Friday Tips for Artists: Pricing Your Work

How do you go about establishing fair prices for the works you create�meaning fair to you as well as to potential collectors? Easy. Get a dart board, tape a range of prices to it, toss six darts at the sucker, and see where they land. The middle figure wins.
You don�t like that? Then try this: go to a series of galleries, find works by established artists that are in some way similar to yours, then set prices that you�re comfortable with in comparison. If the established artist is in the range of, say, $15,000 per painting, this is likely not a realistic comparison. If they�re in the range of $700 to $4000 per painting, depending on size, that will likely be more suitable. Even then, if you’re an emerging artist, it would not be practical for you to charge the same prices. The artist whose work you�re viewing has probably been at it a long time, paid heavily in her dues, and is now reaping her rewards. If you�re in the beginning stages of your career, it�s doubtful that you�re at her level yet.
The same rules apply to sculptors, ceramists, etc.
Of course I can�t tell you what prices to set, but I can say that initially they should be moderate. It�s unlikely that you�ll make a killing right out, and it�s generally unwise to expect to. I advise that you concentrate on placing as many works with as many people as possible, which in the beginning is normally achieved through moderate pricing. These clients can then be listed on your resume as collectors, which will lend you greater credibility as your career expands, and as you later approach galleries. In the beginning, you want to make it easy for those collectors to buy your work. In fact it should always be easy, it�s just that later on it should also be more expensive�in fairness to you, and all you�ve sacrificed.
In relation to this, I�m often asked by novice browsers why paintings and sculptures are always so �expensive.� In my gallery, prices currently range from $800 to $10,000 for in-house pieces. (Commissioned work is a different matter.) These are hardly expensive prices by New York standards, but they are expensive to the vast majority of the populace, regardless of where they live. Of course the question is a reasonable one, so I always try to give a reasonable answer.
I typically answer by explaining that my artists have been working in their disciplines for anywhere from twenty to forty years. They�ve established, through decades of struggle, techniques that are unique to them�meaning that their work is uncommon. They have now reached the point where they�re due proper compensation for all the privation they�ve been through, and, in most cases, that their families have been through as well. To charge any less would be a disservice to the artist. I carefully explain all this, then finish by asking the questioner that if they�d been down such a long, exhausting, risk-imperiled road, what would they charge for the work? Invariably the answer is, �More.�
I say, �Very good,� then proceed to close a deal.

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