How to Price Art Right Is a Universal Challenge for Visual Artists

The question of how to price art is a task that often feels challenging. It’s easy to understand why. Prices for artwork are all over the board, from multimillion-dollar spot paintings by Damien Hirst to dirt-cheap prints run off a desktop printer.

Since you’re reading this, it’s easy to guess you’re in the middle of those extremes. But, regardless of your situation, it would help if you made important decisions about pricing your work with minimal help or guidance.

These things complicate the art pricing process and make it harder to get right:

  • There is no standardized information available on how to price art
  • You’re dealing with the subjectivity and emotions of pricing work you made
  • You must rationalize your pricing to yourself while also justifying it to buyers
  • When you ask around, you get a broad range of answers, much of it neither helpful nor informed

Buying Art Is a Complex Situation

Art buyers’ first influence is the visual image. Other factors, such as marketing and mastery of technique, also enter the equation. Understanding that there is no one answer to why someone makes an art purchase is as important as understanding why someone buys your art, specifically.

Already we can see this is a complicated issue with no easy answers. The good news is this is not a subject that needs in-depth research and thought as an everyday task. That’s because once you arrive at a pricing scheme that both feels right and is logical, you can create a pricing structure or scale to use repeatedly.

You Need a Reliable Method

With that understanding, it makes perfect sense to put in the time to develop a system you can use to price your art. You can engage other artists in lively debates over the merits of different pricing schemes. Some swear by the price per square inch. Others believe a markup on time, labor, and the cost of materials works better.

I’ve seen top-selling artists use both of those methods with success. Because of that, I believe it’s more important to get comfortable with a system you can use for the foreseeable future. You are not required to explain to prospective buyers how you arrived at your price. However, it can help close sales to have a standard pattern to use when such situations arise.

Canadian Robert Genn’s Formula

The late, great Robert Genn used a price per square inch formula. He also set an annual date and raised his rates by 10% each year on that date. This method simplified his decisions about pricing. It also created a selling opportunity weeks before the annual price increase. This is good if your work is already getting top dollar, or close to it, within your comps.

Genn advised younger artists to start cheap. I understand why. Nevertheless, I think his advice should consider other factors, such as the quality of the work, the reputation, such as it, and anything else that bears on the situation. Of course, you can never outrun that pricing is subjective. So your job is to maximize what you get at every career stage.

Genn also published the Ten Commandments of art pricing.

Artists young and old — particularly those who have the intention of staying in the game — ought to strategize for the big picture and honour their strategy with Biblical tenacity. Here are the Ten Commandments of art pricing:

Thou shalt start out cheap.
Thou shalt publish thy prices.
Thou shalt raise thy prices regularly and a little.
Thou shalt not lower thy prices.
Thou shalt not have one price for Sam and another for Joe.
Thou shalt not price by talent or time taken, but by size.
Thou shalt not easily discount thy prices.
Thou shalt lay control on thy agents and dealers.
Thou shalt deal with those who will honour thee.
Thou shalt end up expensive.
~ Robert Genn

Getting Top Dollar vs. Being in the Sweet Spot.

If you are not yet close to top dollar, you need to find ways to ramp up your prices before settling on a published annual 10% increase. That is because it takes too long to compound your rates to the point where they should be at only 10% annually.

As discussed here, I realize a dichotomy between being in the sweet spot, as mentioned above, and getting top dollar. For the sake of this post, let’s consider “top dollar” to mean you are hitting the high end of the “sweet spot.” Hitting the upper end of the sweet spot usually happens when you are an established artist with a track record of consistent sales. You will want to strive for it if you are not there yet.

Use the Masterpiece Theory to Take Your Prices Higher Fast!

I have often suggested using the Masterpiece Theory to lower your prices in a short amount of time. You make something bigger, better, and more elaborate than your norm. Then you price it much higher because it is your “Masterpiece.” This activity changes your price range, making regular prices more of a bargain. And, in turn, it gives you a chance to hit it big when someone has to have your masterpiece.

This theory works. Many artists say they had good—and sometimes surprising—experiences when they used the method and found it worked better than they could have imagined. Read this How to Price Your Art to Make More Money post for a beautiful example of how the masterpiece theory in action works.

Be Realistic — Know Your Comps

Art is not sold in a vacuum. It is sold in a competitive marketplace. There is nearly always comparable work to what you are making. Yours might be unique, but it has enough similarity from a consumer perspective to allow an informed decision. If your potential buyers judge your prices based on what they know about other art and other artists, you need a working knowledge of your competition.

Aim to be in the sweet spot where your art is neither the highest nor the lowest comparable prices you are checking. Doing this helps make your pricing competitive. Knowing your competitive pricing will give you confidence in your presentation and help you sell more work.

The Balancing Act of Pricing Art

There is more to learning how to price art than deciding between the abovementioned methods. At the end of the line, where the money is spent, you need awareness of your competition and the markets you serve. If you are not in sync with those factors, you risk losing sales if you are too high or losing profits if you are too low.

