A Realist’s Guide To Pricing Art: Part 2

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Before getting too deep into cost, we’d like to add some additional insights into our previous discussion: “A Realist’s Guide To Pricing Art”.  Like all things art, there are usually a few fixes before getting it right and we realize that, well, that we might have rubbed some people the wrong way.  Remember however, that this is only a realist approach to pricing and as we have stated in the past, there is no one size approach to anything in the world of art. 

Price Geography 

We started out in Part 1 with the Trading Places meme “In Philadelphia, it’s worth 50 bucks”.  Realizing that not everywhere in the world is in Philadelphia, we should point out that price can vary based on geographic location.  Understanding geography and gallery locations will certainly help in pricing your art, but the key is that you need to remain flexible, or not go too out of your way to participate in exhibitions that are thousands of miles away from where you live, without understanding their market.  Let’s use California as an example.  

Obviously, California has a high cost of living (and working), so naturally, artists want to earn more money.  In California, your “Object A” may have a higher market value than say, Toledo Ohio.  If you sell a lot at a great price in California, than why bother trying to sell in Toledo Ohio?  This is unless of course, you are solely in the game just to show work, and that is your objective.  So, either you are going to overprice (or NFS) your work for Toledo, or, you don’t have a flexible understanding that in Toledo, your $6,000 Cali- painting is now worth maybe only $2,000 or less in that market.  In theory people spend more money on art in larger market cities, but larger market cities conversely are also harder to exhibit your work due to more artist demand to show in those places (perhaps due to the thought that you will sell higher).

There is also the Internet.  The crapshoot here is that anyone in any market could potentially buy your work.  But, for starters, you are competing with virtually every artist on the planet, in addition to other “wall hangings” of every sort.    The advantage in the United States is, that domestically available art can be viewed in domestically located galleries.  Seeing is still believing, especially when the price tags are moving higher.  Sure, go ahead and price a painting at $4,000 online, but if you walk that painting into a gallery in Smalltown USA, you may have to adjust accordingly, regardless of seeing and believing.  

Your Object Is Just An Object (Part 2)

Staying with the California example for a moment, galleries and sellers rarely care for the personal matters in your day to day life.  So if you try to argue that your cost of living is higher = therefore you deserve more money, it won’t (or shouldn’t) matter.  Remember, if you could sell it yourself, and could sell it in California.  As we mentioned before, an object is just an object, and can sell at various prices, in various places.  When in doubt, ask the person tasked with selling your work.  

Until you are a known or well-known artist, you are selling the object, not selling yourself.    

This means unfortunately, that the object is getting bought for it’s market value, but you, yourself, and your time and effort, have no intrinsic market value or bearing (if any) on the sale.  9 times out of 10 in the Emerging Artist field, the work is being sold simply because somebody will like the way it looks on xyz wall in their house.  Establishing a strong track record over time however, may increase your presence and desirability as an artist, in which, prices may begin to move up.      

Competition, Style, and Demand

So if 9 times out of 10 a work is being bought just because it looks good, then it would reason that your work should stand out in some way from the field.  This is where if you operate in certain genres or mediums, you may expect more competition, and in effect, less demand for your particular work.  Our favorite art to pick on as an example would by and large be Abstracts.   As an Abstract Artist you can expect more competition, and less demand, although there is a relatively high demand for Abstract art.  Why?  We feel that it is because most consumers opt for things that they only have to casually enjoy, but that’s for another conversation.  In short, stylistically, your work must stand out from the playing field.  Imagine yourself in an entire room of abstract paintings.  Savvy consumers usually know the difference in style and quality, while others may simply pass on it entirely and not know fully why.  or, perhaps they are just playing matching games with their furniture.   The more unique an object you create, the more desirable it may become.  But uniqueness is not an automatic “Pass Go And Collect $200”.  There is plenty of “unique” garbage to go around.  Often times if the work is too unique, and it may become too niche or unstable (i.e. art made of sand, pubic hair, etc.)   What counts for art in this day and age?  Your guess is as good as ours.  


