By Asher Mains
“How do we begin talking about how to price art?”*
I am approaching this from several perspectives. As an artist, I think about how I price my work frequently. As someone who rolls with the art world at Biennales, art fairs and galleries, I see a lot of work, a lot of prices and as an artist who has dabbled with economics I’m interested in how it all works. If you google “How to price artwork” you are likely to see several articles talking about basing your pricing on the amount of time you spent on the piece, about what size the piece is or some combination of hours spent and addition of the price of materials. The summary of what I want to communicate is that while artists may think this is a good idea and fair way of working out a price, the galleries and your buyers are looking at something else. I routinely see portfolios and statements and CV’s, add in the local art market and that is what people are considering when buying your work as an artist. We need to bridge this gap. We need to understand that the way we price our work is not the way the art world values our work.
(Artists John Henry and Jessica Holland at the 2017 Grenada Contemporary exhibit at Susan Mains Gallery. Photo Credit: Asher Mains)
“What do galleries, curators, or collectors see when they read my CV?”
The importance of developing your CV, or record of exhibitions and artworld experience, cannot be understated. When I am assessing an artist’s CV I am looking for length of exhibition record, types of shows, a variety of locations of exhibits, at least 5 exhibits a year for serious artists, education, corporate collections, and any sort of gaps in the information. This generally tells me about how you are working and what your “art world trajectory” looks like. This is all to say that the value you put on your work is verified by these things by the gallery; the gallery is not doing your calculation of time spent*sq. inches+cost of materials*x=price.
“How does work become valuable?”
This is a complicated answer, but for our purposes your work becomes valuable when you prove, over and over again that you are committed to the art community and your craft and that you have been accepted as a contributing voice by curators, collectors, galleries and other artists.
The proposal – Point-based linear pricing
I personally lean towards the linear model of pricing paintings which is height + width * multiplier. This tends to bring the price of small work up and big work down. With linear pricing and a multiplier of 8, for example, a 11″ x 17″ painting would be
11+17*8 = $224
And a 48″ x 60″ painting would be 48+60*8= $864
With sq. inch pricing you multiple height * width * multiplier and the margin is wider. If the multiplier is 1 then the 11″x17″ painting is $187, and the 48″x60″ is $2880
Where the points come in
With the linear based pricing, the price of your work will increase depending on the multiplier you use. What I am proposing is that we assign values to the items that a gallery uses to verify the value of your work – i.e. art world experience.
If this is the first painting you’ve done and you’re showing in your first show and you don’t want to save the painting for posterity, you don’t have a multiplier yet except for 1 which you earned by making work and showing it in a show. This would mean that if you made work that was 11″ x 17″ – the appropriate, point-based linear price, based on objective art world experience would be $28.
This might not sit well with people who are eager to get going with making art for “fun or for fame”. Becoming an artist that is able to sell for more money takes time but luckily there are some objective things that you can do that will add points to your multiplier. The next time someone asks you how you arrive at your prices you can point to these tangible items that people in the art world agree adds value to your work.
(Artists Judy Antoine and Ingrid Newman along with discerning members of the art community at the Grenada Contemporary Exhibit. Photo Credit: Asher Mains)
“How do I get points?”
As I mentioned – just starting gives you a point. But you have to keep working. Here are some proposals for ways of getting points. This list is not exhaustive and the value of each item is a tentative value.
Making art and showing it: 1
Having a Website, Bio, Statement, CV, and Portfolio: 1
Showing more than 5 times in a year (only good if maintained): 0.5
Having a solo show: 0.25 each time
Being collected in a corporate collection: 0.25 per institution
Having 5 or more people (whom you don’t know) who have bought your work: 0.5
Having art related education: 1
Shown in more than 5 venues/galleries: 0.5
Shown in a country other than the one you live: 1
After that, every new country, add: 0.25
Shown in a city other than your own (for populations over 10 million): 0.15
Showing in a “critical” exhibit, i.e. Bienal, Biennale, museum show: 0.5
Having an article written about your work: .15 each instance
Exhibiting continuously year after year: .1 for every year
Participating in an artist residency: .15 each instance
Art prizes, awards: 0.5
Inclusion in an exhibition catalogue: .25
Add all of the line items that apply to you and now you have your multiplier. Want to bump up your prices? Try to find a way to do it with one of these items. The idea is 1.) You want to show anyone objectively where you get your value from in art world terms and 2.) You would be able to tell if someone’s work is overvalued or undervalued based on this criteria.
If we used a metric like this we could really start to prioritize what we work on so that we can continue to add value to our work and see where we might need work.
For myself, using this metric and comparing it to my CV, my “number” is 16.45. I don’t stick to this number though in my pricing because where I live in Grenada, the market would not be able to support those prices. That is a number I’ve “earned” with my experience but I temper it with an awareness of what people are generally willing to pay. At least it is a somewhat objective and empirical baseline and I know generally that I charge less than what my experience warrants.
Would you add any items to this list based on your experience? How can we add in the more ephemeral equation of local markets? How does buyer confidence and trust enter this formula? Is there anything we could do that would result in points taken away as far as our “number”? This is all a proposition but I feel like it’s a step towards demystifying the complex algorithm that factors into what constitutes a good price for an artist’s work.
*While I use a broad term for artwork and refer mostly to 2-Dimensional work, the premise I am proposing is applicable to other art media as well.