Pricing and the Value of Art


Have you ever watched the Antiques Road Show? When we have time my wife and I love watching it.  It’s always interesting to see the “wow” reactions when an item has great value or the disappointed look when a person learns their item isn’t as popular as it was a few years ago and now it’s not valued as much.

This also reminds me of the housing market. Sometimes the same house is valued at one price and then higher or lower at other times even within the span of a year or two. What drives the value? The market.

You’ve heard the term the “art market.” Is it any different? A while back I was visiting in a gallery and discussing different buying patterns or trends. In his gallery he said if a painting had a cowboy hat in it, he couldn’t sell it, unlike what it was previously when western art was very popular. He also mentioned other subjects that weren’t doing as well or as popular as they had been.

I thought again about the Antiques Road Show and how the market drove the price and the perceived value of something depending on the genre’s popularity. An artist may be faced with a dilemma in pricing art when an artist who might be painting a particular genre that’s popular at the time and is selling well, may suddenly finds sales have slowed and then realize the subject is not as popular as it was, yet the quality of the painting is still the same.  Perhaps during this “good” time an artist’s work appreciated in value and price. I’ve heard it said that artists can go up on their prices but can never come down. I’m wondering why not? When the market goes soft, do we just leave our prices the same and not raise them for a period and then just hope things pick up before the savings run out or perish the thought take on extra work outside of our artistic passion of painting, so we  can feed our family and pay the bills? Or do we adjust our prices to mirror what the market will bear?

Would doing so break some cardinal rule? Would it make our collectors unhappy if we had to lower our prices?  For those who invest in art and perhaps bought with the hope of prices going up, do not most who invest in things whether real-estate or art  know that what’s true of any other investments there’s always a risk the prices can fluctuate in response to the market? Or would they be thrilled that they can buy more of your work and when the market returns, they’re collection will be of even greater value? I was told by someone attending one of my art shows that they had wished they bought one of my paintings when they had a chance before my prices had risen.  What if due to a soft market the prices of the paintings were lowered and are now once again affordable for them?

Pricing in general has always been an issue for an artist with so many factors to consider. Some price paintings by the square inch. Perhaps with a slightly higher dollar amount for small works and a slightly lower one for large works to keep them all within a reasonable range. However, if one painting by an artist features mostly  sky, verses a painting of the same size with a complex composition of say a flower market scene that includes some type or building architecture, do you price it the same just because it’s of the same size? What about aesthetic values? Some paintings have a greater appeal and for that reason have a higher perceived value and naturally the price would reflect that or so one would think.

Well what do you think? If you’re a collector and love to buy art, but the overall art market is soft would you be upset if an artist’s prices were lower than before or be pleased to purchase more?

Artists; how do you manage your prices? Do have a system in which you use that has proved successful during downturns in the economy? How have you had to adjust? I would love to hear your comments.

5 thoughts on “Pricing and the Value of Art

  1. Linden Frank

    I always have wondered what my art would be valued at
    when I’m dead.
    How do you judge it’s worth?

    1. William Post author

      Sorry, I somehow missed seeing your comment. Thanks for your question although it isn’t an easy one to answer as there are lots of variables. The idea that an artist’s work will appreciate in value after they die is probably an exception. If at the time of death an artist is still producing work and is in high demand, the sudden realization that no more works will be forthcoming may cause a spike. But, if the demand for an artist’s work has a lot to do with the artist’s personality, and once that’s gone the actual work may devalue. However, many artist as they age, begin to slow in production and like many sort of “retire.” As a result demand for the work may also begin to wane. So the opposite could hold true and the sales are not as much or as high. The art market is fickle. However, if one is trying to place a value on work for estate purposes, having records of past sales to establish value can help especially sales that are closer to the time of the artist’s passing.

  2. William Hagerman Post author

    I thought I would share the following from an email that I received from a clients perspective on this topic. In essence I was told that they would be a little miffed if someone told them they had just bought a 1st quality work by an artist for 25% less than they had paid 4 to 6 months earlier. Although, the purchase was not as an investment and they had no intention of selling it, it would be bothersome to think of it as a depreciating asset like a car. As regards pricing by the sq inch, there was total agreement and that complexity as well as size should be considered. It was also agreed that the artist must make a subjective evaluation as to what the quality & desirability are & adjust the price accordingly.

    My take on the matter is not to suggest lowering works 25% but perhaps between 10 and 20 percent. Most galleries are already authorized without contacting an artist to lower a work 10 percent to make a sale, some galleries go even up to 20 percent. By way of example I had a gallery work that was odd sized. A long narrow composition. It was one of the few paintings I have done in my history that simply languished on the gallery wall far too long. Finally someone saw it, liked it and made an offer. I was called in order to authorize it because it was higher than what the gallery could authorize without consent. I said sell it! I had already thought of asking for the work back. I used this as a learning experience that it is best to keep with somewhat standard sizes unless requested. If it was a “new” work just arrived at the gallery I would not have authorized it. But, when an artist is producing work with an intent to sell, then Art is a business. Period. Sometimes in order to move a slow selling work, perhaps due to an oddly shaped painting, deals are made. Plus, I considered it an older work and no longer current. The amount that was offered was still within reason but probably a little greater than 25 percent. I threw in the frame. The client was happy and new room was made for new work that I sent in.

    In talking with another gallery owner on this subject, they recognized that trends in the arts like any other market fluctuate. They need to make sales to stay open. They need art that will sell. Artists need to adapt and paint things that will sale. If they don’t then sales will slow and you may like other businesses go out of business. If you’re creating art work for arts sake and don’t care about sales, then who cares? You’re not in the art business.

    Also I talked with the same gallery owner about my experimentation with my eBay auctions. They felt it was a good marketing idea. They recognized what was being produced was not the same as my gallery works. They were more along the lines of studies or sketches. We’re not comparing apples with apples here. They’re in a category by themselves.

    So in the end, I would say artists need to be adaptable to the market, make slight adjustments, without undervaluing your work. Use a square inch calculation to give you a base price for your work and make adjustments as regards the complexity of the work, aesthetic value while considering your direct costs in materials or factor in a percentage into the price per square inch. And make slight adjustments in prices to encourage sales during prolonged economic downturns or simply refrain from raising prices until things change. Also if need be use your artistic talents to keep the cash flow going. Do sketches, studies, drawings, whatever to keep you in the business of being an artist. I find that more admirable in an artist who adapts to a situation and can offer another of their products that will sell and thru venues that are appropriate while educating your customers the difference from that and an artist’s full fledged studio or gallery work, just as the gallery owner I talked to also acknowledged. Again, it’s not comparing apples with apples. It’s a whole different fruit and just like at the supermarket they’re priced accordingly.

  3. Victoria MacFarlane

    Hi William,
    You ought to be receiving some interesting replies to your request. From my point of view, I think it’s important to sway with the market. I don’t see any reason why pricing on artwork can’t go up and down. When the market is down, prices should decrease. The artist has a better chance of selling their artwork rather than having it stay on the wall because a buyer can’t or won’t buy the piece. I’ve seen much over priced artwork come and go through our galleries because the price isn’t right. There are those who don’t care what the price is, but they’re few and far between the norm. With decreased pricing, I believe buyers would take advantage of such a situation and invest in the artwork. Just my thoughts.

    1. William Hagerman Post author

      Thank you Victoria, for your comments and from someone who is on the selling end of art and has organized juried shows and exhibits. Sorry I did not see your post earlier as I have an over active spam filter. Glad I checked as I do appreciate your thoughts on the matter.


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