Monday, January 24, 2011

Pricing Artwork/Thinking, Making, Marketing+Vision

It has always felt like an oxymoron to fuse money and creativity into one word - price.  As in, "What is the price of your painting?"  What is the price of an artist's work, how is it determined, what factors does it include, is it fair, and above all, what does it mean?  What does it mean to the audience?  What does it mean to the artist?

Let's try to sort this out.

Selling art isn't any different than selling widgets.  Or is it?  Art is not a manufactured good - not plastic bowls or wood screws or tubes of toothpaste.  Art is, for discussion purposes here, one something envisioned, made and brought to market by one person.  Often the source materials are made or harvested by that same person.  The advertising and shipping done by that person.  How is that time tracked and costed out so as to make sense for the artist doing all this work?  How does one person, who is also the administrative assistant, schedule and account for such a varied work load? And how does one price materials used in the work which might be irreplaceable, necessitating a new design approach for the next work?  What about accounting for materials which, in and of themselves, take additional time to ready for use, such as the painter who mixes his/her own pigments or the jeweler who also cuts his/her own stones?  These are some of the factors that most art buyers aren't even aware of when they come to the studio or look at a painting or sculpture, pot or bracelet, custom made jacket or assemblage of hand made papers.  The art is what they come to see, and it is usually all they see.  Art bears its own ambiance. No artist wishing to sell his/her work would bore a client with the nuts and bolts of their business.

And what of the time it takes to think through the vision of the work before it ever comes to production? Time sketching could be assigned a specific value.  What about time thinking?  Artists hear, over and over, "That's amazing!  How do you even come up with these ideas?"  The answer is, that's how artist's think.  Speaking personally, for myself, I see things very clearly in my mind's eye, but that doesn't happen in a flash.  I think about something until it makes itself into a clear visual in my mind.  Only then am I ready to manifest it in clay or paint.  What is the assigned value of that thinking?  Only the artist can assign that value and assign it he/she must, even in just the very broadest sense, because the thinking is the first of the three major components of pricing artwork. Thinking. Making. Marketing.  I intentionally do not use the word "creating" because I believe too many people have creating conflated with making.

The making of a work of art is the easiest part to keep track of.  Many artists work a consistent number of hours a day.  But when a client asks "How long did it take you to make that?", the question must be understood to mean more than just the time the potter spends at the wheel and the glazing pot.  It must include the thinking and the marketing as well.  And the artist's responsibility is to explain to the uninitiated client the three factors included in bringing this gorgeous, unique pot to this pedestal in this studio at this moment in time.

Assigning value to marketing is the most difficult of all.  It is also inclusive of the widest range of variables - documenting photographs, show application fees, show display fees, travel and accommodation to shows, vehicle/trailer expenses, advertising (print ads, business cards & stationary, videos, brochures), business fees & licenses, exhibition booths (tents, walls, pedestals, lighting, flooring),
and the time spent getting to, being at, and returning from shows (because this is time that is not spent in the studio producing).

Ask any business man and my bet is that he will tell you all of this plus more that I've either failed to recognize or note!  But how many people looking at that lyrical painting or simple, perfect stone sculpture will think of these things when they look at the price?

These days we've all become accustomed to discounted prices before the goods have barely hit the shelves.  Can the buyer be blamed for asking, "Is that your best price?"  Perhaps not.  But if it offends the artist, then they bear the responsibility of saying, "Yes, it is" or be prepared to bargain.  Being prepared to bargain means that the artist must know what the price on the work means to him, and be confident in that meaning.

So, what then, beyond the Thinking, Making, and Marketing, affects the price of an artwork?  What is the single thing that makes this worth more than that?

To me, as an artist, it is the Vision and how close the work comes to that Vision.  And that equals meaning for me.  When I create a piece which meets the expectations I have when I begin to make my Vision manifest, I have succeeded by all measure of the word.  That success carries value and that value is not negotiable.

What does price mean to you as a buyer?  As an artist?


  1. This is the best deliberation of this question I have ever read. If I had to add anything could it be how to qualify one artists work from another? Or rather, why is it that one artist's work is more expensive or not? Will there be an exact "clone" of the artwork one just purchased for x amount of dollars placed on that pedestal or bare spot of the wall the minute one walks out the door? Or will this piece, this beautiful piece of sculptural genius, and depth of color and richness of texture, be the only one of it's kind? Layered with the subtleties of every experience the artist has ever lived, up until the very moment of creation of that particular work, culminating into that particular arrangement of all that is artistic in her minds eye? ?

    My mother always told me you get what you pay for! Believe it!

  2. This should be a book, Whitney. You have really thought about this topic and people do want to know! Artists, buyers, gift-givers, etc.

    Thanks for sharing this information. I hope your year is off to a strong start. Sending warm sunlight from SunnyRoomStudio! --Daisy