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  • How to Price Your Art - More About Art Prices



    Being clear and consistent when pricing your art gives you credibility as an artist. Just as consumers expect clear consistent pricing when shopping for milk at the grocery store or for a new refrigerator at Fred's Appliance Palace, they also expect it when shopping for art. Prices that are difficult to understand or explain or are problematic in other ways do not make buyers feel confident and more importantly, do not encourage sales.

    A clear consistent price structure means every work of art you create is assigned a dollar value that relates to the dollar values of all other art you create. In other words, all art is priced according to the same basic criteria or principles, determined by you and/or those who know your art best, so that the price of any individual work of art makes sense within the context of the rest. Whatever pricing rules and guidelines you set should be based on unique characteristics of your art in combination with outside art market considerations as well. If you have little or no experience selling and/or pricing your art, please read Price Your Art Realistically before continuing.

    A main goal of sensible art pricing is for similar works of art to have similar selling prices that are easy for people to understand and appreciate. You the artist decide what those similarities are based on, what characteristics specific to your art should determine your selling prices. Those characteristics become the measures by which you assess and ultimately price all of your art. Remember that every stage in your pricing process as well your art pricing guidelines should be explainable and understandable to anyone who has questions about your art, especially potential buyers.

    A good first step in determining these characteristics is to select one or more works of art that you consider representative of your current output and that display a typical range of your skills. These would be pieces you consider to be neither exceptional nor inferior in any way. If you work in more than one medium or style, select at least one piece that is representative of each.

    Assess these works in detail, and make a list of those basic physical characteristics and variables unique to your art that most accurately describe it. Basic physical characteristics include size, subject matter, color, complexity, weight, detail, cost of materials, time necessary to create, and so on. Variables unique to your art might include the number of people or animals in the composition, theme, texture, frequency of use of the color orange, direction of the brush strokes, date produced, or degree of abstraction.

    Avoid listing subjective criteria such as what it means to you, what its message is, how it makes you feel, how much you like it, and so on. Subjective impressions are important from intellectual and/or emotional standpoints, but not necessarily in terms of pricing as they can vary widely from one viewer to the next. No one, however, can dispute a work of art's size or subject matter. If, over time, you find that some of your art imparts similar feelings or messages to wide audiences, you may eventually be able to quantify those feelings or messages as price points, but leave intangibles like these out of the process for now.

    Once you've completed your descriptions, your next task is to set a base price for your chosen typical work or works of art. A good analogy to a base price in the art world would be a base price in the car world, or the price of a car with no extras (this may sound like a crude comparison, but it's how the overwhelming majority of art gets priced). A basic car model with no extras costs a certain dollar amount; models with "extras" cost more. How much more depends on the amount and quality of those extras.

    Artists with gallery experience and consistent sales histories should already have base prices that typical works of their art regularly sell for. If you don't have a track record of sales, your base price should approximate what artists in your area with comparable experience and sales charge for similar works of art. Also consider factors like cost of materials and time spent creating the art (not thinking about it or waiting for paint to dry, etc-- but actual working time). If you're just starting out, the easiest way to go us to set yourself a reasonable hourly wage, multiply it by the number of hour spent making the work, add on your cost of materials, and make that your asking price. Keep in mind that even though your art is unique, experienced art people like dealers, veteran 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 prices to make sense in the overall marketplace.

    Once you've set your base price, use it as the norm to price the rest of your art in relation to that base, in terms of "extras" or lack thereof. "Extras," according to your descriptive criteria, are those characteristics that make certain works of art more significant, in your judgment, than others. If, for example, your typical work of art measures 20 by 30 inches and you base-price it at $1000, and you consider one measuring 40 by 50 inches to be more significant, you might price it at $2500 or $3000. Similarly, you might price one measuring 8 by 12 inches at $200-$400 because you consider it to be less significant, all else being equal. "Extras" that indicate price increases beyond the base are characteristics like more complex compositions, larger sizes, more intricate details, higher levels of technical difficulty, greater production times, and more expensive materials. When pricing minor or less significant works, you would reduce the price below your average base price according to the same characteristics.

    If certain works of art hold special meaning for you or represent critical moments in your life or career, but are not drastically different from your other art in terms of physical characteristics, best procedure is to keep them off the market because the tendency is to overprice them. Isolated extreme prices can confuse potential buyers, and even skew an artist's entire price structure in an unrealistic direction. If you can make a case to the art world as to why isolated works of art should be priced well beyond similar looking pieces, and the art world agrees with you, then fine. If not, save emotion- or attachment-based pricing for when you become famous and have greater latitude in how you present and explain your art to the public.

