How Do Artists Price Their Paintings?

20 Dec

Shore Leave by Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art

Great question.

As you may suspect if you have looked at a lot of art, there is no centralized standard by which paintings are priced. If clothing were sized the way artwork is priced, you could be a size 2 and weigh 550 pounds.

But paintings, in a way, are like cars, and often their price is based upon the name and perceived status of the artist (the more well known the artist, the higher the price). The high price does not necessarily denote the quality of the painting so much as the demand for the artist’s work, namely because people deem it “collectible” and plan to sell it, at a later date, for more than they bought it for.

A Realtor relative encapsulated it thus:

“Something is worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it.”

That being said, if you are out to buy art because you like it on your walls, and not because you see it as a financial investment, then you can find reasonably priced, well done prices for something that fits into your budget. These works are done by what we call “emerging” or “mid-range” artists — people who can be quite good at what they do, but who do not yet have the publicity name value that escalates the price upward.

Many of these painters achieve their retail price by comparing their works with other painters of similar style and career level. Generally, the smaller the painting, the lower the price, but even a miniature work will command a higher price if it incorporates detail that required extra time on the part of the painter.

Keep in mind that many artists offer their work framed, and a decent frame costs money. If the artist is selling the piece through the gallery, they owe the selling party a commission, often between 30 and 60 percent, and the artist’s take has to pay for that frame and any shipping costs of getting the work to the gallery.

And although all paintings require time and material on the part of the artist, not all paintings sell, or at least not the moment they leave the easel, so artists build this risk factor into the price of their paintings.

Do not expect to pay $50 or $100 for a well done original painting, because no artist can make a serious living selling his work for this price. Think about your dentist — as much as you would like to walk out of that office owing $10, what would you think of the man or woman’s professional abilities if that is what they charged after all of their education and experience?

If you like an artist’s work but are unsure about the price, feel free to write him or her and open up a conversation. Some may rebuff you, but others will not, and it seriously never hurts to ask. And remember this: while on your end, you do not want to feel cheated, on the artist’s end, he/she does not want to haggle and bargain simply because the client has the idea that this is a flea market and wants to get the piece for a super great deal way lower than retail price.

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4 Responses to “How Do Artists Price Their Paintings?”

  1. Lonnie December 20, 2011 at 11:23 pm #

    Good article and information. I am a photographer and setting the price correctly can be a struggle.

    • middleagedplague December 21, 2011 at 9:42 pm #

      Thank you, Lonnie. The subjectivity of it all, in conjunction with the ever changing economy, makes it a mental task indeed!

  2. Bobbi Baltzer-Jacobo February 3, 2012 at 3:24 am #

    This article is so true and I wish that EVERYONE could read it! Very well said in the part of comparing a Dentists prices and what a patient would think if he/or she would only charge $10.00 for their services!
    Thanks for this…we need to take this into account!
    Bobbi Baltzer-Jacobo

    • middleagedplague February 3, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

      Bobbi: it is more than time that artists take things in hand and one by one, individually educate clients and potential clients.

      As for more people reading this article, I encourage you to pass it on to friends, relatives, clients, and social media contacts. Although Steve sells his work through representing galleries and licensing companies, many of our clients are regular people that we meet through Internet contacts, articles I have written, and just passing by on the sidewalks — these are the people who want art on their walls, but don’t know how to go about doing it, or whether they even can. Let’s let them know that yes, they can.

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