In order to price your art realistically, you need a basic understanding of how the art business works and how collectors shop and buy. You also have to step back and objectively evaluate the significance and quality of your art in relation to the vast quantity and variety of art that's on display and available for sale both online and at galleries. Being able to assess your art world accomplishments and get a sense of how you're positioned in comparison to other artists is an essential part of this process. These can be difficult tasks for some artists and not necessarily pleasant, but they're definitely necessary if you expect to make a go of it as an artist and start selling your art.
Understanding common mistakes artists make when setting prices is the first step in this process. Perhaps the most significant error is the tendency to focus too much attention on only that segment of the art world that pertains to you and too little attention on the rest, or even worse, dismissing the rest as irrelevant. If you let this happen, your prices may make perfect sense to you and to your inner circle, but make little sense within the broader context of the overall art community. The more aware you are of the big picture, of what other artists are creating, how it's being priced and marketed, and who's buying what for how much and why, the better prepared you are to price your art sensibly.
Many artists make the mistake of equating dollar values with intangible or psychological factors like how emotionally attached they are to various works of their art or how much angst they experienced while creating them. They place special meanings and therefore special asking prices on certain pieces that may make sense to them inwardly, but have little or no relation to the selling prices of the rest of their art or to art prices in general. As a result, dealers and collectors who view art more objectively and don't understand these value judgments may see these prices excessively high, or view your overall pricing structure as confusing or inconsistent. The bad news is that when people are confused by your prices, they tend to shy away. Nobody buys anything they don't understand.
Avoid this pitfall by keeping any art off the market that you feel exceptionally close to or involved with. Save it for your own personal collection. Any insights, enlightenments, excitements or agonies you experienced while creating art are your own business. Don't bill collectors for it. People in all professions have intense emotional experiences and attachments just like you, but you rarely see the prices of cars, plumbing, clothes, or other goods or services fluctuate wildly or inexplicably as a result.
The opposite of placing excessively high prices on works of art with high levels of personal meaning or emotional attachment is placing excessively low prices on works of art that you consider lacking those qualities. Experienced collectors who bargain hunt for art love when artists underprice art based on feelings rather than on more objective factors such as those we'll discuss below. Consistency in pricing is a cornerstone of successful selling.
Another mistake artists sometimes make is confusing subjective opinion with objective judgment when comparing the quality of their art to that of other artists. At the same time, they may also ignore outside factors that influence those other artists' prices like what their resumes look like, what galleries they show with, what kinds of awards or distinctions they've won, what their reputations are, how long they've been active, or how desirable their art is in the marketplace. Once again, unrealistically high selling prices are often the result of comparing your art to artists who've achieved greater levels of recognition and accomplishment in their careers.
To take an extreme example, if you think your art is as good as that of Picasso or Warhol, do you price it into the millions of dollars? Of course not. Your art may indeed by as good as that of a well-known or even famous artist who sells for lots of money, but many other factors must also compare favorably before your selling prices can approach those of that artist. Your personal opinion about how good your art is has little to do with other artists' prices or why collectors pay them. If it did, any artist could sell any work of art for any price at any time. When it comes to pricing, it's all about facts, accomplishments and concrete details relating to an artist's career, track record and trajectory, not personal opinions or subjective judgments.
And don't make the mistake of thinking your art is so unique that nothing else compares to it. All art is unique. Every artist is unique. Uniqueness however has never been and never will be the sole criterion for setting or establishing prices at any particular level.
No matter how "unique" a work of art may be, collectors rarely see themselves as having only one choice when deciding what to buy. Not only do they tend to be cost-aware and concerned about getting reasonable value for their money, but they almost always compare work from artist to artist, website to website and gallery to gallery before they buy. They also compare prices, and with the amount of information available on the Internet, this comparison process goes on to a greater extent than it ever has before. The more comparing buyers do, the better they get at collecting, assessing quality, determining fairness in selling prices, and getting the best bangs for their bucks. This is what experienced collecting is all about and what you're up against when pricing your art.
So how do you price sensibly and realistically? At the most fundamental level, you should be able to make a fact-based case for what your art is worth that ordinary everyday people who may be interested in your art can understand. You certainly know how to explain what it means from a personal standpoint, but if a collector asks, can you explain it equally well from a monetary standpoint? Convincing people that your art is worth what it's priced and is therefore OK to own is an essential part of completing sales. This is especially true when buyers are on the fence, not familiar with your work, or just starting out as collectors. Simply put, they're looking for assurances and want to feel good about spending whatever they decide to spend.
In the world of selling, all reputable and established art galleries are fully prepared to explain their asking prices to anyone who asks. This is how the business end works. Galleries get asked about their prices all the time. Dealers know collectors care about how they spend their money and as a result, they have plenty of ammo on hand when the focus of a presentation turns from art to dollars.
