Pricing for joy


Dear Artist,

I’ve often been asked how to determine a starting selling price for art — especially for a younger artist with no reputation.


“Beach Scene​”
oil (essence) on paper on canvas
47.5 x 82.9 cm by Edgar Degas ca.1869-70
National Gallery, UK

My advice to young artists of all ages is to start off cheap. My rationale is that your prices can always go up but should not come down. Early low prices ensure that people will take an early position in your career. Nothing better than a penny stock that goes through the roof. At an early stage, it’s easy to feel that the investment in education entitles you to higher prices right out of the gate — especially when you see the substantial prices of instructors and others. Not so. Minor “green feedback” is better than finding yourself dead in the water.


Laundry women with toothache
by Edgar Degas
Stolen in 1973, France
Found at Auction 2010
and returned to rightful owner.

After a few sales at the bargain-basement level, you can then look to price management in a more professional manner. In my view, prices should rise sensibly and regularly. Ten percent and once a year is the reliable norm. With gallery representation, there has to be a reasonable base so their percentage will make it worthwhile for them. Consultation with galleries is useful. Comparative price-checking is useful but not always germane to your uniqueness. There is no single axiom that determines at what price paintings or other works of art should be. Generally speaking, size, not the amount of detail or time taken, is the better guide. Thus an artist can provide a range of prices that have various price points. At the low end there’s an opportunity for entry-level collectors, while at the high end you can see if the big spenders will go for your work. As a guide you might take a look at the price list on my website. Don’t forget that I’ve been in the business for a few years and have stuck pretty close to the 10% rule.

The joy of your art process is one thing. The commoditization of your art is another. It’s something we learn to live with if we wish to stay in the game and have a life. My advice is to start low and yet keep an eye on the big picture. There are rewards for those who do.


The Dance Class
oil on canvas
by Edgar Degas 1873
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Best regards,


PS: “Artists should separate pride from price.” (Eleanor Blair)

Esoterica: There’s something to be said for making up your mind on a pricing plan that will last a lifetime, setting it in motion, and forgetting about it. With compounding, you’ll get there anyway — much to the satisfaction of your early collectors. When work is half decent, there’s justice. The main thing is to catch the breeze and sail on. “There is too much talk and gossip; pictures are apparently made, like stock-market prices, by competition of people eager for profits. All this traffic sharpens our intelligence and falsifies our judgment.” (Edgar Degas)

This letter was originally published as “Pricing for Joy” on July 5th, 2005.


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'Balance by Joel Barr, Atlanta, Georgia, USA


oil painting on canvas, 36 x 36 inches
Joel Barr, Atlanta, Georgia, USA


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