Art Sales: Pricing and Value


Selling art is never easy.

Any artist can have a hard time convincing the public that the prices they set are legitimate.  Outsider artists have a more difficult time because of the perception that their art is somehow less valuable, because the artist hasn’t received formal art training. That perception is most dangerous when it’s held, not by the public, but by the artist him/herself.  We work hard to squash that perception when we see it in the artists.

(This is where I might normally get up on my soapbox, and vent about the myth of the “real artist” … but I won’t.)

Many of the EC artists have trouble pricing their art, and need some help.  When we provide that help, we have simple guidelines.

#1:  Numbers have to be real (“Ten hundred million thousand dollars” is… interesting to think about, but pretty unreal).

#2:  You can set any price you want (see #1), as long as you don’t undervalue your work.  (I’d much rather talk an artist down from a confident $100,000 ledge, than dig them out of a pessimistic $2 gutter.)

#3:  The higher your price, the less likely it is to sell. However, you have the right to stand up for the value of your art, and set a higher price. 

#4:  The lower your price, the more likely it is to sell.  However, if you set your price too low, you send the message that your art is less valuable. 

#5:  You will not get rich off of this one piece of art, but you can have other goals in mind.  What is most valuable to you?  The money?  Recognition of your work?  The idea that your art might be displayed in someone’s house or office?

#6:  How much do you want from the sale?  Make sure to increase the price by the amount of any commissions taken, so your profit is agreeable.

For example:  Let’s imagine that you are selling a piece and want to get $50. But if you set the price at $50, it will be reduced by the EC (or gallery) commission.  You might be okay with that, because it’s more important to you to receive recognition and get your art out there.  In that case, you are done. Set your price at $50.

However, you might be very firmly set on receiving $50 and nothing less, because it’s more important to you to receive that minimum compensation.  In that case, you need to increase the price by the amount of the commission.

To determine how much to increase your price, you would need to do some math. (Calculators are awesome!)

Step 1:  Divide the commission rate (30%) by 100.    EC commission (30) / 100 = 0.30

Step 2:  Multiply the profit you want ($50) by the commission.   Profit (50) x EC commission (0.30) = $15

Step 3:   Add the commission to the profit you want.    EC commission (15) + Profit (50) = $65

You should price your piece at $65 (or more).

And the final guideline…

#7:  Set your price and get back to artmaking.  Don’t wonder and worry.  “Did it sell yet?… Should I have priced it lower?… Can I mark it down by $5?… Will that make a difference?… Did it sell yet?”

There is more art to be made, and prices to set.  There will be plenty of opportunity to revisit your pricing decisions on the next piece… and the next.  Until then, get back to work!

DIRECTOR'S ESPRESSO is a bi-monthly post from Shannon-- Director and fanatic of coffee, chocolate, economics, and expression through the arts.
DIRECTOR’S ESPRESSO is a bi-monthly post from Shannon– Director and fanatic of coffee, chocolate, economics, and expression through the arts.

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