Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

How to price art

2012 . 06 . 12 - Comments / Commentaires (10)

- -—[version française]—- -

When pricing your artwork, there are four aspects of the money-art relationship to consider:

1) What the market will allow.

The first step towards establishing appropriate pricing is seeing what the going rate is. What do artists with similar work charge? Points of comparison for determining what work is similar include medium, genre, and style, but also crucial are the artists’ résumés. Do these artists have more press recognition than you? Are the artists or their work affiliated with institutions like universities, established galleries, and museums?

2) What will pay for your time and expertise.

Evaluating how much time it actually takes to create works can also help to set a price, and really acknowledging your investment can help you figure out how to get a decent return on that investment.

3) What you need in order to have optimal work flow.

This tends to be a less-recognized puzzle piece in the pricing game, but it’s really very important. If your prices are low enough and your work good enough, you’ll probably have more sales than you can reasonably handle. This can lead to feeling rushed in the studio—a condition that, while financially pleasant and nice for the ego, is not conducive to creativity in the long run. If you charge a little more, you may sell less work, but the work you do sell will have more space-time-sanity built into it, leading to a decrease in burn-out and an increase in joy.

4) What your prices say about your work.

No matter how good $100 art is, it’s still $100 art.  What I mean by that is that it’s not possible to experience a work of art without its context—the venue it’s displayed in, the way it’s lit, its creator’s reputation, the way critics and other viewers talk about it, and, yes, the price tag. All these factors go into the perceived value of a work and, to my mind anyway, perceived value is the only real kind. So-called intrinsic value is the domain of the wishful-thinkers and those who don’t understand how society and human psychology work.

In 2008, I significantly raised my prices by increasing the gap between my offerings in different sizes. At first this move terrified me, but I quickly found a whole new audience for my work, people who noted my improved prices and judged my work as more appealing because of them. In other words, within reason, the price itself can actually make a work more or less valuable.

painted diptych of a couple

Gwenn Seemel
Curnis and Becky
acrylic on canvas
17 x 26 inches (combined dimensions)
(For more information about the making of these paintings, go here.)

Over the years, I’ve figured out how to sell art, how to make art on commission, and even how to discount art without cheapening it. I know a thing or two about how art and money interact. 

That said, the pricing question is a bit more complicated—not Wall-Street require-bail-outs-every-few-years-because-we-make-money-out-of-thin-air complicated, but still pretty complicated. I’ve been told that my prices are too high, and I’ve been told that they’re too low. And every time someone comments on the dollars I assign to my art, I agree with them wholeheartedly!

What I can say with complete confidence is that making money from your art or, more specifically, making the right amount of money from your art is essential to making good art. A sustainable art practice is the only kind that can produce art with any depth.

- How to make a living as an artist
- The best kind of artist / La meilleure sorte d’artiste
- Taking someone to small claims court as an artist

CATEGORIES: - English - TOP POSTS - Business of art -

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(10) Comments / Commentaires: How to price art

-- Jaime Haney -- 2012 . 06 . 26 --

I’ve just found you through the Art Empowers Me interviews. I find the discussion of pricing to be much easier than actually doing it. I like your breakdown.

I am left wondering, in number four is the $100 art you speak of high or low in your opinion?

I am enjoying exploring your site, fantastic work.

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-- Gwenn -- 2012 . 06 . 26 --

Very generally speaking, $100 dollar art is cheap art.  Of course, that does depend on medium, on your résumé, and on your local market.  Researching comparable artist in depth is a really important aspect of determining price.

I hope that helps, and thank you for your kind words and for stopping by!

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-- Georgia Papadakis -- 2013 . 03 . 17 --

One of my big concerns when pricing has been, how often will I sell a painting? Some years ago I was showing my work in cafes and restaurants, and I’d sell a painting for anywhere between $175 and $550. But over the course of three or four years, I sold 16 paintings. It’s been years since I sold anything, and I want to try again.

How do you go about researching similar artists’ prices? I like to look on Etsy because not only do you see prices, but you can check out what/how much sold. Do you have any other suggestions on where to look?

Thank you for sharing so much useful information!

