The Psychology of Pricing Art

Pricing art, like art itself, is subjective.

The psychology of pricing art
The subject of pricing art almost always manages to become part of the conversation whenever artists discuss the business of art. There is as much angst and confusion around pricing art as anything artists deal with on the business side of their art careers.

Part of the problem is there are no set methods. Artists can use price per square inch or foot, time and materials, artists’ reputation, internet searches and a Ouija board to get a start. Regardless, many artists have ongoing doubts about the methods they choose for pricing art.

Pricing methodology available elsewhere

This post is not a discussion on the techniques or methods of pricing art. Here are some other resources for that. You can buy my How to Price Digital Fine Art Prints e-book. It has expert opinions from industry thought leaders on pricing prints, but nearly all the information works just as well on originals. You can watch the recent Pricing Your Artwork to Sell Today podcast with my friend, Jason Horejs, and me.

Use the Goldilocks Theory of pricing art

The biggest questions about pricing art are, “Am I charging too little, or am I charging too much?” This is with good reason. Do it wrong and you either leave money on the table or you lose sales. The solution is to use the Goldilocks Theory, which means price your art neither too hot (high) nor too cold (low), but “just right”.

In a recent online discussion about giclée prints, some artists were complaining that everyone, including printers and galleries, were making money on giclée prints except the artists. Unless an artist is actually overpaying market prices, which in a highly competitive market such as giclée printing should never happen, and as harsh as it may sound, the fault is on the artist. It comes down to not marking up the work for a sufficient profit.

Prints should not be priced anywhere near what originals sell for. If you are not getting significantly more for your originals than you are asking for prints, then you should stop selling prints until you get your original prices at levels that make your prints look like an attractive option for budget conscious shoppers. Likewise, if your originals are not in demand, there is no reason to believe investing into the print market is a solution to your problem.

Your prices have to match the demographics of your prospects

A complaint one often hears is I am not getting a high enough price for my originals. Again, assuming the work has buyer appeal, the fix is to find different buyers. If you are marketing to demographics that want to spend a few hundred for an original when you need the price to be a few thousand, then you have to change what you are doing and start seeking buyers elsewhere.

You cannot expect buyers to find you. You have to hunt buyers.

When you are famous, buyers will look for you. Until that happens, you have to look for them.

If you think you can cast a wide net of unfocused marketing efforts and pull in prime collectors who have the desire and means to buy your work at a profitable price for you, you will fail. Hunting buyers simply means using your smarts, your instincts and thorough research to find out where your best prospects are. Then you go about focusing on delivering targeted marketing messages to them on a steady basis.

If the buyers you are encountering through your marketing are not responding to your “just right” pricing, then either your focus is on the wrong buyers, or you art is not appropriate for buyers you have targeted. If you notice other artists having success that you believe your work deserves, you need to determine what they are doing that you are not doing that gets their work sold. If your art is perfect for your prospects, and your message is tuned and consistently applied, you should have success hunting buyers.

The psychology of pricing art is all about what is in your head.

You have to believe in your work, have confidence in your talent and use those things to price your art so you build a profitable business out of everything you do.

Your appeal as the artist has a considerable impact on your collectors and galleries. If you have cultivated a reputation, your work will sell because it has your name on it. To some extent, it is as much or more about the artist as it is about the art. This is always the case when all other things are equal.

It nearly always is as much about the artist as the art.

If you balk at the thought of the importance of the artist, that is understandable, but it does not change the facts. Let’s look at artists in the music industry for a comparison. Rolling Stone magazine, in its list of the 500 hundred greatest rock n’ roll songs, named “Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones as the number one song. While that position is debatable, the song arguably ranks as one of the greatest rock n’ roll tunes of all time.

Let your mind wander for a moment and imagine if Herman’s Hermits, one of the lesser bands of the British Invasion era, had written and performed that song. Can you imagine Herman’s Hermits on top of Rolling Stone’s list? I know I can’t. If that comparison is too dated for your time, visualize Vanilla Ice rapping “8 Mile” and you will see the point.

Art and artists are inextricably connected.

You cannot separate art and artists. Certainly, curators, collectors, galleries, critics and consumers make it so. It is the reality of the situation.

What we are talking about here is putting you, the artist, into the equation when it comes to pricing art. You are its creator, and whom you are adds value to the proposition. The psychology of successfully priced art, the kind where the artist profits every time his or her work is sold, comes down in a great degree to how you perceive yourself and your work in the world.

When you instill confidence in yourself and your work, and inject it in your marketing, you give yourself the best opportunities to price your art to sell profitably and successfully.


  1. Michelle Leivan says

    AWESOME article! More artists need to read this one. I am a giclee printer and I talk to artists everyday and for some reason this is the one thing they seem to struggle with the most.

