How do you determine the value of any given piece of art?
My simple answer is that the answer is extremely complicated and is continuing to be a source of headaches for me. I guess the correct answer would be that it depends on several things. The type of medium is one possible factor, as is the style. The size of the piece is important as well as the reputatoin of the artist. An important issue is whether the artist or the buyer determines the value. Along those lines is the issue of how the painting is sold or marketed.
I want to start out by talking about the medium. For this article I want to keep it simple and talk only about two-dimensional paintings. So the question would be, why is an oil painting generally valued higher than a similar acrylic or even a watercolor painting? Do not forget other mediums like casein, alkyds, gouache, pastels, egg tempera, or colored pencils.
I found that the medium does not really impact the vlalue placed on a painting, although there are people that would surely challenge me to a duel with pistols over that issue. However, for some reason oil paintings do seem to be valued a little higher. For more discussion, see the post Why Oil Paint.
The style could affect the price or value of a painting. Abstract versus comptemporary realism versus pointalism versus impressionism. This topic is more subjective and probably more tied in with the other factors such as marketing. For example, during one year contemporary realistic cityscapes are popular, while the next year abstract flowers are hot. If you paint in the currert style, you may see more value placed on your art. In fact most great artists of the past were not valued in their time simply because they were ahead of their time. Yes, my wife hopes my paintings will be worth more after I’m dead.
Now when it comes to paintings, size does matter. Artists and buyers tend to agree that it should cost more for a 36 by 40 inch painting than for a similar 16 by 20 inch painting. In fact, most artists price their paintings by the size and usually not by the difficulty level or time spent on the particular piece.
Artist reputation is another subjective criteria, but one that is a little more easy to grasp. I doubt anybody would argue on my behalf that one of my landscapes should be worth several million dollars even it if looked as interesting and well done as a Monet. Again, I hear my wife saying that she hopes to make more money after I’m dead.
So who really sets the value – the artist or the buyer? Initially the artist obviously puts the price on his/her painting, but it is not that simple because the price has to be reasonable enough for somebody to buy it. Here is what is giving me a headache.
I view it as that there are two forces at work here. One is the art community, including artists, galleries, and collectors. It is the responsibility of the art community to push up the value of art for the rest of society. Art can be good for society as a whole because it can create a market and therefore jobs, as well as adding interest and excitement to everybody’s lives, thereby enriching society as a whole. I know that it sounds a little exaggerated and grandiose, but societies have historically been more well rounded and sustaining when the arts flourish.
The other side is the old supply/demand principle. Art prices can not be pushed too high in any given market or people will not buy the art and it just sits in artists’ basements and bankrupt galleries. Yes, I know I am exaggerating again but that pull between the two forces is there.
For me, I have to decide whether I price my art so everybody can buy it, but then I would undermine the local art community by placing a lower value on local art. Ok…so then do I price my art higher and force my supporters to pay those prices, or even worse – not buy my art at all? I only have so much room in my studio!
This brings me to how art is sold and the market. Art sold in galleries is high because the galleries do a lot of the work to bring artists and collectors together and they then need their compensation, usually 50% of the sale. Yes, you read it correctly – 50%. Some galleries do less, but the 50/50 split is the most common.
Some artists sell at fairs and art shows, but the prices have to accommodate the spur-of-the-moment shopper and so most of the art are watercolors, pastels, acrylics, or prints of oil paintings. My point is that it depends on where you are selling your art and what market you are tapping into when deciding on prices for art.
So what does this all mean?
It means that my family and friends have told me that my prices are too low. My fellow artists have actually lectured me not to do that and I have been accused of undermining the local art community. I did not think my art had such an impact, so I take those accusations as a compliment.
Of course if my prices are too low, then why do I have a whole studio full of art? I want that art in people’s home and offices to enjoy.
Ok…now I have a headache again.