Friday, August 22, 2008

How to Price Artwork

Marshlands, Paludes
a watercolor by Sharon A. Hart

Vincent Van Gogh once told his brother, "No painting ever sells for as much as it cost the artist to make it." I've yet to meet any artist who could prove him wrong!

It is always difficult to determine how to price a painting. Some artists arbitrarily price solely by the dimensions of the artwork, some artists calculate the time it took to create the piece, while others "quantify" the value of the artwork's perceived "quality." One of the most creative methods I've ever heard used to establish pricing was developed by the Baroque Era Italian painter Giovani Grancesco Barbieri, better known as Guercino, who was renowned for his innovative compositions and profound psychological insight. He based his prices upon the number of figures in the composition---even pro-rating for three-quarter or half-length figures. Obviously, there is no set formulae that works across the board for all artists, as our costs, working methods, experience and skills are decidedly different.

St. Luke

In truth, sometimes a visually simple painting is harder to do than a complex one. An oil painting is always more expensive to create, but a watercolor is more difficult to control.

Consequently, my prices are not "fixed" but are an alchemical blend of all of the factors mentioned above to help determine a fair market price for each piece of fine art one would wish to add to their collection.

My price guidelines are just that --- guidelines that will give my patrons and aspiring collectors an approximation of what the piece may cost, depending upon medium, subject, and rendering. Each artist finds their own method of pricing and (for the most part) we do try to be fair. Furthermore, any piece of art is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it;the true arbiter of its value therefore is always the buyer.

While you read about record prices being set at auction houses like Christies and Sotheby's most of us aren't Prima Donnas commanding millions of dollars or pounds per each piece we create. Instead, the majority of artists fail to enjoy a living wage solely from their art, yet they continue to pursue their creative endeavors with the understanding that the process of creativity provides greater rewards than money---although that's appreciated, too. Let's face it -- most artists are passionate about creating art. If they were more interested in the business of money-making, they'd be bankers or venture-capitalists!

I agree entirely with the sage words of Kurt Vonnegut, "The practice of art isn't to make a living, it's to make your soul grow." What more can anyone ask for?


Kim said...

I heard the results to the Sotheby's auction last night Sharon...
of course if you are the latest Archibald winner you will sell your work for higher prices....
I couldn't believe that a Grace Cossington Smith work didn't even get a bid !!!
I sell my portraits priced on number and proportions (size) too..

ESCUDERO said...

Hi Sharon - Hope all is well with you. How did your competition go? This article on pricing was good. I think each individual knows where there pieces should be priced. I almost go by size. Sometimes I'll make an exception.

Take care

S. A. Hart said...


I'm still in the process of preparing everything for the competition. As it's a nationally juried show, I won't even hear back until mid-end Sept as to whether or not I made the cut. However, I feel fairly confident that I'll at least getting into the show. As for winning....who knows? (That's always such a subjective process.) I'm delighted just to get greater exposure for my paintings.


I'm always amazed by what does or doesn't sell at these auctions. I believe it is especially sad state of affairs as too often the "market value" of a piece is not due to the expertise of the artist, but to a marketing campaign--especially when we consider many modern artists who are gleaning outrageous sums for their work at these auctions while works like Grace Cossington Smith's aren't sold.
John Maynard Keynes once wrote, "Successful investing is anticipating the anticipations of others." For the individuals and companies who view collecting art as 'investments" in their portfolios, the art market may be an irrational ride for a few years to come. I suspect these individuals would do better to simply buy art they loved and not worry about "return on the investment", for tastes will change and their anticipated returns may not deliver. Still, in my opinion which is supported by economic studies, art is always a better investment than stocks!

Tina said...

I find your post very interesting. I agree with the last quote but unfortunately artist have also humble, everyday needs.

S. A. Hart said...

Tina, I agree entirely! You might want to check out my post from January 3, entitled "Is the Laborer Worth His Wage". It addresses the need to pay artists appropriately so we can meet our essential needs.
I believer the root of the problem is an erroneious public perception that the artist is a hobbyist rather than a professional. It therefore is necessary that we educate prospective clients about the numerous years of tireless practice, thought, ceaseless study and dedicated self-discipline that contributes to our art. Most individuals are also not aware of the high prices we pay for our supplies--they just see the finished product and the process remains clouded in mystery.
Until we as artists consistently value ourselves and our work appropriately, remain aware of the market, and educate others about our process, we can anticipate the concept of the "struggling artist" will be more of a reality than a myth.

Sarcasta-Mom said...

Artists in all mediums struggle with pricing. A lot of people under price their work, just hoping it will sell, but then other artists get made for devaluing everyone elses prices. Also, there's there phenomenon of "precieved value", where a customer is more likely to buy your work if you price it higher rather than lower, becasue the higher price tag makes them think it's more valuable. Craziness. Seems like either way you go, it doesn't work. I think we all just have to price our work in a way that we th ink is fair and try to be happy with what we reach :)

KentuckyGal said...

I sat for an art class once, dressed in the costume of a character I had portrayed in a play. Found you through Entrecard. I enjoyed reading your blog. :)

Leet said...

Hi S.a.hart,
thanks for visiting my blog, l think I will stick with the logo for a while - so you won't get confuse :-) Cheers, Leet

S. A. Hart said...

Models are often the "unsung" heroes of the artist. I've tried modeling, staying in a single position for an extended period of time is a difficult process and one which I believe every artist should experience at least once.

PurrPrints said...

hey Sharon--just wanted to let you know I changed the policies on my rme giveaway so now everyone who enters wins their choice of a ten dollar gift certificate to my shop or 500 EC credits--just let me know which you prefer through the "conversation" function on etsy--and thanks again for joining in :)