    Your paragraph is right on target:
    “In a recent online discussion about giclée prints, some artists were complaining that everyone, including printers and galleries, were making money on giclée prints except the artists. Unless an artist is actually overpaying market prices, which in a highly competitive market such as giclée printing should never happen, and as harsh as it may sound, the fault is on the artist. It comes down to not marking up the work for a sufficient profit.”

    Being an artist, I struggled with trying to find the balance and profit in printing my work. When I made my business plan to start, I kept in mind my own concerns as an artist and pricing. And I tell each of them that my prices are wholesale and they should price their prints at a minimum of 3x cost. (this covers gallery commissions and still make a profit) Often times they look at me with disbelief and tell me that at that price the prints are close to the original price… then I look at them and say “Maybe you should rethink your pricing on your originals. They’re one of a kind unique, no one else will own the original, don’t you think that you deserve more especially if you are making prints available. You didn’t blink when I quoted you the price for the giclee I just printed for you.”

    I don’t know what it is exactly, because I went through the same thing early in my art career too. I think for me, it was so easy for me to create that I lost sight of the real value in my work. I have since gotten over that thought process but I see this same struggle all the time.

    Also a comment on whether or not to get prints, I am finding that many “Hobbyist Artists” do not want to sell their original works, the emotional attachment is too high for them to let them go. So getting giclee prints of them are a solution to their problem when someone wants their work. With technology that is now available to get started in prints even on a minimal scale is now reachable even for those artists. I can’t tell you how many of them I get coming to my studio to simply give their art as gifts without loosing the original. And the bonus is that the print they give will last their friend or family a lifetime.

    Thank you Barney for sharing this information.

    • says

      Hi Michelle, Thank you for adding your thoughtful comments to this post. Artists too often sell with what is in their wallet when they should look upon their customers as millionaires. The ones that aren’t will have no problem telling you the cannot afford your originals. That sets up an easy sale for a giclee print with profit built in. If you like what you read here, please forward to others and encourage them to do likewise.

  2. Jillian C says

    Barney, I would like to ask you a question that I haven’t found anyone yet who is willing to answer. I am a photographer. Along with doing portraits and stuff, I love creating photographic art. What I keep running into is other photographers (some top in the area) and galleries who tell me people will not buy photographs unless they are really cheap. Several gallery owners I have talked to personally say people just don’t appreciate the value of photography. One of them is a photographer herself. People crowd around my work wanting to know how I did it, but when I start talking about the piece being in their home, they say they are just asking questions so they can use their camera better. I know my pieces are unique and it’s taken me years to learn to do what I do now. How do you approach not just the pricing of the piece, but increasing the perceived value… not just of my piece, but others who are talented as well?

    I have just stumbled onto a new revelation in the last few days that maybe I need to change my approach. I still need to flesh it out though. When there is a lack of appreciation, it not only devalues my work, but it devalues how I perceive myself as an artist.

    I think the key is to look for an area that does appreciate photographic art, as opposed to trying to convince people there is value there. And to look for a clients and locations to sell my work that care about what I do, learn what goes into a quality photographic print and an understanding of technique. At this point, I just don’t know where to start to find a place like that.

    Do you have any suggestions or ideas to increase the value of photographic art so that it doesn’t sell only when deeply discounted? Or am I just fighting a losing battle with where our culture is now in how it views photography?

    • says

      Jillian, the answer you seek is in the post and in your own comment. There are photographers who make bank on their images, such as Peter Lik are photographers whose work is considered the highest level of collectible fine art, such as Cindy Sherman. Being a realist, I know most photographers are not going to become the next Peter Lik or Cindy Sherman. Nevertheless, their examples show what is possible. I don’t have a magic wand for you, but I can tell you if you are showing your work to people who don’t get the value of what you are doing that you are wasting your time on them. If you are casting for the best and biggest catch and only coming up with puny throw back minnows, you need to change your bait or change your fishing spot or both. It is not the job of high value collectors to find you, at least that is not a business model. It is your job to find them and market to them in a way that converts them to buyers. One of the basic tenets of the classic marketing book titled Positioning is if you want to deepen your sales you need to narrow your focus. Or, as someone else said, “There’s riches in niches.”

      • Jillian C says

        The niche thing is what I really struggle with. I have never been able to feel comfortable with narrowing my work down to a single subject, but I keep the overall style and colors the same. I have finally come down to the conclusion that I make art based on my outlook of life… and maybe that is what needs to be my niche. Still trying to figure this stuff out, but I will keep trying! :-)

        The art market has changed so much over the last few years. But hopefully, that will just make me better in the end.

        Thank you so much for your response!

  3. says

    Great article Barney! As a recovering CPA and budding fine art photographer, I appreciate your practical and to-the-point advice. As a CPA, my marketing strategy was simple – an ad in the Yellow Pages and government and accounting regulations kept my plate full. Now, learning about SEO, target markets, and pricing art/photography keeps my head swirling, particularly when online interfaces are continually shifting gears. I have a lot to learn and look forward to reading your books.

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