As recently as twenty years ago, artists could still price works based on local factors when the Internet was in its infancy. For example, they might have sold for lower prices in rural areas or around where they lived and then charged much higher prices for galleries in significant art districts. Those days are over, done, and finished.

How the Internet Changed Everything

The Internet is the great equalizer. Thanks to smartphones and tablets, people can check prices, where something came from, and much more immediately. My friend, Jason Horejs, says buyers in his gallery started researching his art prices and the artist’s reputation while still in the gallery.

This ubiquitous type of pricing data access means you need a consistent pricing strategy and structure. Your integrity and reputation are at stake when you undercut yourself and your distributors. I have heard too many artists argue that it’s okay to cut their prices when selling to buyers directly.

discover how to price art
The course is jam-packed with valuable tips and tools.

Discounting Direct Sales Is the Same As Cheating Yourself

Since they have cut the gallery’s 50% commission out of the deal, they should lower the price to encourage sales. Discounting direct sales is a bad idea for many reasons. First and foremost, you are giving yourself an intentional pay cut. Why would you want to take money from your pocket?

Secondly, cutting rates is bad for your reputation and your pricing’s integrity, especially for those who paid top dollar. Consider how you would feel if someone else purchased your work at a significant discount from its total price. Finally, you put your best-paying customers in the position of feeling betrayed, like a fool, or both. No matter what, it leads to ill feelings and distrust.

There Are Viable Alternatives to Discounting As a Sales Tool

Never be so desperate you feel you have no choice but to cut rates. Usually, this happens when an artist feels outmatched in negotiating a fair price or lacks selling and presentation skills to validate the cost.

Don’t feel bad if that describes you. Many artists are in the same boat. The good news is you recognize a weakness, and there are many ways to shore it up. If you are willing to learn, there are numerous resources to help.

Tap the Knowledge and Wisdom Around You

Jason Horejs has written an excellent and highly recommended book, How to Sell Art. Grab a copy of “Getting to Yes, one of the best books I’ve read on negotiation. If you use just a fraction of the advice in both these books, you can pull yourself out of feeling anxious in sales situations. In fact, with some studying and practice, you will find newfound confidence that will help you in every aspect of your life.


art business, art marketing, How to price art

You may also like

  • I am interested in learning more about how to price my artwork and to market my artwork. Thank you.

    Carole Bentley

    • Thanks for your comment. A great place to start is by downloading the free How to Price Art report. Besides the useful information in the report, it has links to additional resources to further assist you with your pricing. CLICK HERE to get your free download.

  • Wesley T. Paguio says:

    I am a background painter in animation. I am transistioning myself from animation to fine art. Pricing my painting is kind hard for me. I will appreciate if you can help me out.

    • Thanks for your comment. A great place to start is by downloading the free Top Ten Tips How to Price Art infographic. Use the search box at the bottom of this page to find more useful information. CLICK HERE to get your free infographic download.

  • Patricia Jaggie says:

    I agree with Robert Genn. The Ten Commandments are great!
    Thanks, Barney

  • naini kumar says:

    thank you for your article. I saw by accident. I had this question for a long time. now I relieved that I have your insight.

  • Love the Ten Commandments! I’m a newbie when it comes to pricing, started selling my card stock bookmarks to friends for $1, Sold out in an evening. Hmmmm, did the product and labor equation and came up with $2.50. A year later I’m selling them plus more paper products for $5-$8 each. One area won’t tolerate aka no sales the $5 each, so price becomes $4 or 3/$10, sell out. Found the sweet spot, now to find a bigger customer base.

  • Jerry Whagado says:

    This will be useful, thanks.

  • I believe you need to be the same in your pricing and go up once a year when products go up and so on.

  • When I paint in oils or acrylics I can use a stretched canvas which doesn’t require framing. When using watercolours, mount boards, glass and framing is required. Any tips on how to standardise a “June Orr original” please?

    • It doesn’t matter how you set your pricing. It just needs to be consistent and to make sense to a potential buyer. Come up with a formula that works for you. Add your framing costs in after you set the price for your original.

    • Dick Harrison says:

      If you sell to Interior Designers, framing your art will often kill a sale. IDs usually custom frame for a client to fit the space and blend with the decor. They are used to seeing art with splashes of paint, pin holes in the margins. Won’t affect their judgement. They won’t pay for a frame that doesn’t fit their project.

  • Judy Copeland says:

    Thank you for the article. Look forward to receiving your new ebook.

  • Lindsay Hopkins-weld says:

    i have an old computer.. and prob can’t download the e-book.. any other way of getting it?? also, i have been told (by a gallery owner..)that pricing by square inch..the formula should go down as the paintings get larger..

  • The pricing guidelines are helpful, I follow all of them except not every piece is priced by size only, but by complexity as well. Have you heard of other artists with that approach? Thanks!

  • One must first have a place to sell art. With a place may come lookers, then shoppers and then buyers.

    Without an audience to see your art, pricing strategy is useless. First, find an audience who will appreciate your work. Don’t put the cart before the horse.

  • I already sell my work at a fairly high price compared to others doing similar work/style. Recently my industry has been under scrutiny and as a result of necessary changes, prices on my raw product will increase between 12.5% – 40%. I can’t absorb a 4O% price increase, but I’m not sure my customers can either.

