As an artist, one major hurdle that keeps me from selling my work is pricing it. Sounds silly, but I have a hard time finding the happy medium between “free” and “not for sale.” I would love to make a living with my art, but I struggle with also wishing to make fine art available to people of all income brackets.
As luck would have it, Reed A. Prescott III lectured on this very topic at Artists’ Mediums in Williston, Vermont. Mr. Prescott approached the topic with the common sense of a businessman, or in Prescott’s case, of a full-time artist.
One myth that he worked to dispel was that the price of a work should be such so it will sell quickly. By artificially lowering the price to accommodate a market, an artist actually devalues their own work—as well as the works of every other artist in the area, and possibly even the galleries representing them.
Instead, the price of your art should be equivalent to what is needed to make a livable wage and support your art-making and art-selling process. Ideally the total price should be comprised of two parts, roughly valued at 50% each.
The first 50% should take into account the cost of living (even to the point of including things like medical insurance), materials used, and time invested in research, development and creation. The second 50% should cover the actual marketing and selling of a piece.
The reason why the 50/50 rule is so helpful is because no matter who is selling the piece (yourself or a gallery) your pricing and income can always remain consistent.
For instance, if an artist sells his or her own piece, they’ll receive that extra 50% compensation for doing all the marketing and networking to make that sale.
But if a gallery or other retail establishment handles the sale of a work, the artist will be able to afford the commission fee (which is usually around half of the sales price) and still receive what they need to cover their creative costs and make a living from it.
Perhaps the most important thing I took away from Mr. Prescott’s lecture is that the price you set for your artwork should have little to do with how likely people are to purchase it.
Artists deserve to be able to make a living at what they do. It is very important to set your prices according to what you need to not only survive, but also to thrive.
Do not be afraid to seek out different markets to support sales of your work—perhaps your neighbors cannot afford your work, but there are many others who can.
After all, many people see art as an investment, and they understand that the more work you can create over your lifetime, the more valuable your art will become. By pricing your work appropriately, you will be able to devote more time and effort to your art, thereby increasing the value of your work overall.