The Art of Pricing Art

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I just wanted to take a little time today and write about something that seems incredibly difficult for nearly each and every artist I speak with: This task of pricing our work.

I swear I just sensed the collective sighs and emphatic nods of artists everywhere. I hear you, my friends. It’s so TOUGH, right?!

I spent an evening last night at a local art show and let me tell you how absolutely flabergasted I was by the prices of some of the pieces displayed there. I’m talking about some pretty magnificent work that was priced lower than what it costs me to get an hour long massage.

I’m completely serious.

And I’m very sad about it.

I like to use this comparison between artwork and massages, not to pick on massage therapists, but just because is occurred to me one day while paying for a massage that my therapist was charging about the same amount for an hour of her time as I was charging for a candle holder that took me four hours to make. Now I realize that hourly rates can include lots of other overhead costs (as is the case for most businesses), but my business is no exception. And did I whine or complain about the $100 I paid for my massage that day? No, I didn’t. It was worth every penny to me and I even left a nice tip!

This was my breakthrough: If my massage was worth every penny of the $100 I spent that day, and my experience was now over, and forever gone…….Well, how could I be charging the same amount for something that took me four hours to make, plus materials, plus time collecting said materials, plus time designing, plus time marketing and selling, plus emotional attachment to the piece……plus the fact that whoever buys this will have it FOREVER and continually enjoy it every time they light a candle in it?!!  Well…….*facepalm*……I was not being appropriately compensated!

And here’s the kicker: It was MY OWN. Bloody. Fault.

I once had somebody say to me a bunch of years ago at a show, “Wow. $50 for bent fork? I could never justify buying that.” And you know, I actually (and unfortunately) listened to that jerk. Sadly, that was early on in my career when I was feeling my way around and wasn’t exactly confident in my abilities as an artist or a business person. Sadly, that experience shaped me for awhile during my “starving artist” years.

Starving Artist

Once upon a time I would attempt to justify my prices to people, but I stopped doing that after the massage epiphany.

Don’t get me wrong. I want my work to be accessible to the people who love it. And if that person who commented on my $50 “bent fork” couldn’t justify buying it because they really, truly couldn’t afford it, then that is a whole other story. In that case I would only call them a “jerk” because of the rude comment, not because they were undervaluing my work.

And when I think about it this way, whatever we are charging is never enough, and always too much at the same time.

And this is the crux of the thing.

I think that in a perfect world artwork wouldn’t have a price. People would honestly pay what they could afford for a piece, and would only purchase art that they truly loved and that meaningfully spoke to them. Artwork would never be a commodity, but rather, an important and thoughtful purchase. I believe that if people were truly honest and generous a system like this could work because the people that were financially “well off” would often pay more than we, as artists, might otherwise ask for our work. These high paying customers would come to balance out the customers that loved our work just as much but could only afford to pay much less.

A fair and just Universe.

Sigh.

Unfortunately, I don’t see this utopian system of buying and selling artwork in the cards for our society anytime in the near future.

Starving Badass Artist

Until then I urge you, my artist friends: Don’t undervalue yourselves. It is not doing anyone any favours, most of all yourselves. I realize that making a living as an artist is a terribly inconsistent way to earn a paycheck, so we attempt to balance somewhere between asking for what we rightfully deserve and selling ourselves short, but listen, perceived value is a real thing. When people buy a piece of cheap art they will view it as just that: cheap art. They will not appreciate it. They will not take care of it. It will not even make them feel good to own it.

You can price your work higher and sell less of it (which leaves more time for what you love to do – creating art), or you can keep your prices low, sell more, and work your silly asses off! It’s always your choice. But in my eyes, you are not an assembly line or some mass-produced art factory. You are a creative, expressive, courageous human being that is putting your heart and soul out there for all to see….and you deserve so much more than you realize. Your art is an extension of yourself.

So please…….I know it’s difficult……maybe start with a small increase and go from there, but for the sake of artists everywhere….

Please don’t undervalue your beautiful work.

Much love. XX

 

 

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  • Col Mitchell Paper Artist
    Reply

    Love your post! I had same thoughts at the show as under-pricing seemed to stand out not just with one or two pieces but as a more consistent story throughout the show.

    Myself I have a system which helps me to not price emotionally. And I can thank artist @bertin.nathalie for it who shared with me the basis for it many years ago.

    It is an excel spreadsheet that considers size & what has actually sold for what $ amount in the past. It allows for a $ range per size that I can adjust depending on time/materials. (Some works can be more involved or more expensive to make than others of same size). It also helps to determine and keep prices for all sizes of work relatable to each other. Just because something is half the size of something else does not necessarily mean it was less work or less expensive to produce. How quickly things fly off your wall or shelf is definitely a factor which helps determine when you should raise your price or let them rest there for awhile.

    Of course, there is that first starting out point where you have no input (sales) to help with all the decision making aside from your time and materials. But measuring the worth of art by time and materials alone is blatantly ridiculous, for all of the reasons you listed plus more. The very misleading question de jour, which should not be the focus AT ALL, is “How long did it take you?”
    I get that a lot btw, and guess what? The answer can amaze some and disappoint others. But what has that got to do with appeal, quality, experience, and the $ and time costs of being in business? Guess what artists, you most definitely are in business.

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