What Determines the Value of Art?

Market Driven

Recently an individual asked me bout the value of an artists work in print. At one  time demand was high. It was commented that someone offered to purchase one of this artist’s prints she owned for over $2000.00 many years ago.  In today’s market, it would be difficult to give it away at $200.00.  So what determines the value of art? It’s market driven and it can be fickle.

If you’ve watched the Antiques Roadshow  you see how items of value fluctuate up and down. Factors include the popularity of the item, (trends)  its availability or rarity, and the quality and condition of the item. Also you can’t negate the economy, if times are lean and spending  becomes more conservative.

Consumer Savvy Buyers

With the internet, potential buyers are becoming more consumer savvy. Smart phones are used to compare prices of artist’s works in other galleries as well as with other artists of the same caliber and experience even while in a gallery looking at art.

Therefore, it’s unwise for a new artist to arbitrarily set an unrealistically high price and expect individuals to accept its value without question just because the price tag says so.  Another poor tactic is creating a false sense of demand by saying “ you better buy it now, cause the prices are going up next month, next year or whatever.” It can later backfire if there isn’t a true demand or credentials to back up a claim as to the items worth.

Most artists start out with modest pricing and as works sell, a track record begins with price increases happening over time along with other credentials being added. There are exceptions. But remember, they are just that; exceptions and not the norm.

Value Comparisons

In the illustration below are several paintings grouped together. With the exception of  the painting in the middle (which is mine) the artist’s signatures has been blotted out. I want the works to stand on their own merit. However, one artist I know personally, have exhibited in a show with another, others are known by reputation and one I know nothing about. Sizes of the paintings range from 9″ x 12″ – 16”x20.” The price range is $1300.00 – $9750.00 with the next highest priced work in the group being $3800.00. You can click the image to see the prices on each.

Group Comparisons

Did you guess the $9750.00 painting?  It’s the bottom one in the middle vertical column.  From the artist’s website there were only a handful of paintings listed, all 9×12 in size with that price tag. Others shown were comparable in skill and execution.  No indication of work previously sold, gallery representation, shows or experience on the part of the artist was found. The site did say that each painting listed was an original investment quality piece of art.

A Final Comparison of what determines the value of art

Are you familiar with the artist Clark Hulings?  He happens to be a favorite of mine. Well, this artist had a long history and a list of accolades and accomplishments that most artists never realize in their lifetime. His painting skill was all but unmatched. As proof of that, here’s an example from a 1999 show catalog of his work.

Clark Hulings

The painting size was 24×36 and had a price tag of $135,000.  The same catalog showed a small work of a 10”x12” painting of a single white rose priced at $9000.00.

Clark Hulings Single White Rose

The show was a sell out with over a million dollars in sales. Sadly Hulings passed away in 2011, but current estimates of  similar sized paintings in the 9×12 range at auction is still holding strong at $9000.00-$12,000.00.

I don’t think I need to further elaborate other than to reiterate that what determines the value of art is principally the market along with some reasonably expected credentials that support the price. Otherwise the price tag may appear to be meaningless without true merit regardless of what’s stated on it.

As an update from first writing this blog post regarding the $9750.00 priced painting, I rechecked the artist’s website to see if this could have been listed in error and if the price had changed. Well, it had. The price was changed to $2700.00 for the 9×12 paintings. Still the question remains. Will the market see the work as worth that stated price in comparison to other work in the same genre?

A month has passed since writing this post and another update regarding the above mentioned $9750 priced painting is in order.  Rechecking the artist’s website a new list price of $590 was shown for the 9×12 painting unframed. For artists wishing to enter the market, it would be wise to do research on pricing before presenting it to the world. But, we all learn. However, you don’t have to learn by mistakes. There’s plenty of online advice on how to price art work. Take advantage of that resource to educate yourself on the subject.

Galleries can also help in assessing your prices. Here’s something I did. I went into an upscale gallery containing works comparable to my style. The gallery wasn’t busy, so I asked if I could show them some photos of my art. This was before smart phones. I told them I wasn’t seeking gallery representation, but would like their advice. This took the pressure off of them and probably seemed a little odd for an artist not seeking representation.  The director was pleasantly surprised when she saw my photos. Afterwards I was told that if my work was in their gallery my prices would be higher. Wonderful feedback!



3 thoughts on “What Determines the Value of Art?

  1. Barbara j.

    the price of art unfortunately based on who is buying. I have seen art that looks that it was done by a 6 year old worth thousands while some work by new artist going for a few hundred. As my sister always reminds me art is subject to the person who is seeing it and who is purchasing. also I think it dpends on where you are selling, in an art gallery or if you are selling in an arts and craft show. sorry but people with big money don’t necessarily buy from kiosk in a market.

    1. William Post author

      Hi Barbara. Thanks for commenting. To use the old idiom “there’s no accounting for taste” applies. It’s difficult to explain why different people like different things and are willing to spend money on them, especially if we personally don’t like something. It goes along with such other phrases as “to each his own or one man’s meat is another man’s poison.” I do agree that location can be a factor in the perception of value. A million dollar mansion overlooking the ocean in an exclusive neighborhood will have a higher price than the same mansion in some small middle of nowhere town with the town sign saying welcome and just on the other side saying you’re now leaving.

      Likewise artwork hanging on an upscale gallery wall can appear to be more value worthy than if the same work was hanging on the walls of a local diner with nothing priced over $12 bucks on the menu. But, what if that diner had such amazingly good food at that price that it got the attention of the news media and some TV personality comes in and talks about it. Or some regional upscale magazine does a write up about small eating establishments giving it a raving 5 stars and then all of sudden this humble little diner is almost having to take reservations for people trying to get in! Now that artwork on the walls might seem to be more value worthy.

      Finding out where the people hang out who make up your target audience, is no easy task. What’s big money for me could be pocket change for someone else. Years ago I participated in a local art festival. It was your typical booth type show with food and entertainment. At the time it had a lot of quality exhibitors. One of the local artists who was also a person of financial means directed my attention to an individual walking down the isle. He was an average looking person and his attire was very casual and plain. The other artist told me, I needed to get his attention and not to be fooled by the way he was dressed. He then emphasized that this man could buy the whole city where I lived if he wanted to. Well, as he neared my booth I smiled and nodded my head and with that he came into my booth and we struck up a conversation. Well, he purchased a painting and became a collector of several paintings over a period of years. So sometimes people with “big money,” do buy from a kiosk or booth. Despite his wealth he was very down to earth and both he and his wife enjoyed supporting the local arts. But, on the flip side there may be some who would rather travel to a well known art hub destination and buy art there for the sake of bragging rights of where it was purchased.

      So what is an artist to do? If you’re going to treat it as a business, then you need to learn something about marketing. Pick venues where your target audience will likely be at, present yourself professionally and set your prices realistically that will make sense to those who may be looking to buy your art. A couple of resources that offer a lot of free information that can help is from Alyson Stanfield at http://www.artbizblog.com and Barney Davey at http://barneydavey.com/

  2. Olga Nedorub

    Very interesting post!
    I would like to talk more about it. It is a true challenge for new artists. We tend to give away art or charge way less than materials cost ( not even talking about time investment).


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