How to price art
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.
That said, the pricing question is a bit more complicated—not Wall-Street require-bail-outs-every-few-years-because-we-make-money-out-thin-air complicated, but 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.