By and large, cost is perhaps the single biggest variable among works, and gaining your maximum return on a potential sale. Like any business, you need to manage and keep your costs down.  If working with highly expensive rainforest wood and gold leaf is your preference, than you may want to have an understanding of the market before taking a plunge into this kind of artistic endeavor.  Meaning, there is a gallery or dealer out there somewhere, but it becomes more difficult to find that dealer (or, it’s easier?).  For everyone else, there are basics such as surfaces (canvas, board, paper, etc,), “paints” (i.e. anything that makes a mark), tools, and/or equipment.  You also have the costs of marketing (applying for shows, etc.), shipping supplies, and shipping.  Factor in Art School, and now you are starting out at over $60K in the hole!   Between all of that, how does anyone expect to make any money?   Answer: you need to plan beyond weekend-warrior and one-off sales.  Have a plan.  However, if you can make $15,000 on a one-off sale for a half blank canvas with some splatter, then cost is probably not going to worry you much.  Nonetheless, cost effects nearly everything tangible.  A general understanding and accounting of your inflow and outflow is a must-need and if not, you are just shooting in the dark and guessing.   

Don’t push it.  As far as equipment goes, if you buy a $3,000 lathe, don’t expect to recoup the cost of the lathe in one sale for a small table sculpture.  For consumables i.e. paints, inks, tools, anything that comes in a jar and lasts beyond one work of art, you could possibly conceive to recoup the costs in one sale (or not).  It really depends on how low the cost, and how high the sale.  However, if any of these items are particularly expensive, you may have to spread the cost out over multiple works of art.  

Cavasses and surfaces.  Advice: buy them in bulk and try to work with similar sizes and divide the bulk order.  You would be surprised.  You could buy 20 canvasses at $100 online, then your cost per canvas is $5.  

Application Fees:  Don’t lose your ass on them, and choose ones that seem within reason.   Shipping Fees:  Plan ahead and don’t wait to overnight things.  Use pre-created accounts and discount codes.  Never pay in advance for return labels by creating a free online account with UPS and/or FedEx.     Shipping supplies:  start saving some boxes that you could find behind stores or in the garbage, etc.  

Whatever the case may be, sellers don’t want to know about all of your costs unless it is truly something worth noting. For instance, “I just had these frames professionally done last week, and they each cost $350”.   Or, “Hey, this contains 18K gold”.  Even so, know your clientele and who you are trying to market to.  If $350 frames is your thing, then you need a nice mid-level gallery.  

As far as frames are concerned, if the frames are older than over 1 year, you begin to run out of luck.  Often, we hear things like, “well, that was professionally framed 4 years ago (I think), for like $150”.   Translation:  you haven’t sold this in 4 years and if you do things in fiscal years, your ship sailed long ago..  now it’s time to try to get what you can for it, especially if it is chipped and/or scratched in any way, and exhibited at multiple shows.   YES- frames and the quality of the frames and presentation does matter.  

If you have no documentation, stop pushing it and making up the cost in your head.  Often recollection and rounding things up to the nearest 100th dollar seems way bigger than the reality.  $65 is not $100. 

Perhaps most importantly:  your time and effort is not cost.  Gas is, so save the receipt for the tax return.  But if you spent a 103 degree afternoon changing the tire on your car on the side of a Miami highway, don’t perceive to bake that (pun intended) effort into the cost of the artwork .  Also, as we have said before in a previous post- unless for some odd reason you have an hourly rate, don’t try to make one up.  Even if you are a graphic designer who makes $35/hr. with a firm, this does not mean your side hustle artwork is worth $35/hr. baked-into the cost.  Similar for wood and metal workers, etc.   Remember, an object is just an object.  It doesn’t matter if you are a member of the sheet metal workers union. 

Finally,  if you are prepared to document costs for taxes, be prepared to declare your sales as well.  This is a double edged sword.  But, you might want to start seeing if you are selling a little bit first, to determine if art is really your thing before hiring a tax advisor.  

Don’t go crazy trying to document every single thing at the expense of making good work!  

Continue ReadingA Realist’s Guide To Pricing Art: Part 2