  • You are an idiot and your advices are silly.

    • Start with research. Who are your competitors? What are their price ranges? Who do you see as above you in the marketplace? What are they charging? How are they able to get the prices they charge. What can you do to uplevel your marketing strategy and reputation to move into competition with them?

  • The higher your price anything the more value people thank your house. Sarasota 34236 is a very wealthy community I found it the same leather bag or leather briefcase that I can get let’s say at eBay for $125 is actually $850 on main street. Those leather briefcase is sell like crazy. Unfortunately people think that the higher the price the more the value. I say start at the top the cheapest giclée that I have is $1800 that’s it no questions asked. Is a Rolex really worth $8500 for the stainless steel model I don’t know some watches go up to million dollars It’s just a matter of perception of value

  • Basia Cord says:

    Thank you for the timely article. Although not a new artist, I am new to FineArtAmerica.. Again,bringing up the on going issue of pricing. I learned some good things from your post. Basia

  • Difficult situations arise for me when I must make price adjustments to compensate for very high consignment percentages added to my bottom line. I am often giving in to keep my price “reasonable”.

    • Sorry to hear about your difficulties. Sounds like it’s time to move on and find yourself a better set of consignors and buyers. Don’t remain stuck. You might not have the ability to control them, but you can change your circumstances. Best wishes!

  • Sol Gersh says:

    you are always helpful. thanks…………….sg

  • I enjoyed reading your article on art sales. I have been painting for over 45 years, a luxury I appreciate at the highest level. Life, in general, can interfere with this process. For me, the
    cost of being an artist was great. I had to give up many things and people in order to be able to have the momentum.
    Pricing was always a question and I would have preferred not to be involved in that end of the
    To my surprise and happiness, I have been following the rules mentioned in your article quite innately.

    • Thanks for your comments and observations. For many artists I know, the money would be nice but the cost to get it isn’t worth it. So, they find another way. You express keen clarity about your life experiences as an artist. Consider joining the Older Artists Facebook group. It’s a place to hang out. Share your art and get to know a few folks.

  • I put my photography on a sellers website, and they handle all the production for a sold piece. They have posted prices for finished prices, and the artist adds what they want. Their recommended prices are really, really low – like in some cases $1 or $5, with the price customers end up pay being in the vicinity of $45 or more depending on the product purchased (printed piece, tote bag, phone cover, shower curtain, etc.). I haven’t sold anything on their site (except to myself), but life interferes so I can’t advertise myself in a consistent manner – which is why I’m on this site.

    What are your thoughts on sites like this, and their recommended pricing?

    What are your thoughts about sites like this?

    • Thanks for your question. Sites such as you mention, fill a role for artists and consumers. The price suggestions are just that. Price your work the same there as everywhere. As far as selling on sites with tens, or hundreds of thousands of artists, they can’t direct traffic to your site. Whether you sell your work from your site or studio or sell it on a site with other artists, getting traffic to your page on the site is your responsibility. In the long run, I recommend sites such as these as secondary to your main site. That is, drive traffic to your main site where you are not in competition with other artists. Good luck to you.

  • Lots of “collectors” get a big kick out of collecting deceased artist only., There by saying their work is “more valuable” . I throughly disagree, it’s the living artist that needs to make a living and that’s the way that is. No matter how valuable or attached to your “cave paintings”, they may be, they can put that attitude where the “sun don’t shine”, and yes staying away from their myopic intelligence is good.
    Thanks so much for your suggestions, I agree with most all of your points…98-99%!

    • Thanks for your comments. Collectors come in many varieties. Some, especially at the top of the food chain, go after Old Masters because those artists are not making any more. Here is an excerpt from the Ultimate Guide to Art Marketing,
      Contemporary Art Embraces Graffiti Art and Branding.
      Some of the artists who enjoyed the most remarkable growth in auction house interest and sales since 2005 include KAWS, Mr. Brainwash, and Banksy. Many of the top 50 artists, as ranked by Artnet in this period, were born in the last half of the 20th Century. It is difficult to imagine that the dealers and collectors of the 1980s who were engaged in acquiring Van Goghs could have foreseen how street art would become a market mover powered by the rise in appeal of younger artists in the 21st Century.

      Changes in the American art market and the global art market mirrored those in culture and society. The most monied collectors who bought the top of the market sought artworks representing diverse genres that held substantial price premiums. That left the next level of affluent buyers to pursue the next best pieces available.”

      Interpretation is the super rich go after what they perceive as the cream of the crop leaving the nouveau rich to battle over contemporary artists born after 1946. The interesting thing is for most artists such things have little influence over their art business. Successful artists today grow their own, which frees them from worry over what other artists are doing. Artists need a relatively small group of loyal buyers to make a nice living from their art. That is an advantage nearly exclusive to visual artists.

  • I have read lots of articles on pricing,And think that it’s a good method is good. But falls a bit flat if it’s a large painting that has large areas of negative space.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

    Subscribe to weekly updates. 
    "Helpful information & encouraging inspiration for fine artists."  

    Search This Site