This subject is often an area of confusion and conflict for the artist,the gallery and ultimately client. At its best the value placed on an artist’s work is based on an established track record of sales over time with or without auction interest that can be tracked and followed. In this case the market has itself determined the value through supply,demand and desirability typically reserved for mid to late career artists. The responsibility of the gallery then becomes to support these levels in their pricing and to cooperate with the marketplace as it unfolds year to year. Anyone in the world of the internet can research all auction activity and easily determine the ‘going’ price on established and known artist’s work. There is a fluctuation but value is fairly easy to monitor. For artists who have had limited auction activity,history of sales becomes important in arriving at value. If there has been limited sales history then there needs to be a plan of creating value based on various considerations.
We can depart from the well established arena of blue chip artists as the documentation of value in this area is well established and focus on middle tier and emerging artists of which I will also include second career artists. The main goal is to match the work to where the artist is at that moment in their career path with the perceived value of the purchaser.This process can be a very complex combination of factors which can benefit or do harm in the larger scope of a gallery’s and artist’s life cycle. It is my belief that it is vital to get this process right especially for emerging artists with limited history. For an artist who has never sold any work the challenge is to create two main elements. One is to allow for the least amount of resistance to build sales opportunities and second is to establish a metric of actual value that can be built on as the career progresses. While I could elaborate to the finest detail of how this can be accomplished I would suggest that any gallery worth their weight will know exactly how to do this and I would rely on their professionalism to reach this goal.
This is also critical in creating bridges to each new level that an artists career will bring them to. Once one price level has been established it then leverages to the next as the career builds and validates. This same process would apply to second career artists as well but with a little more flexibility to take into consideration life experience and how that might reflect into their work. This work tends to start out a little more sophisticated than fresh out of college grads seeking entry into the art market. I am splitting hairs with this description but in practice the buying public internalizes these things almost instinctively.
In the art boom of the 1990’s we experienced a fever of speculation that went searching for post graduate programs where thesis exhibits were bought up like ice cream cones on a hot sunny day. The idea was that if you threw enough money at the wall and one stuck it would pay for the effort of finding the next great flavor to emerge out of these programs. Value was speculative and students began to believe that the art world was easy. As time went on most found that this would never happen again and the reality of fair value actually became meaningful. All careers are built upon sound principles. Paying your dues is unavoidable.
With this said it is vitally important to arrive at what the marketplace would deem fair market value on any level of participation.Post book experience, wouldn’t it be reasonable for one of those students to believe their work was more valuable than it is considering the feeding frenzy that they might have experienced? Their perception of value might not match the markets current perception of value. This points out the irregularities of perceived value and the task of arriving at a consistent and logical value in the eyes of a buyer. Most artists, and I will emphasize in general, do not possess a metric to arrive at a fair market value for their work in a given market and clientele upon entering. A painting that would fetch $2000 in one location, if presented elsewhere in the company of many notable artists where the gallery or presenter is held in high regard might fetch $10,000 for the same painting on the same day. In that setting it would be viewed as ‘inexpensive’ in relation to the other artists presented. It is perceived value that matters and apart from auction results and a long track record of sales it becomes an issue of combining multiple factors to narrow the range to a price that makes sense.With that said once you have agreed upon the gallery of representation it would be prudent to rely their assessment of their clientele and space to arrive at fair price. As an artist you can then begin the process of refining price with the gallery so that you arrive at win/win between you the gallery and the client. The greater benefit is that it begins creating interest with minimal resistance when interest occurs.
During the years of both making and selling art I have seen many theories and formulas for pricing art. Most are illogical in terms of allowing for upward growth and the actual market dynamics.If you adopt the theory of pricing by the square inch then why not by the pound like beef? I would ask ‘how does that in any way reflect fair market value in the actual marketplace’? I would also ask are all pieces created equal?Does the exceptional piece warrant being priced at the same price as the ‘ok’ piece that you have done just because they amount to the same square inch? Many promote these formulas but I wouldn’t recommend using these formulas whether you self represent or are selling through a gallery. I would repeat that the best resource for arriving at accurate value is your gallery [or galleries] of choice as they know their market intimately and their comparable inventory. If you are self representing I would suggest visiting galleries that you believe your work would be most connected to and use their metric as a starting point. Just because you self represent do not fall into the trap of thinking that you must sell at a lower level that a reputable gallery despite what a potential client might say to you when trying to buy ‘direct’.
My final thought about pricing is that many artists are cavalier in arriving at a value of their work when devoid of a solid track record. This can create headwinds of resistance. Many artists view their career as a one by one event and ignore a big picture view. They lose sight of what the larger goal is.In the context of what is presented here, that goal is to complete the cycle of creativity by opening doors of opportunity for acquisition. It can actually be that you have developed all the skills to make great work and then you randomly placed a value that is unrelated to where and how the work will be exhibited and seen.The greatest obstacles for an artist at arriving at fair value is lack of knowledge of the marketplace they are participating in, overblown ego or a disconnect from the realities of art commerce in general. Pricing is not random. With a little effort very artist can find their sweet spot of value in relation to where they are on their career path and continue to open doors of opportunity to allow for their growth artistically and financially.