pricing your art

by Audra Lambert

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PicturE it now: it’s opening night at the gallery.

Artworks are meticulously placed on the gallery walls, stunningly lit. Guests start pouring in, the artist is on hand to celebrate their special night and the gallerist is buzzing through the crowd, moving confidently from guest to guest. Finally the moment arrives when one of the gallery-goers sidles and up and asks the price on the first work - that one, over by the gallery entryway. While the gallerist seamlessly provides the answer to the collector’s pricing question, the time and energy put into the answer to that seemingly simple question is deceivingly complex. A number of factors are involved in the consideration of artwork price point, but there are roughly five factors to consider when adjusting the final price point for an artwork. Many times, especially for emerging artists who haven’t yet received national or international recognition, the difficulty in landing on a “fair” price point can cause undue emotional turmoil.

Following the guidelines below and ensures preparation for a full list of artworks, including reasonable pricing, in advance of upcoming exhibitions.

There are five universally acknowledged points that emerging artists reticent in approaching art price points should consider. These include the individual artist’s career timespan, artwork medium and materials used, the size of the artwork, time spent making the work, and uniqueness (whether it’s an edition, etc). While at first glance these can seem intimidating, once the right factors are taken into account, this pricing formula isn’t rocket science. Just like any other job, pricing out a reasonable hourly wage for work performed, and remitting yourself a materials budget, are the top two guidelines to ensuring that you’ll make a fair wage on the artwork produced.

Finally, the last crucial step is a consideration of the cut that the gallery will be taking and a built-in pricing model reflective of this percentage. Moving through each factor will show why each piece of the puzzle is crucial in determining artwork pricing for individual artworks.

Career Timespan

In order to fully appreciate the price a collector should be offering for your artwork, take a look at your CV as though you’re an HR director for the position you hold. How much experience does your artwork reflect? Are you a novice in the field, with less than two years experience as an artist? Have you been steadily working for 5-8 years with a consistent track record of exhibitions? By objectively considering the CV that someone encountering your work will be weighing, you’ll be able to place your artistic practice within a range from beginner to intermediate to advanced. Have postgraduate degrees? This is definitely a positive factor and a sign that you should be increasing the price point for your artworks. Teaching experience and prestigious international showings (biennales, renowned art fairs, museums, etc) also act as signs that you should be increasing the price point to reflect your experience.

Artwork Size

This seems like a no-brainer: an artwork that can fit nicely in a small alcove will be priced less than an artwork of the same medium, made in a similar method, that is larger than a bay window. While this pricing factor appears straightforward, there are nuanced aspects: at what ratio is price point affected? What if a work is only slightly larger or smaller than a similar piece in the same exhibition? This factor arguably takes the most time to arrive at correctly, as some artists will be more precise according to overall surface area while some would rather roughly estimate according to individual works. Whatever works best for you as an artist, make sure that a collector who purchases multiple pieces won’t be left scratching their heads if smaller works are not priced relative to any larger works they may buy simultaneously.

Artwork Medium / Materials Used

Oil on canvas may be the dominant medium for painters, but consider our friends who are mixed-media artists: what materials are present within their artworks? Artists should be factoring in their chosen medium, whether photography, painting, sculpture, etc., and scaling the artwork pricing according to the price of materials involved. Like any good shop, there needs to be a markup for “goods”: in this case, materials present in the physical artwork. Like Damien Hirst’s crystal skulls, expensive and/or luxury items present in an artwork will drastically increase the pricing of the artwork in question. Alternately, re-using materials makes less of an impact on an artist’s wallet and the price of the work can be more accurately determined by other factors such as time spent on the piece and career timespan.

Time Spent on Artwork

Field Projects Director Jacob Rhodes nails this category with his advice, noting “ matters how much work you make and how long your work takes to make.” Again it’s helpful to morph into the HR Director to examine your “artist” job description: objectively consider how many hours you’re working. Are you working full-time on your artwork? How many hours did you spend on individual artworks? What should your hourly rate be? Cumulatively, along with the actual hours spent on the artwork factors affecting sole business owners, such as paying into social security and other taxes, needs to be kept in mind when creating artwork. Finally, Rhodes approaches the task of considering time spent by advocating for a mix of hours spent on artistic practice by advising that artists“make something for every person who wants to buy your work...something the emerging collector can afford [and] something for the serious collector. Also make something your friends can afford and [even consider] something like a ‘zine for the casual viewer of your exhibition.” Giving casual art appreciators an entry point into collecting your work allows your artistic style to grow on collectors over time, evolving with the collector as their budget allows.

Edition vs. Unique

An important question to consider is whether the artwork you’re creating is unique: works in a series will always be priced less than unique works due to their availability. For printmakers or photographers, selling multiples may be a surefire way to increase profit by selling to multiple collectors, but these works need to make sense according to the scale of work produced. Is the work one in a series of ten? Fifty? One hundred fifty? By approaching the work from the perspective of exclusivity and considering how many collectors can purchase an identical piece at any given time artists can be sure to fairly scale artwork pricing to market value.

The complexities of art pricing models are acknowledged across the art world, and these rules are not definitive - for example, how much should each factor affect pricing? Is it uniform or should certain factors be weighted? Founder of MW Projects and Director of Equity Gallery (the exhibition space of New York Artists Equity), Melinda Wang, notes that “Pricing emerging artists' work is definitely more art than science because there isn't an extensive sales history. We'll consider medium, size, genre, the artist's exhibition history, pricing of comparable works and other factors and then have a conversation with the artist to decide on a price point she's comfortable with.” If there’s an art to creation, there’s also an art to valuing. Through a careful balance of experience, frank discussion with trusted art world confidants and consideration of these factors artists can be sure to eventually land on the perfect formula that determines the pricing model best for them.