I am the first to admit that art pricing is one of the greatest mysteries of the art business. Valuing art is more akin to alchemy than it is to hard science. Artists who are new to the art market will often ask me how much their art is worth. I can only shrug my shoulders and say, “It depends.”
The value of art is largely arbitrary. There are no objective elements that would allow a gallery owner or an artist to develop a universally optimal price for a particular piece of artwork. There are many variables that come into play with pricing. Ultimately, the right value for a piece of artwork is a price at which the artwork will sell quickly and provide a profit to the artist and art gallery.
Many artists who are in the early stages of selling their work operate under the misconception that selling artwork is analogous to selling other products. In most businesses, offering buyers a lower price provides a competitive advantage and increases sales.
I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard artists say, “People tell me my prices are too low, but I’m afraid to raise them because it will scare away buyers.” These artists are often not selling much of their work even at the low prices, so they are afraid that if they increase their prices they will experience even fewer sales.
The Art Market Is Different from Other Markets
In classic economic theory this thinking would make sense – increasing the price would decrease the demand for the art, and thus slow down the rate of sales. Logic tells us that a lower price will make the art accessible to a wider range of buyers and that those buyers will view your pricing in comparison to other artists. If your price is lower than the competition, the thinking goes, consumers will buy your work.
In my experience, this kind of logic simply doesn’t apply to the art market. A lower price would increase demand if you were selling a widget that was identical to your competitors’ widgets, but you aren’t. You are creating artwork that is unique and different from what any other artist is creating.
You are also selling in a market where a low price isn’t the primary motivating factor for a purchase. The purchase of artwork is completely discretionary. In order to afford art, a buyer has to have some disposable income available to purchase what most would consider a luxury item. Luxury buyers typically don’t want to feel that they are buying the cheapest option available. This explains why people will buy a Rolls Royce when a Hyundai would get them to their destination, and it also explains why art buyers will spend many thousands of dollars on a piece of artwork.
Low Prices Can Hamper Your Sales
Ironically, in the art world, a lower price can actually hamper your sales! Most art buyers judge the quality of artwork by its price, not it’s price by the quality. It’s too difficult to look at a work of art and decide what it should be worth. If you put an irrationally low price on a piece of artwork, you are signalling to the buyer that there must be something wrong with it.
Of course, you might ask, “Low price compared to what?” That is the perfect question to ask. Buyers will judge your price relative to the other artwork in the context in which they are viewing it. For this reason, I suggest that artists price their work in the midrange of the markets in which they show or in which they want to show.
Your work should neither be the highest nor lowest price work in any given market where you are trying to sell. Because art markets can vary dramatically, this means that once you set your pricing, it may preclude you from showing your work in some art markets or venues. For example, many artists who are showing through galleries in well-established art markets can no longer show their work in small art festivals or in their hometown if they live in an area that doesn’t have a strong market.
This also means that you shouldn’t randomly inflate your pricing to an extreme level after reading this post. I can imagine you grabbing a marker to add zeros to your price tags while saying “The author of this blog post promises me my sales will increase if I raise my prices!” While low prices can impede sales, high prices that are out of line with the market can do the same.
If you are struggling with pricing, I would suggest that the best approach is to do some market research in the geographic areas where you feel you would have the best possibility of selling your work. Typically these would be areas that would attract buyers who are interested in your subject matter and where there are a good number of art galleries or art shows/festivals. Research how other artists in that market are pricing their work, and then price your work accordingly – in the midrange.
An Example | We Raised Prices and Sales Increased!
In closing, allow me to illustrate the topsy-turvy nature of pricing in the art market with an example from my gallery. Several years ago we began representing a new artist. It often takes a while for sales to kick into gear with a new artist, but this particular artist’s work began selling right away. In fact, within a couple of weeks, we completely sold out of the initial shipment of art that the artist had sent.
The second shipment of work likewise sold very quickly. It was very gratifying for both us and the artist to see such a strong response from our collectors, but it also posed a challenge. We couldn’t keep his artwork in the gallery for more than a few weeks, which meant that no matter how hard the artist was working, most of our collectors never had the chance to see it, let alone buy a piece. (I know, this is a “problem” we would all like to have!)
