Pricing and Its Discontents

Posted: February 17, 2013 in art, artist, budget, collage, economy, pricing
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


Okay, I’m fortunate enough to have a gallery show next month, my very first in Northampton. The hardest thing about getting ready is the pricing part. There is no secret formula (though I’ve been advised of a few). Naturally, however, there are factors to consider. I’m not known, except to my best friends and maybe on Facebook. My pieces vary in size and complexity, and all of them are weird. They will not be purchased by any cash-stuffed corporate guy to hang on his office wall. The people who like my stuff tend to be other starving artists who can’t afford gallery prices. But I must have something on my price list (due tomorrow!).  I’m at the point of calling an old buddy of mine who is also an art dealer BUT he has bought pieces from me in the past and tells me he intends to in the future. Would consulting him be kosher? I know he’ll be practical and honest, but it would still be sort of an awkward situation.

So. Maybe I’ll devise an mysterious formula of my own using: a) length of time it took to make; b) complexity; c) size; d) X factor (i.e., How much do I like it? How much do I never want to see it again?)

Did I mention that I’m sharing this show with two other artists? I have no idea what they’ll price their things at or their rationales. We’ve talked about it amongst ourselves but only in the vaguest of terms. They both have MFAs and I do not. Does this mean I should price mine lower? I’ve looked through a large book of galleries and their average sales figures for individual works. Most of them start at $100-$150. I’ve never priced ANYTHING over $100.

I’ve been told that so-called “emerging” artists tend to price their pieces too low, out of a desperate need to validate themselves and their art by selling SOMETHING, ANYTHING! I’ve also been told that it’s easier to lower a price than make it higher. But I’m also embarrassed about asking for real  long green.

Oh, bother. Plus there’s that pesky thought at the back of my mind — I need the money. I spend the least amount possible on first-class materials, but I need SOME recompense for all those hours spent painting, cutting tiny pieces of paper into recognizable shapes, sanding the board, preparing the board, making the thing look the way I want it to, sealing the whole thing up against the ravages of time and sun. Well, geez – let’s not forget coming up with the concept in the first place! Good or bad, I’m the one who thought of it and put it together.

I’m still deliberating. After all, I have till tomorrow. I always tell myself that I work and think best against a deadline.

If it comes down to it, I can always just pull figures out of a hat. Then if any of the gallery patrons asks me why such erratic amounts, I’ll tell them that even my pricing is a work of (conceptual) art.

  1. wwayne says:

    If you like collages, here’s a music video you’ll probably enjoy:

    • Thanks, wwayne. Unfortunately, youtube won’t play this video because the record company has blocked it on copyright grounds 😦
      I have seen some very interesting uses of the collage approach in other music videos, though. Amazing how much creativity is out there!

      • wwayne says:

        I’m really sorry that you couldn’t see the video. Maybe, if you type “Stylophonic Soulreply” on Google, you’ll find a non blocked video somewhere. Thank you for your reply! : )

  2. bernadetteyoungquist says:

    Frustrating dilemma. In the past I have found it helpful to consult artist friends and have them price things for me. It’s impossible for me to see my art through the eyes of others and know the value.
    Break a leg. Or a paintbrush. Good luck.

  3. Bartle Booth says:

    One simple way around it would be to print stickers with P.O.A. Price on application then you look at the potential buyer and imagine what you think they should/would/could pay

  4. Bartle Booth says:

    RE: Pricing. Firstly, I’d like to say that adjusting your prices using educational status as a guide and an often arbitrary and even occasionally, a pointless (outside Academia) classification system, would be last (if at all) on my list of useful factors. Universities are such different animals, each with its own standards, tastes, hierarchical status and ultimately recognition of time earned, class ingrained prejudice. True, an artist with an MA or PhD ‘may’ have more academic points of reference to work from, more knowledge and talent to invest and one would hope, depth to their art but, whether or not they have the ability to translate that into their work is, once again, debatable and arbitrary. Even if they did, would it make that piece ‘better’? ‘Worth’ more? In your case, BA or MFA (In England it’s BA(Hons)/MA/MFA/PhD) is something I really wouldn’t bother to factor in to my price-others might. Obviously, on your CV for (your job at Starbucks) gallerists etc and with networking is where the MA/PhD (can) helps. Networking is always your biggest resource and part of what you’re ultimately paying for! Which is something I personally detest.

    The main factors I would use are:
    1/ Cost in hours spent working on said masterpiece. Give yourself a decent and competitive hourly rate-don’t skimp (you could make your life easier by using the god of google to search assorted hourly rates for various trades like illustrators, photographers etc etc, basically, anyone in a similar creative industry) but DON’T out-price yourself!
    2/ Dimensions of piece and cost of Belgian Linen/Cotton Duck or the surface material used.
    3/ Cost of stretcher bars
    4/Cost of Rabbit skin/sealant PVA, etc.
    5/Cost of paint. One brand of paint I use is Old Holland and a good Cobalt Blue can be £40-£50 for a small tube.
    6/Don’t forget to factor in Resins, Cobalt Driers, Damar varnish, Good turpentine, white spirit. Basically, work out a loose percentage of EVERY material you used. You could add a few dollars for wear and tear on your expensive Russian Black Sable brushes- you get my drift.
    7/ Cost of studio rental for the time you were there.(if you have one?) Plus percentage of gallery fee and Tax
    8/ AND MOST IMPORTANTLY (for me)The ease with which you feel you can part with the piece, the amount of yourself, your heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears you invested in it (we ARE getting corny now but still true) and ask a painter friend if they think you are UNDERpricing yourself because if you’re having trouble that’s what most young artists do. Although I don’t mean you to be a money grubbing fascist.
    Obviously, the one thing that will outweigh all this trivia is if you have a gallerist or a ‘name’ that resounds in the art-world, although I’m making the perhaps crass assumption that you don’t!
    Once you find you niche and get used to pricing you can avoid ALL this nonsense but UNTIL you intuitively know HOW to value your work in today’s market,I would do what you’re doing and use loose guides.

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