<< Back to Articles for Artists
How to Make Your Artwork Worth More Money
I bet you don't know you can take the finished artwork that's sitting around your studio and increase its value right now, do you? No, you don't have to change it. No, there's no trickery. These are 100% legit time-tested art market methods that experienced knowledgeable collectors (and art buyers in general) respond to and pay higher prices for, and I'm going to tell you exactly what they are and how to use them to enhance the value and desirability of your art. Ready to increase your net worth? Excellent.
Here's the basic idea. Take two identical artworks. One you know nothing about; the other you know a whole bunch about. Now they're both the same price, you like them both equally well, and you can buy either one or the other. Which one would you rather buy? Right. The one you know a whole bunch about. Why? Because the more you know about a work of art, the better and more in depth you understand and appreciate it, and the more meaning it holds for you on a variety of levels. With respect to the marketplace, the more information, history and context that accompanies a work of art, the more attractive it is to buyers. Why? Because it's easier to sell (or resell) art that you can say a whole bunch about than it is to sell art you can say little or nothing about.
In other words, you add value to artwork by informing, enhancing, and deepening the experiences people have when they see it. Any artist including you can add value to any work of art almost instantly, thereby increasing its perceived significance in the eyes of serious collectors, and very possibly the price they'll be willing to pay for it as well. The following straightforward procedures work every time, all the time. So grab some artwork and let's get going...
First and foremost, sign it
. Or if it is signed, but only people who know you can read the signature, sign or print your name legibly somewhere else like on the back, so people who don't know who you are can read it too (as astonishing as this may seem, not everyone will always know who you are-- so make sure that if they don't, they will once they read that signature). You can't do anything more important than sign your art legibly because without exception, the number one most common question people ask when they first see a work of art is, "Who's the artist?" And given two identical works of art, one signed and the other not, the signed one is worth more and will sell for a higher price than the unsigned one. Why? When an artist applies his or her name to a work of art, that essentially means it's done, ready to be shown in public and "officially approved" by the artist.
You can sign your artwork on the back, on the edge, on the top, embedded within the composition, wherever. Makes no difference. Your name doesn't have to stick out or interfere with anything, but it has to be there and it has to be legible. If you have an illegible signature and you like it, fine. But sneak a legible one onto the art somewhere, so you can be identified. Even if everyone on the planet already knows who you are, sooner or later, people will be born who won't. And if any of them ever inherit or otherwise acquire your unsigned unidentified artwork, they won't know what to do with it because they'll have no idea who you are or how famous you've become, which means they might throw it in the trash which happens way more often than you might think. Believe it.
. Can you imagine a book or a film or a piece of music without a title? Of course not. Art should be no different. Even if you make art that doesn't have titles, then title it "Untitled." Given two identical works of art, one titled "Untitled" and the other untitled, the one titled "Untitled" is worth more than the one that's untitled. Why? Because you're sure the first one is titled "Untitled," but you have no idea whether the second one ever had a title or not. But hopefully your titles will be more engaging and informative than "Untitled." If you don't like titles or you don't use titles, explain somewhere why you don't title your artwork. Given two identical untitled works of art, one with an explanation of why it's untitled and the other with no explanation, the one with the explanation is worth more and will sell for a higher price than the one without. For those of you who do title your art, you might even go a step further and write that title on the back of the art; collectors like that.
. Some artists don't like to date their artwork because they think buyers only want the fresh new stuff, or they want to be able to quote whatever date they think buyers want to hear, so fine. If that's the case, then date it in secret, in code, hidden in the compositions, in your daily journal, on an inventory list. When you get old and famous, those dates will come in mighty handy, like for your retrospective at MOMA. Given two identical works of art, one dated and the other not, which would you rather own? Experienced art buyers prefer knowing its age to guessing its age.
Other interesting facts about artwork and dates: The more famous you get, the more significant your earlier (seminal) artworks become in relation to your current art and total oeuvre; savvy competitive collectors love to say things like "Mine dates back earlier than yours" or "The artist made mine first, and first is better." If you get really famous, your significant early artworks will likely at some point begin to sell for more money than your later ones. When you're young, buyers want the fresh peppy new stuff; the better known you get and the more you advance in your career, the more they'll tend to want the older stuff, unless you're Grandma Moses, who most of you aren't. You know what else this all means? Save a percentage of your best early artwork, and put it in your retirement account.