It seemed clear that a price increase was necessary. The artist was reluctant to raise prices for fear that we would mess up the mojo that was driving sales and that sales would surely grind to a halt. I persisted, and eventually we agreed to bump prices up by about ten percent.
Did sales slow down by the same ten percent? Not at all; in fact the tempo of sales increased! Over the course of the last 18 months, we’ve raised prices by about 50% from where they were initially. We still can’t keep the work in the gallery.
This example is certainly a bit of an outlier, but every artist should be working to find venues where the demand outpaces the ability to create. When you find that market, don’t be afraid to raise your prices.
Do You Struggle With Pricing?
Have you found it difficult to set pricing on your artwork? Do you agree that a low price doesn’t necessarily drive increased sales? Do people tell you your pricing is too low?
Share your experiences with pricing in the comments below.
In my experience, within certain parameters, it makes very little difference how cheap or expensive an artwork is. There are certain paintings I have shown in exhibitions I could have sold half a dozen times, and others that no one was interested in no matter how cheap they were. People, even if they did not know much about art instinctively choose the best paintings.
I have found that to be true–people who know little about art instinctively choose the best paintings.
Your posts are very helpful. I like the clarity and economy. Thanks!
What I am doing these days is overpricing the work, and telling the gallery owners that they can reduce the price 10 percent without consulting me, and contact me if they want to negotiate further. Leaving things flexible has made gallery owners happy, and I assume it’s made customers happy as well.
I have wrestled with the conundrum of pricing art. While doing the lesson on market research i discovered my work was priced low, but where I live artwork more than $300 doesn’t really sell. So I took a bold step and raised my prices anyway, consistent with what the research showed me. I also have attracted attention from some gallery owners in other states. Now my work is selling. I think it’s for many reasons, but one reason is that my new prices reflect the respect I have for my work and for the quality I demand of my craft. Not that we can always justify the number of hours we as artist put not a piece of work. Pricing by the number of hours put into a single piece of art does not work well. The other reason is that I no longer try to sell locally. Of course things can get a bit tricky with friends and relatives, but basically the lessons and conversations in the Art Business Academy are helping me identify when ,how, and why to discount. I am experiencing much happier relationships all around. Thank you so much Jason.
I recently had an interesting experience with this subject. I’d gotten into a spiral in the last couple of years of having “sales” and lowering the prices on my art, which had only gotten worse since the pandemic. It got to a breaking point when I sold a painting that was a particular favorite of mine for an absolutely, ridiculously low price. As I was packing it up to ship it out, I actually started crying. I suppose I should back up and mention that before the recession in 2009, I had a pretty major art business and sold my art for much, much…much…more than I sell it for now. Anyway, when I was crying packing up my painting I realized it just wasn’t worth the sale to feel that bad. So I bit the bullet and raised my prices a fair chunk. They’re still lower than they probably should be, but at least I won’t cry when I sell one. Funny enough, I sold several paintings at the new, higher prices almost immediately!
Have you had any issues with collectors who bought your work in the past at the higher prices? I always thought it was rather bad practice to drop prices (I’m assuming it was more than a 10 % sale discount ) if you’d already established a price structure?
Pricing is a challenging aspect to selling art. Where you “the artist” sells it will initially determine how much you can ask. Artwork in a festival or “non gallery” venue, such as a hotel or restaurant will typically sell lower than in a gallery. The caliber of the gallery and geographic location can also be a factor for how much you can realistically ask. When initially establishing your pricing look carefully at the other artwork in the area you plan on showing in. Be honest with yourself and look at what other artists of your ability and talent are selling their work for. Also bear in mind how long that artist has been showing and what sort of reputation they may have at the present time. If they have a solid reputation and strong following, your work should not be at the same price point, if you are new to the market, and do not have consistent sales at that same price-point. Set your price below theirs and plan on building it upwards as your name gets known within the market. It is typically difficult for an artist to be objective about their own work, so it is a good idea to get a second opinion with another “art smart” individual. The public does not care about how much time you put into your work. They are simply focused on the finished product. The cost of the materials can factor into the equation, if it is obvious to the customer.