The best way to justify your asking prices is to do exactly what the galleries do. Present documentation that you've been selling art consistently for dollar amounts comparable to what you're now charging. The more recent sales you can cite-- either through dealers, galleries and consultants, or directly to collectors either online or from your studio-- the better. These records, of course, should be relevant to the situation at hand. In other words, if you've sold three paintings to your rich uncle for $3000 a piece, but have never sold anything to a collector for more than $500, quote prices more in the hundreds range to collectors, not the thousands. You might also think about giving your uncle a price break while you're at it.
When you don't have a record of consistent sales in a particular price range or sales have been erratic and you're not quite sure how much to charge, setting your prices the way real estate agents set prices on houses is one of your better options. They base home prices on "comparables" or what similar houses in the same neighborhoods sell for. In your case, this means basing prices on how much other artists charge who live in your geographical area, work in similar mediums, sell through similar venues, create similar art, and whose accomplishments, experience and quality of work are comparable to your own.
If you're just starting out and haven't sold much, pricing your work based on time, labor and cost of materials is often the best way to go. Set yourself a sensible hourly wage, add the cost of materials, and make that your asking price. If materials cost $50, for example, you take 20 hours to make the art and decide to pay yourself $20 per hour, then price it at $450. Don't forget the comparables, though. You still want your final asking prices to be in line with what other artists with similar credentials to yours are charging for their work.
Another point to keep in mind is that when you price by comparison, compare to what sells and not to what doesn't. Supposing your "comparable" artist has a show with prices ranging from $2000-$25,000. Suppose the show closes with only pieces in the $2000-$4000 range selling. This result likely means collectors balk at paying anything more than $4000 and can be interpreted as somewhat of a verdict on the artist's high-end prices. You consequently would be advised to price your art from $2000-$4000 and forget going much higher, at least for the time being.
A similar overpricing situation can occur if you compare your prices to those of artists who primarily sell limited edition prints of their work rather than originals. These artists want to sell prints and not originals, so to accomplish this they deliberately price their originals high to discourage collectors from buying them. The more expensive the originals, the more significant the limited edition prints appear in comparison, and the more they tend to enhance the collectibility of those prints in the eyes of collectors, ultimately to stimulate sales. You tend to see this practice more at galleries representing commercially popular artists with wide name recognition. This strategy is unlikely to work for artists without high levels of name recognition.
No matter how you set your prices, be competitive. As distasteful and capitalistic as this may sound, you're in competition with other artists. Every time a collector buys a piece of art from you, that's one less piece they're going to buy from someone else. Naturally, you want to maximize the number of pieces collectors buy from you.
The best way to at least stay in the hunt is to make sure you're always charging the same or even a little less than what you determine to be the "going rate" for comparable artworks in whatever arena you're selling. For example, if you're in a group show or exhibition, enter a piece that's priced competitively with those of the other artists. You don't want to have the most expensive piece in the show; you don't want the first impression collectors have of your work to be sticker shock. You want it to stand out for art reasons, not money reasons.
Another issue artists often wrestle with is when to raise prices. The best time is when you're experiencing a consistent degree of success and have established a proven track record of sales that's lasted for at least six months to a year and preferably longer. You should also be selling at least half of everything you produce within a reasonable time period, say six months or less. As long as sales continue to be good and demand remains high, price increases of 10-25% every year or two are in order. As with any other price-setting circumstances, be able to justify all increases with facts. Never raise prices based on whimsy, personal feelings, or because you feel they've stayed the same long enough. The risk you take by arbitrarily raising prices is that you can literally price yourself out of your market.
Remember that today's collectors are more sophisticated than ever, especially in terms of researching art and artists online before buying. They also have more options than ever before in terms of what to buy and where to buy it, including internationally. The scenario of falling in love with one piece of art, and having to have it regardless of cost, fell by the wayside years ago. Collectors now comparison shop ahead of time. The only ones who don't are likely new to the game, but if they stick with art for any period of time, they'll learn the system soon enough. Now if you happen to you get lucky and find a buyer who's a little naive, resist the temptation to take advantage and overcharge. You risk the possibility of turning them off not only to your art, but also to continued collecting. And we all know artists need all the art collectors they can get.
Lastly, have something for everyone. Offer art in all price ranges. People who are seeing your work for the first time and like what they're looking at often want to start small and less expensive rather than large and more expensive. Additionally, someone who likes your work but can't afford the expensive stuff should at least have a chance to come away with something. No matter what their budgets, they're still fans, and may well go on to be among your most loyal future collector base, the ones who have the highest likelihood of supporting you throughout your career. So do what you can to satisfy their needs. Who knows? They may one day be able to afford your top-of-the-line masterworks.
Getting your art out into the public whenever and wherever you have the opportunity, both online and at physical locations, is the best way to maximize your exposure, create goodwill and become known and established in the arts community. The more people who see your art and the more circumstances they see it in, the greater the chances good things will happen in your art career. That includes getting shows, being reviewed by critics, getting featured on art websites or in arts publications, getting representation, and last but certainly not least, making sales.
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