work exclusively with artist-quality watercolours on Arches paper and artist-quality acrylics on prepared canvas or panel. She charged a considerably lower amount for her artwork than I charged for mine. As a result her art flew off the walls while mine wallowed. I live in a fairly small city and art is not a huge priority for the majority of the population. I ended up leaving the co-op as I wasn’t making enough money to cover the cost of renting my space and I also felt it was reflecting poorly on my work, by association, having it shown on the same wall as an artist who was using sub-standard materials. The average consumer has no idea about the quality of materials being used by artists and most don’t think to ask why there would be such a big difference in price on similarly-sized work. I made a point of noting in my advertising materials that I use artist/archival-quality materials but I don’t think the majority of the buyers who came into the gallery even read our brochures. I am now trying to get my work into a reputable gallery but just wanted to caution consumers and artists alike to always question pricing and the quality of materials. An artist builds a reputation over the course of their career and no one wants to look back and realize their work was sub-standard and stands as an example of what they do. I am now teaching art and always encourage my students to purchase the best quality supplies they can afford so their artwork will stand the test of time.

From: Eugene Kovacs — May 12, 2011

I had an invitation to a vernissage in an ice cream bar. Although the artist was well known, she did not sell any of her art works, probably because of the inappropriate location. Besides, she had to pay for the rent and drinks for the vernissage. On the other hand, the same artist sold all of her paintings at an exhibition in a huge gallerie with other painters. Some artists are despaired to sell their paintings at a lower price to earn their living. Because of the inflation, some people are not buying paintings as an investment. Today, artists do not have value in the public eyes.

From: Mahsun Haji Taib — May 12, 2011

Thanks for commenting on art pricing. As an artist I am always happy to know that artworks can be sold at $60,000 rather than 6,000.