If your work is priced too low, it appears as if you are desperate, and that your work is not of any sort of value. The public often-times has a problem understanding the value of certain types of work, such as mixed media, with found objects or certain abstract works. These types of works are trickier to price, however not at all impossible.There is a different market as well.when you reach around the $4,000. or $5,000. mark. The same piece of art will often-times sell much slower to that particular customer if it is around $2,000. versus $4,700. As you grow as an artist, you will begin to understand who your customer is, and in what price-point they fit. Remember it is never wise to raise your prices quickly and drastically. It is much more difficult to lower your prices in the future. You should also keep your prices consistent regardless of where you are selling it.
This is absolutely the best advice I have heard in my heart always felt like this but most go with all the other gobbledygook inch, hours but never thought that sounded right this finally sounds right thank you so very much
Very good points. I’ve sold nearly every type of medium for two decades in a number of different markets and I can say with confidence that the more mysterious/less accessible the medium the easier it was for me to overcome client objections so long as I could explain the creative process in an understandable way. For example, bronze sculpture was “easier” to sell than photographic works on paper. Descriptive language is also very important, especially with limited editions. Instead, refer to the type of work specifically – lithograph, mezzotint, silver gelatin, etc. When you use the appropriate language, you are inherently establishing the value of the work. We all know it’s a print, but using the word “print” devalues it from the jump because people assume the process isn’t special because of their misconceptions about what a print actually is.
Thank you so much for this very informative blog post!
I’m a Swedish, self-taught painter, and I have been struggling a lot with the pricing thing…
My art recently started to sell regularly, after I decided to start working on a series of paintings, where I explore the symbolic meaning of bridges. The series have become quite popular, and some people adviced me to raise the prices. But my strategy so far has been to not raise the prices too quickly.
But it’s tricky to know how to go about this, when everyone seems to have such different views.
Thanks again for your wonderful and helpful blog, with greetings from Sweden 🎨😊👩🏻🎨
If a buyer loves your work, unless completely out of their prince range, they will purchase. A lower price does not entice people to buy who would not otherwise – your work is not for them, however much of a bargain.
I have a show scheduled in Boise Idaho from early July to mid-august. I’ve enjoyed the series of paintings I’m taking more than anything I’ve painted in the last 40 years and I’m hoping others will feel the same, but pricing makes my head hurt. They’re all the same size, about 2 feet by 3 feet, but I’ve decided to price each of them the same. I’m pressing them $1,300 each because that’s the amount of one of my stimulus checks.
2×3 ft is a great size. Long and narrow is what I find most popular in my Gallery. 1300 sounds like a fare price. Good luck with your show.
I joined Jason’s Art Business Academy and learned a lot about marketing. Since then, I have been busy painting enough cohesive work to give galleries a good example of my style and subject.
One thing I applied from the Academy was to create a spread sheet with formulas to automatically calculate my profit after expenses. Initially, I had columns for materials, framing, asking price and 50% to the gallery. After researching shipping, insurance, taxes (which are usually added at time of sale but, in Arizona, we pay a “use tax” of about 9% that I factor in as a cost). The shipping is a major part of cost unless you are selling locally. I am applying to shows in other states so shipping is definitely a factor.
Bottom line: I had to find a frame shop with more reasonable prices, join a shipping and insurance service since some shippers seem to limit coverage to &1,000 for art. Re-figuring my asking price so I could make a profit was fairly easy after looking at my net profit as calculated by my spread sheet. I was asking too little! It is OK to earn money with your art!!
Excellent Virginia – this is a business! Every artist should run these calculations.
Jason, thank you for another excellent discussion on this extremely confusing aspect of being an artist.
As a newbie, and self trained artist this has been subject I’ve been really struggling with. I’ve always felt that my credentials didn’t warrant the higher prices being asked for by the more “seasoned” and formally trained artists. However, people keep telling me my prices are too low, and yet I find it so difficult to “get over” my reluctance to ask for more. Your article has really helped inspire me to do so. Thank you!