Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Price of Art

What determines the price of art? What is art worth? Is it really worth anything? Why should people buy art?

First of all, the major point in all of this is that the price of art is completely subjective, meaning that its value is mainly determined by the person viewing it. The second part of the value of artwork is determined by the cost of materials, and the cost of the artist's time, as well as how in demand their work is. Then there are different price scales for Fine Artists, Graphic Artists, Illustrators, Freelance Artists, Web Designers, etc. All of these factors add up to the price of artwork.

For my purposes, I will discuss Fine Art and Illustration, which is what I am most familiar with.

With fine art, the price tags can run incredibly high. This is where the price is most subjective, because something that is crap to one person is priceless in worth to another. Art speaks to all of us in different ways.

That's all well and good, you may say, but what about those huge canvases that are just splatters of paint that my kid could do that sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars? You can't tell me that that kind of art justifies a price tag like that! Yes I can, because, again, the price of art is mostly subjective. For some people, standing in front of that canvas evokes an emotional reaction, and that is mainly where the value lies with fine art. How does the art hit you? How does it make you feel? Does it make you think? Does it carry you away? What does it say to you? If art makes you think or feel, immediately you are drawn to it, and if your reaction is strong enough you want to possess it, sometimes at all costs. Then you may look at the technique, how this or that was done, the brushstrokes here or the lines there, especially if it is an original work. There is nothing that compares to the power of seeing your favorite piece of art "in the flesh" before you. Here you can marvel at the workmanship and craft of art, and for some, nothing but the original will do (and I cannot blame anyone a bit for that).

Then there is the reputation and notoriety of the artist to factor in. How in demand are they? How does their artwork sell? If the artist has a great reputation, amazing talent, and a lengthy history of being in demand that jacks the price way, way up. And why not? The price of anything is determined by supply and demand. If an artist is highly in demand, but only makes X amount of pieces a year, then the price of X pieces can be incredibly high.

So this also factors into the price of the artist's time. What is their time worth to them along with their talents? What is their time worth to others? If they are in demand, their time is worth a lot.

In the field of illustration it is a bit different. Illustrators can also be highly in demand for their time and talents, but they may not make as much as a fine artist. Then again, there are those who do illustration that crosses over into the fine art arena, such as Michael Whelan and many other "book cover" artists. Most of us may never reach that level of notoriety and demand, however there –is- an industry standard for this kind of work.

If you would like to see the current industry standards for pricing in the fields of Illustration and Graphic Arts, the Graphic Artists Guild puts out their "Graphic Artist's Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines" every few years with current, up-to-date pricing information that is based on real industry surveys. You can order the handbook here: This will give you a good guideline to refer to in the pricing of your own work.

As for the cost of materials, this should definitely be factored in. We all know how much materials cost us artists, from paints and canvas and markers, to Wacom tablets and expensive software. Sometimes the materials cost can be very low, such as a pencil piece on sketch paper. However, prices for materials can skyrocket if you are buying high-end paints and especially if you are working with precious metals and gems (such as with bronze sculptures and jewelry). These things cost, and sometimes a lot, and you should definitely get your materials cost back in the price tag.

All that said, you can now see how the price of art can be all over the map. If you are unfamiliar with how to price your own work, do some research. How much does similar artwork (in skill and complexity) go for? What are other people charging? What is the industry standard? How in demand are you, and what do you personally feel your time and talents are worth? You'll start to get a picture of where you should start from, and according to your demand adjust your prices from there.

For myself, I have been building up my pricing system slowly over the years. When I first started out, my prices for originals and commissions were pretty low because I wasn't well known and no idea what my art was worth. I would do a 9" X 12" full color piece with a background for less than $100. And I was pounced on continually until, exhausted and unable to complete my commissions in a timely manner, I –had- to raise my prices. As my reputation and demand grew, I steadily raised my prices more and more until the demand for my time and talents balanced out nicely with what I was able to produce in a timely manner. Currently my prices are right where I want them, making it so that I am not overwhelmed with work while making the work satisfying and worth it. People still pay my prices, and I can get their art done in a relatively good time frame without burnout.

For example, I have a -massive- amount of people who would love to commission me, and I don't have a whole lot of time to devote to art for others (or, let's face it, art at all). That's why I am currently doing these "small" commissions (badges, bookmarks, etc). They are far, far more affordable than my normal full-size (9 X 12 and larger) commissions, they take less time to do, I can take several at a time and the price makes it worth my while. This means I don't get burned out, and I can them done in a reasonable amount of time. Plus the commissioner gets a custom original of mine, and one that usually exceeds their expectations, which justifies the cost to them. Thus, everyone wins (even though my prices are far more than the norm for similar sized work).

So you see that, while someone's prices may seem ridiculous to one person, to another they are worth every penny. Just remember that the price of art is subjective, so do some research, and adjust your prices so that your output equals your demand to a comfortable degree. But never, ever sell yourself short. Give yourself some respect, because an artist, you deserve it :)


  1. Honestly I think your prices are fair compared to most. I've seen people charge 6 to 7 hundred for one piece and it looks like crap. I love your work, and am an avid follower, as well as a fellow traditional artist. I really think that traditional artist should be able to charge more considering that digital artwork doesn't have to be shipped at all, unfortunately the negative to digital is that with everything you put on the internet, it can become subject to art theft. You have the good and bad with everything now a days though.

  2. Shared this on my art accounts and such as it's an excellent article, thanks :)