From: Karen Atkinson — May 12, 2011

Here is an article I wrote on Pricing that is on the GYST website that considers a few other reasons why prices are what they are. PRICING YOUR WORK Pricing work can be one of the strangest, most nebulous areas of an art practice to navigate. After all, the monetary value of art, unlike car repair, or say, furniture manufacturing, can’t really be quantified by any set standard. There is no perfect formula for pricing your work, but here are a few helpful hints. — Plan ahead. Don’t price things at the last minute. This can lead to outrageously high or low prices depending on your mood, current economic situation, or desire for attention. — Err on the high side. Low pricing often signifies that the artist doesn’t have confidence in their work. On the other hand, if you are an emerging artist, asking for $25,000 for a painting might be over the top. Prices can go up, but they should never go down. Getting your work to start selling might be more important than pricing things too high. Use common sense. — You should compensate yourself fairly for your time and materials. Most artists undervalue their work; often make less money on sales than they spent making work. It is a good idea to keep track of your expenses and the time spent creating the work. Use the GYST software for this. — Defend your prices. If you have kept track of your time and expenses you can defend the price of your work should your dealer or collector insist they are too high. Be realistic here, but also include your direct expenses for materials, as well as your overhead expenses such as studio rent, utilities, phone, etc. — Use an hourly wage to calculate how much your art is worth. You are a professional artist and you deserve a professional living wage. Don’t go with minimum wage numbers here. The US Department of Labor Occupational Labor Statistics lists the mean hourly wage of Fine Artists as $23.22. Use this as a starting point for figuring out your hourly wage. — Letting dealers and consultants price your work is not always the best way to go. Often a dealer will set the price of your work, but you should be a part of this discussion and it should be a joint decision. If you have your expenses calculated, you have a better chance of getting your share of the total price of the work. But remember that gallery dealers calculate things like rent, salaries for employees, and marketing costs into valuing your work. — Some excuses you will hear from dealers about pricing the work low is that you are an emerging artist, your résumé does not have the right venues, the work is small or derivative, or the dealer needs to spend more time and spend more to promote the work of emerging artists. Defend your work, show them how much it costs to make your work, refer to your hourly rate. Be negotiable, but don’t undervalue your work. — Artists with gallery experience and consistent sales histories should already have base prices set for their works. If you do not already have a track record of sales, your base price should approximate what artists in your locale (with comparable experience and sales records) charge for similar works of art. Keep in mind that even though your art is unique, experienced art professionals, like dealers, advanced collectors, consultants and agents, make price comparisons from artist to artist all the time. Being able to evaluate your art from a detached standpoint, by comparing it to that of other artists in your area, is necessary in order for your price structure to make sense in the marketplace. — Keep work that holds special meaning for you or represents critical moments in your life or career off the market. Make sure this work is not drastically different from your other art in terms of physical criteria. You may want this work as part of your own private collection. Also, often times, the tendency is to overprice such work. — When calculating your studio expenses, maintain records of the time you spend, and the cost of materials. Include overhead such as rent, utilities, professional fees, fabrication costs, assistants’ wages, transportation, postage, and shipping. Divide the total by the number of works you make a year, and average the cost per work. Then, add the sales commission. Make sure you build in a profit margin and room for a discount to notable collectors or collecting institutions. — Visit galleries, rental spaces and exhibitions, and do some research on comparable artists and artwork. Look at the exhibition checklist for these details. — If you are selling work in your studio or at a studio sale, you might want to price the work a few hundred dollars over the set price so you have space to negotiate. — You should not price your work according to what region of the country or city it is shown, or what gallery sells it. Consistent pricing is a cornerstone of a sound practice and eventually leads to successful sales. — Always have a price list available that states the full retail price. If you are selling the work yourself, always include the discount policy in writing on the price sheet. This will get you out of a bind if a buyer brings it up. Commission Splits — Usually galleries and art consultants take a 50% commission of all sales. Anything above that is highway robbery. If the commission is less than 50%, do not lower the price. Have a heart-to-heart talk with anyone who wants a higher commission. Often there will be a wide range of excuses for this, including that you are an emerging artist, your work costs more to sell, etc. Do not buy it! Many nonprofit galleries take from 0-30% commission and many leave the negotiation up to the artist. — There are special circumstances in which you may need to receive more than the 50% commission. If your work is very expensive to produce, and the fabrication is very costly (such as foundry work) or you use a specialized process, you will need to negotiate this up front, before the commission split. Prices Too High? — If people like your art enough to ask how much it costs, but do not buy, it may be because your price structure is too high. First, conduct an informal survey by asking dealers, experienced collectors, consultants, fellow artists, and agents what they think. Never arbitrarily cut prices or adjust them on the spur of the moment. Reduce your prices according to the consensus of knowledgeable people. Use your concerned judgment. Avoid having to reduce prices again by making sure your reductions are in line with or even slightly greater than the consensus opinion. Never make your art so inexpensive that people will not take it, or you, seriously. Price Increases — A price increase is in order when demand for your art regularly outstrips demand for your contemporaries’ work. The best time to increase prices is when you are experiencing a consistent degree of success and have established a proven track record of sales that has lasted for at least six months and preferably longer. Depending on what you make, and the quantity of your output, you should also be selling at least half of everything that you produce within a six-month time period. As long as sales continue and demand remains high, price increases of 10-25% per year are in order. As with any other price-setting circumstances, be able to justify all increases with facts. Never raise prices based on whimsy, personal feelings or because you feel that they have remained the same for long enough. — Your prices should remain stabilized until you have one or more of the following: increased sales, increases in the number of exhibitions you participate in, increase in the number galleries that represent you, or inflation. Online Sales — When pricing and selling your work online, you should keep the big picture in mind. Continually compare your prices to available art in your area, as well as on the Internet, and not just among your circle. Have a good selection of reasonably priced works available for purchase. Give the buyer the option of starting small, without having to risk too much money. Remember, people are just beginning to get used to the idea of shopping online for art. Hosting your work on the Internet opens the doors to a different market, which is not necessarily driven by region. Many collectors and patrons visit web site to see new artists who are outside of their area. Discounts — You should not be required to split discounts with the gallery. It is a public relations expense for the dealer and you should not be paying that expense. The gallery is usually awarding the buyer for previous patronage. Exceptions might be when the buyer purchased your work before or they are buying more than one work by you. Always get a Bill of Sale as a purchase contract between the artist and the collector. Often, a dealer will issue you a purchase order, which states both commissions and the collector who bought your work. Always maintain records of who has purchased you work, including name, mailing address, and email and phone number if possible. Beware of dealers who will not give you the information on a collector, as by law, you are entitled to a copy of the bill of sale and information on who bought the work. Market fluctuation — No matter how old you are or how long you have been making art, know that art prices fluctuate over time as a result of a variety of factors. Set your initial price structure according to the initial value of your work, your local or regional art market, but be ready to revise those prices at any time (assuming adequate justification). The more you are aware of market forces in general, and how people respond to your art in particular, the better prepared you are to maintain sensible selling prices and to maximize your sales. Karen Atkinson GYST founder

From: Friedrich Kirk — May 12, 2011

High prices posted on art cause folks to think, “What is so good about that, that it deserves such a high price?” They then look at the art for a while and, deluded by the conundrum, they often think they know why. And this causes them to buy.

