how to price a painting

14 March 2012
by jake gafner

Through a secret deal in 2011, the royal family of Qatar purchased "The Card Players" by Paul Cezanne for more than $250 million dollars. It is the largest sum paid for a single work of art, ever. To most normal people that is a ridiculous sum of money and it is hard to come up with a rational explanation for that price. All we can conclude is that to somebody in Qatar, this 97cm x 130cm painting was worth it.

This article is meant to give you a thorough but concise guide for identifying the price of original artwork. This should be helpful to any artist trying to price one of their original paintings. If you are an art collector, or want to commission a painting, this should help give you baseline for expectations of art prices.


What goes into the price of art?

Art is not a commodity. Therefore coming up with a dollar value for a specific piece is not as simple as supply vs demand. It is also difficult to judge the quality of art and we tend to have trouble putting a dollar value on human creativity. There is no perfect formula for coming up with a price for a work of art but there are many variables. Some common factors in determining the painting prices are:

  • Size - How small/large a painting is almost always has an impact on the price.
  • Medium - The elements that are used to create the piece. Expensive mediums, or those that are more difficult to manipulate tend to drive up the price.
  • Quality - As with all products and services, quality matters. However, in the art world quality is a bit subjective.
  • Style - Some art styles simply command more dollars.
  • Difficulty - The amount of effort an artist puts into a piece usually impacts the price.
  • Creativity - An artist's creativity and vision is their competitive advantage.
  • Time - Some artists put a strong emphasis on how much time it takes them to create a piece.
  • Prominence of the Artist - Professional artists and famous artists generally expect higher dollars for their work.
  • Emotional Attachment - Some artists have an attachment to their work and this may affect their selling price.
  • Subject Matter - The uniqueness or topicality of the subject matter may impact the price.
  • The Story - Many pieces of art are created for a purpose other than aesthetic appeasement alone. This may entice a larger sum from the buyer.

Three common pricing methods

There is no correct way to come up with the value of a work of art. Artists really just need to identify a method that makes them feel comfortable and justifies their work to buyers.

1. price per area

As simple as it sounds, some artists have come up with price per square inch (or centimeter) for their paintings and charge strictly based off of that. Artists that use this method generally have a price per square inch between $0.25 and $1.50. To come up with this value, the artist combines their quality of work, the price of their materials, the value of their creativity, plus any other factors that seem necessary.

examples:
a 18in x 24in painting:
  • at $0.25 per sq inch, would cost $108
    ($0.25 x 432)
  • at $0.50 per sq inch, would cost $216
    ($0.50 x 432)
  • at $1.00 per sq inch, would cost $432
    ($1.00 x 432)
  • at $1.50 per sq inch, would cost $648
    ($1.50 x 432)
discussion:

This method is nice because it allows artists to have a very straightforward and rational model for setting their prices. It is easy to grasp because of the conventional thought that as something increases in size, it costs more. This works well if the artist's portfolio contains work of a similar style and quality. However, since this method puts a heavy weight on the size of a painting it may result in a low price for a piece that took a lot of time and effort.

2. price per hour + materials

Some artists like to charge an hourly fee for their work similar to a consultant or contractor. It generally takes into account more than just the time spent with a paintbrush in hand. Time spent sketching is also important to capture and in the case of commissioning a piece, the time spent consulting with the buyer should be included as well. Prices per hour tend to fall somewhere between $20 and $150. This wide variation is based on the artists value of their time and effort. Then, it is common for them to simply add the cost of materials to the final price.

examples:
a painting with $30 of materials that took 5 hours:
  • at $10 per hour, would cost $80
    ($10 x 5 + $30)
  • at $50 per hour, would cost $280
    ($50 x 5 + $30)
  • at $100 per hour, would cost $530
    ($100 x 5 + $30)
  • at $150 per hour, would cost $780
    ($150 x 5 + $30)
discussion:

This method is great because it places the value on the time the artist puts into the piece. Regardless of size, if the piece was difficult or required the artist to work slowly, their effort gets recognized in the price. This works well for artists that view their painting as a 'job'. This may not be a good method if the artist works so slowly that the price would be astronomical. Similarly, some impressionist artists can create large, high quality pieces in very short periods of time. This pricing method wouldn't quite reward their skill and mastery of the medium.

3. "market value"

A simpler way to come up with a price tag for art is to look at other paintings of the same size, quality, composition, and medium. This is subjective but it is a quick way to arrive at a price.

examples:
  • browse some online art markets for similar pieces
  • walk through an art gallery that features the same style art
  • ask other artists or art buyers what they would expect the piece to cost
discussion:

Unlike the previous two methods, this one rewards artists that paint really well, quickly. It is very unstructured though which may make some people feel uncomfortable. Also, since the appeal of art is subjective it may be difficult to claim a price for your original painting based on the price of someone else's original painting.


conclusion

The price of art is determined by a wide range of factors. Some of these can be directly translated in dollars (materials, hours, size) and some can't (quality, subject matter, emotional attachment). The pricing difficulty comes from the fact that a painting is a physical object which evokes emotion or thoughts from the buyer as well as the artist. Every art buyer reacts to a work of art differently and every artist places a different weight on what it takes to create a work of art. Whether you are an artist or a buyer, in the end the issue of price boils down to one question: What is it worth to you?


references




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