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-- Gwenn -- 2013 . 03 . 17 --

Googling “artist + [name of your city]” and checking out the websites that come up is a good way to figure out where your local market is.  Also, going out to see art that’s for sale locally is useful.  Even if another artist’s résumé is more developed than your own, their prices can indicate what you can work towards!

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-- Joseph C Blanchette -- 2014 . 08 . 07 --

Dear Gwen,
Pricing one’s work is one of the most devilish conundrums that many artists deal with. I know that in my own case when I first started selling my work professionally ( circa 1990’s ) I often would tend ( unconsciously ) to price my works depending upon how good “I” thought they were, or how much effort went into them.
Of course there were problems with this method, for example all Working Artists have had the experience where one piece tends to almost create itself, it flies out of creativity directly into existence with practically no effort, on the other hand some work is a struggle, the artist and the work are in hand-to-hand combat and even when eventually completed, it is doubtful if the work accomplished the direction or intent of the Artist.
So when configuring my price list for a gallery show, I would tend to price the better pieces “lower” ( even though I knew were stronger work ) because I felt guilty so little time had been put into the work, and correspondingly, I would price the lessor works higher because of the number man hours that went into them.
Of course experience ( being the Deliciously Lovely, yet very Cruel Mistress that she is ) taught me that, buyers often do not know how many hours one piece took over and against another work, and often have completely different ideas about what “they” feel is one stronger work over and against another.
As a result I have adopted a more “quantitative” process to my pricing that eliminates the struggle, ego, and personal demons that go into the valuation of any one’s work.
I have adopted a commonly used technique of pricing my work by its size, or a per Dollar-per-Centimeter calculations ( some artists use man-hours, however I found that this it is difficult keeping track of your time ).
As the market value of my work increases ( and this is an art in itself ) I tend to gauge the increase of my valuations based upon; Number of pieces sold the previous year; Discussions with other working Artists and Gallery Curators; and simple Inflation.
I look forward to seeing you and your works in the future.
Sincerely, Joseph Blanchette

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 08 . 09 --

O yes, “difficulty pricing.” I will always remember talking with another artist about her work years ago, when we were both starting out. She was desperately trying to unravel some feedback a curator had given her about a particular piece. He had told her that when he looked at it what he liked most was that he could see that she had clearly struggled in creating it. She was confused on many levels, not the least of which being that she hadn’t felt that this piece had really been a struggle.

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-- Naasson -- 2015 . 03 . 15 --

Glad I found your site, you have some great advice! Im fairly new to oil painting but have been drawing all my life, so I’ve caught on pretty quickly and I learn fairly quickly too, so much so that when I started offering work for sale, of course I started low cause I didn’t think it ‘worthy’ of being so high, just starting out. I even got comments telling me to go much higher, but I felt conflicted about it. What’s your advice about it? Thx so much!

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-- Gwenn -- 2015 . 03 . 19 --

It sort of depends on what exactly is making you feel conflicted, Naasson. Are you worried that other people will judge you for asking too much? Because some people will always have strong opinions about how you price your art no matter how you price it, and they won’t be shy about sharing them! Or are you feeling like you need to work your way up to higher prices? If so, try giving yourself a deadline for raising the price—maybe every six months. It’s hard to give more specific advice without knowing more details. Good luck!

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-- Naasson -- 2015 . 03 . 23 --

HI Gwenn, thanks for your response! I understand what you’re saying but I think you’re not understanding what I mean…I’m only a year in to using oils. I’m what most would consider an amateur. I’m still learning and refining my art. So I’m sure you’d agree I don’t have the luxury of just giving my art ANY pricing I think is worthy. High pricing is justified by many things like demand, skill, and the artists’ worth who has proven his/her art to be worthy of high prices. But for me, although it ‘appears’ to be great, it’s really still amateur. So, what’s your recommendation for pricing for someone in my shoes? Just need some advice/ guidance in my situation. Thanks! smile

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-- Gwenn -- 2015 . 03 . 23 --

Like I said, start low and then raise it every so often. Pricing is ultimately both fairly arbitrary and mercilessly specific. It’s arbitrary in the sense that an artist could potentially name whatever figure they want, and it’s specific in that they may not sell at the price they choose or they may sell too quickly and be unable to keep up with demand.

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