    As previously mentioned, your price structure should make sense to anyone who has questions about your art, regardless of their knowledge of art, such as why this piece costs more or that one costs less. Even more importantly, you should be able to demonstrate to interested buyers that they're getting good value for their money. Be able to explain how and why you set your base price, and how and why you set other prices higher or lower in relation to that base. Having a price structure that your average art lover art can understand and appreciate is essential in order to move art out of your studio and off of your social media pages and into the collections of private, corporate or institutional buyers.

    Once you've set and established your selling prices, never change them without a good reason. Any deviation in price, particularly in the upward direction, has to be justified. In other words, don't raise or lower your prices just because you feel like it. People generally shy away from art that costs a certain amount one week and a different amount the next; they almost always prefer constancy.

    And now for a few hypotheticals:

    Suppose your prices turn out to be too high-- people who like your art enough to ask how much it costs aren't buying. This means you have to lower your prices, but by how much? Re-pricing somewhat below what similar art by comparable artists in your area sells for is a good starting point, but rather than arbitrarily cut prices either across the board or on a piece-by-piece basis, conduct an informal survey first.

    Ask your most loyal collectors and fans, those who have supported you the longest, how much they think it should sell for. Whenever you get the chance, also ask gallery owners, experienced collectors, consultants and related professionals who you know and trust what they think. Put together as much of a consensus opinion as possible, and then reduce prices accordingly. Your goal is to continue making art aka generate enough sales with the new lower structure to survive as an artist. Ideally, you want to settle at levels where won't have to reduce prices again. If at some future point, you start selling well and your art becomes more in demand, you can think about raising your prices.

    So suppose your art becomes increasingly popular with the public and sales are brisk. When demand reaches a point where a good percentage of your art, at least a third, sells within several months of its appearance on the market, increasing your prices makes sense. A price increase is also worth thinking about if your art regularly outstrips demand for art by your contemporaries.

    As you become better and better known, a brand name, so to speak, your art begins to merit premium pricing, or pricing beyond that of your contemporaries. Exactly how much that premium is depends on the significance of your accomplishments (your resume of shows, awards, critical acclaim and coverage, etc.) and the constant or, better yet, expanding market for your art. Depending on how well-known you get, continue to price according to what "the competition" charges, but as you advance in your career, that competition will likely evolve from local artists to regional artists, and possibly even to national or international artists. In other words, always be aware of what circle of artists you are perceived as belonging to and how much they charge for their art.

    Suppose with the passage of time or as tastes in art change, that one type of your art finds favor with collectors while demand for your other art remains modest. Raise the prices of this in-demand art above that of your other art, including earlier examples that you may still own. For example, if collectors come to like your abstracts much more than your landscapes, raise prices on all past, present and future abstracts, with prices for your most sought after abstracts (those in the styles that receive the most attention) being raised the most.

    Those of you who have been making art for decades may find that prices for the earliest examples of your most desirable art are increasing faster than those for any of your more recent art. This phenomenon is somewhat similar to how antiques and collectibles may cost more than newer examples-- how the first edition of a famous book costs more than later editions, how early Barbie dolls cost more those produced today, and so on. The significance of your "first" or "earliest" art only becomes apparent as you progress in your career. You have no idea how the public will respond to different styles of art when you first begin to create or show them or what their legacy might one day be, but as that legacy becomes clear, price increases may well be in order.

    Continuing with this line of reasoning, suppose from an art history standpoint that a particular type of your art becomes significant beyond you as an artist-- in other words, as part of a larger movement or school of art. For example, let's say you painted in a Minimalist style when you were just starting out in the 1970s. Prices for these works will likely have to be raised, not necessarily according to how your own career has played out since then, but rather according to how Minimalist art from that time period has been "re-embraced" by collectors. Prices for these pieces may substantially outstrip prices for all other art you've created due to its historical import, regardless of how meaningful you think they are, but rather because you happened to produce them "in the right place at the right time."

    No matter how old you are or how long you've 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 characteristics of your art and of your local or regional art market, but be ready to revise those prices at any time (assuming adequate justification). The more you're 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 maximize your sales.

    ***

    Need help pricing your art? I regularly consult with artists about how to price their art, determine reasonable price structures for all of their art, explain their prices to potential buyers in language they can understand, and more. Call me at 415.931.7875 or email alanb@artbusiness.com

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    (art by Leo Valledor)

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