The Psychology of Pricing Art Revisited

Pricing art, like art itself, is subjective.

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 of the techniques or methods of pricing art. Here are some other resources for that. Consider joining the How to Price Art: Strategies, Formulas & Calculators. If you sell prints, look at 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 applies to pricing originals and other types of art. Another option is to watch the Pricing Your Artwork to Sell Today podcast with my friend, Jason Horejs, owner of Xanadu Gallery, 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”.

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In a long past, but still relevant, online discussion about giclée prints, some artists were complaining that everyone, including printers and galleries, was 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. If you think you cannot charge more for your prints, or originals, then it is not a pricing issue you have, it is your perception of your art and your buyers. In this case, you most likely need to work on both. That is, think more highly of your art, while remaining realistic, and start looking for a new source of buyers who have money to spend.

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 in the print market is a viable 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.

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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 mean 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 your art is not appropriate for buyers you have targeted. If you notice other artists having the 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.

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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.

The “Back Story” makes miles of difference.

Recently, I published a post titled, Selling Art with a Back Story. It was inspired by reading the fascinating story of the post-2008 contemporary art market. Folks, it’s just crazy how artists like Damien Hirst garner millions in sales on a painting they did not paint, only art directed, as with his “Spot Painting” series. The takeaway for other artists is they have more control over their pricing then they might have realized. If you don’t have a backstory for your art, you are losing potential sales in the process. Or, you are letting others brand you because you have left a void in your marketing and branding.

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 adding 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 into your marketing, you give yourself the best opportunities to price your art to sell profitably and successfully.


The Guide to Art-related Careers
Learn about art-related Careers.


art business, pricing art

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