From: Dirk Macdonald — May 12, 2011

Some people just want to get rid of money. And they prefer other people to see them do it.

From:Rick Rotante — May 12, 2011

Like BFA’s and MFA’s the proof is still in the pudding. If your work is “quality” and I can’t define it but I notice it when I see it myself. Good works sell at higher prices because it’s good, better than good, excellent. (Except in contemporary art where novelty and distortion sells) We have to stop kidding ourselves about our work. The only gold standard is still the masters and I’m not talking anyone contemporary. We may think our work measures up when actually it’s mediocre at best when compared to old great masters. They still have it over us head and shoulders. This is not to say we need to paint the same themes as they did, but we need to paint as well if not better, because we have more knowledge, experience and better materials. What we lack is the skills and determination to work as hard and dedicate our lives to this thing called art. Many today paint for many different reasons that don’t measure up. Quality, whatever it is, takes time, work thought and lots of energy and study. We just don’t put that time into it anymore.

From: Ann Davis — May 12, 2011

Art pricing:)) I noticed a few years ago that the MOMA was trying to sell the notorious Marcel Duchamp urinal for a small fortune:) At the time there were no takers. I believe he famously said, “Art is what I say it is.” I guess it was…at the time:)

From: Brenda W. — May 13, 2011

Thanks to Karen Atkinson for posting the article “Pricing Your Work” (above). I have printed this portion off for future reference.

From: LD — May 13, 2011

I would guess that for most people, purchasing art is not an investment; Purchasing art is to have the pleasure of seeing it over & over because it “speaks” to you in some special way. It doesn’t always have to have a “master’s touch”, sometimes it just has to touch its “master”.

From: Joanne Corbaley — May 13, 2011

WOW! What a great discussion of a big art mystery! Thanks.

From: Jackie Knott — May 13, 2011

Correction: In my comments about portraiture I did not mean to promote a photographer cannot capture the essense of individual. My daughter is a highly successful commercial photographer who might take umbrage with my earlier comments. I meant to emphasize a painter pursues a different esthetic not achieved by photography … and God knows, it has its place even artists cannot depict. Each has its place, its calling, its purity of purpose. Apologies ….

From: June — May 14, 2011

Fascinating the comments on “pricing’. As a volunteer in an Art Gallery I get a chance to check out prices on all kinds of art. This week the current show was some Photographic works. What puzzled me was that the artist/photographer had priced most of these medium sized framed prints at $200.00, and so far has sold two. Two others on display are priced at $1500.00, subject matter a bird. Same size and framing as all the others. So visitors noticed and commented and asked why. One thing is that often a painter liking a painting (or his mother likes it) prices it “high” for the reason of discouraging purchase. Since everything in our gallery must be for sale, everything is priced. We regulars try to keep our prices up to a level that is credible for the gallery, and to the level of our expertise or lack of it. Since it is run by an Arts Council and not a regular commercial gallery there is less control over our pricing. It’s the artists who nudge each other to “charge more” reminding the new-bies that they have to pay a commission mon sales, and take into account the cost of the framing. Being puzzled at to what to charge for one, I asked a friend who flippantly told me to ‘double the price”, I did and the painting sold! I suspect a few people think a lower price means the painting is “not as good as” the others. So for people like me who mat and frame their own work,(sometimes badly) the lesson is to try and do the best I can or afford professional framing and charge more! I am always surprised at your critics, Robert, because I find all your letters delightful and there’s much of interest to read and to learn in each and everyone. I love seeing examples of art from around the continent and world and to read these far flung artists ideas on art. A young volunteer I spoke to yesterday grumbled she had just graduated from High School and forgotten most of what she had learned. I told her she didn’t go to school to learn “stuff” but to “learn how to learn”, that it goes on for a lifetime. She smiled and agreed that I had a point there. My point of learning this week was to watch a demo in painting in oil, “often and small” was this artist’s mantra. Like a true artists she happily shared so much with us, her materials, her palette, her brushes and were to get reasonably priced pochade boxes made to order. She also told us she auctions off her paintings on E-Bay, non of them priced over $100, and sells them all. Having not touched oils in many decades I am now pumped up to try them again with the new non odourous thinners, on small canvases or canvas boards. Should be fun!

