art as a business,  art zone

On artwork pricing

Probably one of the most difficult and controversial things in art is setting its price. It’s not an accident that the emerging artists often ask gallery owners, art marketing specialists and established artists how to set the price of their artworks. there are different factors forming this price, but overall they can be reduced to several general ones. As I meet with very different opinions, questions and statements about the artworks’ price, I would like to share some thoughts on the topic:

“This is too expensive”

One of the most common responses of (let’s tentatively call them) art viewers – they usually are not true buyers – is “this is too expensive”. A while back I was talking with an acquaintance who wanted to buy a painting for a gift. We’ve known each other from the time I launched my website and I started selling paintings (more than 10 years ago). in the time of our conversation the prices of the paintings were from 130 to 800 BGN, and his response was: “I obviously know a very famous artist, these are high prices” (!)

Now, we all know that art is somewhere at the top of the hierarchy of needs but compared with the prices of all other products on the market (for example, high quality female boots with an average price of 180 BGN) how exactly do we set the price as a high one? It’s a matter of viewpoint, i.e. everyone makes a subjective judgment.

Another example to illustrate the extremes in the viewpoint: a potential client for a large oil painting shared that he was not buying a car after all (although he could afford the price!), and another client said that she had no idea how I set the price of my paintings, because she found them priceless. 

The truth is that despite people’s subjective judgment, who are judging using their own merits, the artists should be capable to support themselves from their artwork. this work not only costs certain amount of money, but being a work of art has added value. There is only one outright answer to the statement “this is too expensive”, which is applicable worldwide – the market determines the price. If an artist sells well, which is relative, but let’s say they cover their expenses for art supplies and they don’t have to look for another job, this means that their prices are adequate to the market and the statements that their artwork is ‘expensive’ are out of place to say the least.

“It’s too expensive for a soft pastel”

Another myth I face on regular basis. soft pastel artworks cannot be sold at such high prices. Says who? This statement is refuted by the above mentioned fact about the market. The curious thing is from where it comes from. During the impressionists period soft pastels were used primarily for drawing sketches. Thus soft pastels were not viewed as a serious art media (in comparison with oil paints). However, today things look quite differently. worldwide there are thousands of pastellists’ associations; there are forums, competitions and specialized publications on them; there are thousands of artists who create with this media; not to mention the brands producing materials for the pastellists. all this is unknown to the people who rarely visit an art shop and see a pastel painting. very often they don’t even recognize the media, have no clue what mat is, and whether the hanging is with a hook or metal wire. and it’s normal for them to lack such knowledge. but then there is no way they can say with such conviction that “the price is too high for a pastel”. Furthermore the painting technique for the soft pastels creates a huge amount of dust, which is then inhaled and absorbed by the artist. One more fact, unknown to the general audience. I believe I don’t need to comment further.

“Is it cheaper to buy from you?”

Something very important with regards to the price that concerns most art people. Alyson Stanfield, one of the most renown marketing experts, often talks about it in her posts: the price of your artworks should be the same everywhere – on your website, in your studio, in the galleries which exhibit your art. This is something artists in general overlook – sometimes out of ignorance, other times because they don’t want to pay commissions. The truth is, that the gallery owners and commissioners should have a stimulus to sell your art, and the buyers should get used to the idea that there is no such thing as “but can’t we skip the broker” (this is especially true for our market where this thinking still has such an inclination alas). Yes, if you sell in a gallery, they will get 30% of the money, but this is the price to have incomes, to be represented and promoted, and last but not least, somebody to contact the clients on your behalf, thus leaving you more time for creating art.

 “Will I get a discount?”

Let’s talk a bit about the discounts. In order to make/ receive a discount when buying art there should be a reason for it. Most often it’s the purchase of two or more artworks at once or a regular client discount. Yes, one can negotiate a price reduction of a single artwork, but this usually occurs when the price is in the upper range – above 2000 BGN and the gallery owner/ artist judges that this is a prospective client who will come back for more. Unreasonable price reductions, however, lead to the direct presumption of labor devaluation, thus the discounts must always be handled with care.

The factors that most often influence the price formation of a painting: art supplies used, the size, the framing, the complexity of the painting, and the painting hours. there are of course the added value elements which cannot be measured. one of them is the emotion the artist invests in their artwork.