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  • Questions and Answers for Artists

    About How to Price Their Art





    One of the hardest tasks for artists is figuring out how to price their art. Artists are great at making art, but many of them find that translating what they make into dollars and cents is difficult if not impossible. In the interest of clarifying the relationship between art and money, and helping artists to better understand the pricing process, here are the answers to common questions that artists have about how to price their work...

    Q: Should I let galleries that show my art set the selling prices?

    A: That depends. If you and the gallery have an established relationship where you each understand the other, generally see eye-to-eye on money matters, and want to maintain a quality working relationship, then yes. Reputable established galleries know how to price, and know what their clienteles are willing to spend. If you have pricing questions or concerns, ask and they'll tell you where they're coming from.

    Q: A gallery is really excited about my art, thinks they can sell a lot of it, and wants to price it much higher than what it's selling for now. Is this a good idea?

    A: Beware of anyone who wants to raise your prices too high too fast, especially if they're galleries you haven't worked with. They may be more interested in exploiting you for the moment than they are in cultivating mutually beneficial long-term relationships. You might make some fast cash, but over time, sudden large price hikes are usually nothing but trouble. Pricing yourself out of your market and beyond the means of buyers who have been supporting you is a great way to collapse your career. Gradually increasing your prices in an orderly fashion based on accomplishments and experience is the best way to go. That's how to keep buyers in the game, especially the most loyal ones who've been supporting you the longest.

    Q: I sell 15-20 pieces of art per year. When is a good time to raise my prices, and how much should I raise them?

    A: Good times to raise prices are when you consistently sell work within a reasonable time after creating it, say a month or two. Other good reasons are consecutive successful shows, receiving significant awards or distinctions, getting strong media coverage, showing at museums, and similar career milestones. The key here is to always have fact-based reasons for raising prices. "I feel like it's time to raise them" or "I see other artists raising their prices" or "I haven't raised them in a while" are not good reasons. As for how much to raise them, and depending on the strength of the reasons, 10-25% makes sense in most cases. Again, raising them too high too fast is risky business.

    Q: I haven't sold any art yet, but I think I'm pretty good. How do I price it? Should price it higher than lower?

    A: If you are early in your career or don't have a sales history, price as affordably as you can for starters. Your goal is to sell your work, so do everything possible to facilitate that outcome. The lower you price it, the more attractive it is to buyers. The higher you price it, the more questions potential buyers have about whether they're getting good value for their money, and the more hesitant they are to buy. If you price low and your art sells well, you can always raise them. Having to raise your prices because your art is selling well is far better than having to lower them because it's selling slowly or not at all.

    Q: Do you think I can attract wealthy collectors by pricing my art high?

    A: Arbitrarily pricing high does nothing except make your art expensive. Affluent collectors don't buy art because it costs a lot, or turn it down because it's too cheap. They buy based on strength of artists' resumes, how their careers are advancing, consistency of sales, track records of notable accomplishments, and so on. If you can't clearly demonstrate that your art is worth whatever you're asking for it, no matter what your prices are, potential buyers will move on to the next artist.

    Q: Should I price my art the same as art at galleries where I want to show?

    A: If you sell at galleries now, then yes, but only if your resume, exhibition history, and sales track record are comparable to those of the artists you are comparing yourself too. Keep in mind that galleries take 40-60% commissions, so if you have no gallery representation and only sell direct, don't price at gallery retail. Price somewhere in the range of 40-60% gallery retail.

    Q: I'm building my portfolio and will start selling soon. I have prices for selling direct, but if a gallery or website wants to represent me, those prices will be too high when they add on their commissions. If they sell it at my current prices, my net would be too low after they take their commissions. So how should I price?

    A: No gallery or website currently represents you, so don't waste time worrying about things that haven't happened yet. Start with your selling-direct prices. If a gallery or website shows interest at some point, then you can talk about if or how much your prices need changing.

    Q: I think my art is as good as (name of famous artist). How should I price my art in relation to theirs?

    A: Your art may be just as good or even better than art by artists who are well known or even famous, but prices are not based on quality or looks alone. They're mainly determined by experience, accomplishments, sales history, and critical successes. A Picasso painting, for example, sells for many millions of dollars not because of how it looks or how well painted it is, but because of the fame, stature and history of the artist who painted it. Base your prices on those of artists who live and work in your area, or whose art, resumes, and sales histories are comparable to yours. Save the fame-based pricing for when you get famous.

    Q: I haven't been selling that much lately. Should I drop my prices? If yes, by how much?

    A: Art prices can fluctuate just like prices of any other commodities. As difficult as it may be to lower your selling prices, if that's what's necessary to survive as an artist and keep making sales, go ahead and lower them. As for how much to lower them, hopefully you have some sense of what buyers would be willing to pay. Or try to get a sense of what they'd be willing to pay and fall back to those levels. Hopefully you didn't your prices too high too fast in the first place, and price your most loyal fans and patrons out of your market. For future reference, keeping prices steady and reasonable lowers the chances that you'll ever have to reduce them.

    Q: Will lowering my prices help me expand the market for my art?

    A: Generally yes. The more people who can afford your art, the greater your potential for making sales. But rather than lower your current prices, consider making smaller or less detailed or less complex works that you can offer at more affordable or introductory prices. That way, you can keep your current prices steady while at the same time, attract new buyers. First-time buyers often like to start with more modestly priced works. Having affordable options is always good.

    Q: I have a lot of older work that's been piling up around my studio. Should I have a big sale and price it really low just to get rid of it?

    A: You can do that, but have at least one or two friends, associates, experienced collectors or professionals who are familiar with your art and career look over what you are thinking about selling first. They may see value in certain pieces that you don't. Also keep in mind that the further along artists get in their careers, the more significant and valuable certain early works can become. With many artists, especially those who are well-known or famous, important early works are among their most valuable. In short, make sure you save your best stuff, and have a sale on the rest.

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    For those of you who want to know more about pricing, read Everything Any Artist Needs to Know About How to Price Their Art.

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    Still need help pricing? I price art for artists all the time. The good news is that $75 covers everything including reviewing your art and background info, a half-hour phone or Skype or WhatsApp consult, pricing for current and future work, and tips on how to explain your prices so buyers can see that they're getting good value for their money. Have any questions or want to make an appointment? Call me at 415.931.7875 or email alan@artbusiness.com.

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    (signage art by Kenji Nakayama)

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