. If you're a printmaker, digital artist, photographer, sculptor, or you make multiples of any kind, set the edition size, never change it, and consecutively number every piece in the edition. People who buy multiples expect exclusivity based on edition sizes, and they equate those edition sizes with value (all else being equal, the fewer there are aka the smaller the edition, the more they're worth). Before they buy, they want to know how many there are, which ones they're going to get, and most importantly, that their interests are protected by your promise never to make any more of them again.
. People want to know things like what your art is about, why it exists, how it came into being, what happens in it, where it starts, where it ends, and what it does along the way. You don't have to get technical or tedious. Anywhere from a sentence or two to paragraph or two is fine. Either write a brief explanation for each piece or for particular series or bodies of works, or generally explain your artwork in your statement, a gallery catalogue, an essay, a website, or in an article or interview about your art. If you don't know what your artwork is about, write about your process, what you think about while you work, how you start, how you proceed, how you know you're done, and so on. Anything is better than nothing. Given two identical works of art, one with accompanying text and the other with nothing, the one with the text is worth more than the one without. Similarly, artwork with text written by the artist is generally worth more than artwork with text written by third parties (although under certain circumstances, informed or famous third party commentaries can influence value). One caution: Be careful not to get dictatorial and tell people what your artwork should mean to them. Instead, tell them what it means to you, and let them decide what it means to them. At the very least, you'll deepen their understanding and connection to your work.
Place it in a larger context
. When and where did you make it? What were you reading? What was going on in your personal life? Who influenced you? Whose music were you listening to? What were you thinking about? What inspired you? Were you happy, sad, frustrated or angry? Is it from your orange period? Mauve period? Had you just came back from hunting snipe in the Kentucky hills? Collectors who buy contemporary art want to know about you as a person as well as wanting to know about your art; they want to understand how your life's experiences impact and influence your work. Knowing something about the artist and the circumstances surrounding a work of art deepens a viewer's experience of that art.
. Has it been exhibited, written about, mentioned or illustrated somewhere, included in a catalogue, received an award, selected by a jury, defaced by a crazy person, posted on a third-party website, commented on, or critiqued in any formal circumstances? This information is extremely important, especially with the passage of time, and can substantially impact value. For example, given two identical works of art, one that was exhibited and the other not, which would you rather own? Would you be willing to pay a little extra for the one that was exhibited? Suppose the exhibit was important. Would you be willing to pay more than a little more? Seasoned collectors would, and they do-- all the time.
Keeping good records of your art and art career is a good idea no matter how you look at it. This includes titles, measurements, mediums, descriptions, photographs, dates, times, selling prices or names of buyers (when possible), and any published materials-- online or in print-- like critiques, reviews, interviews, and so on that relate directly to you and your art art. Good documentation of the history and progression of your art career is invaluable not only for you but even more importantly, for future generations. You're not always going to remember everything, especially as you get older, and you're not always going to be around to answer people's questions about your life and art, verify that certain works of your art are actually by you and not by someone else, and so on.
List the ingredients
. Also include instructions on how to take care of it. People need to know what artwork is made out of because as it gets older, it can degrade, deteriorate, change appearance, dry out, shrink, crack, get wet, start smelling, get dirty, get dusty or incur damage, and people who restore art (fine art conservators) need to know its ingredients in order to effectively treat, maintain and preserve it over time.
A few more effortless value enhancers:
Take a picture of yourself holding the artwork.
Shoot a brief video of yourself making the artwork.
Keep track of who owns your artwork. When retrospective time rolls around, you'll be glad you did.
Pair each piece of your artwork with a packet of information about yourself and recommend to those who buy your art to keep the two together. That way, when your artwork changes ownership (and sooner or later it will), all future owners will know exactly what they've got.
Always remember: You can never provide too much information about a work of art and the more you do provide, the more buyers will typically pay-- now and for all time. And the best part? The deeper the connection they'll feel with it.