From: Cedar Lee — May 14, 2011
From: Rick Rotante — May 15, 2011

Notoriety, media attention and hoopla cause prices to rise, not the quality of the piece. If an artist is getting lots of press and his name is on the lips of buyers, the price will rise. If spectacle is involved the price may rise. Age of a piece, and the artist, may cause the price to rise. Scarcity will affect price. If there isn’t any more being made by an artist of note. For the mass majority, they know little about quality but they swear they know what they like. And they are right. “Experts” look for other things because they have some knowledge of the making of an art piece. They will pay more. Joe buyer will pay what he can afford, if the rent is paid this month the he has food on the table. Art which is selling for thousands, more than likely, will be ‘admired’ and passed on by the average buyer. The fool with money and worried about prestige will fork over large green on trash if it’s the flavor of the month and raises his status. Price, in the long run is irrelevant and if anything worth a smile. If they get the selling price, more power to them. In all, we buy what we can afford, not the best.

From: Philip Hunt — May 15, 2011

There is Art pricing, and then there is selling your Art. Whatever your art form it must be marketed and sold. In the short term, it is the marketing and sales that moves the works onto a clients wall at whatever price people will pay. Without the marketing and sales, brilliant works remain in studios whatever the price. With marketing and sales, appalling schlock is sold at wild prices. In the long term, pricing becomes set by the collector market, itself a sophisticated world of hustle and marketing. Picasso was a master hustler and marketer. He was very prolific and never shied from selling works directly, in a cafe or in any manner available. Van Gogh never marketed or sold. His brother, an art dealer, barely sold any of his work at any price. The dung beetle gets her dung from where the dung is. Eggs are laid. The dung is rolled elsewhere (Don’t want to get stepped on next time the elephant comes by!) and buried deep. The dung feeds the young uns and keeps the bug eaters away.

From: Jen Sendall — May 17, 2011

I’m just having my kitchen remodelled, and I was considering the daily rates of the plumber, electrician etc, and I have decided that my skills, having taken many years and a masters degree to obtain, are worth at least the same as theirs. Now that I have made the decision to be a full-time professional artist I will be charging my time, materials and expenses on this basis as my starter point, and feel I can easily justify and feel confident in my prices.

From: Bob Winfree — Nov 12, 2011

The question of value and pricing for art has been one that stumped me for years. As an artist and collector, I’ve walked many museums, shows, and galleries and read hundreds of books trying to determine what makes “fine” art. I’ve lamented to see works of incredible skill and artistic inspiration seemingly ignored over others that appeared to have little care or thought put into their execution. Yes, exposure and marketing are incredibly important as artwork must be experienced to be appreciated, but what I came to realize is that the important works of art are the ones that ultimately become influential, that change how people look at a subject and change what people do as a result. Most of the original French Impressionists were rejected in their own time, and forced to band together to sponsor their own shows when they were rejected by the official salons. Many of these artists who are now regarded as Masters were quite literally starving artists in their own time, unable to even pay for a fresh piece canvas or put food on their family’s table. Over a longer time frame many more popular and well-compensated artists of their time were forgotten, whereas the early Impressionists ultimately became recognized for having influenced an entirely new genre of art and generations of artists who would follow in their path. Another case in point is the Hudson River and Rocky Mountain School landscape painters, like Albert Bierstadt who’s highly skilled work initially captured the public’s attention and thrilled collectors. His canvases fetched thousands and even tens-of-thousands of dollars each a hundred years ago, only to fall out of favor when collector’s interests shifted to newer genres. Ultimately however, the power and emotion captured in Bierstadt’s works was again recognized as highly influential not just to art, but to visualizing the concept of American wilderness and to the people who were so moved by it that they worked to conserve the scenery of the American west for future generations.

     Featured Workshop: Jerry Markham
051311_robert-genn9 Jerry Markham workshops   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.

Beach Shack, Drayton Peninsula

oil painting, 18 x 24 inches by Egbert Oudendag

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Terry McIlrath who wrote, “Asking price means nothing. Selling price means everything.” And also G. S. Silverstone of Rugby, UK, who wrote, “No matter what, you must raise your prices regularly but a little.”    

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