When it comes to selling your art, and setting a price, many artists feel insecure. This is especially true if you are at the beginning of your career and coming straight out of art school. Also, this is not necessarily the favorite topic taught by art institutions. It is however a crucial one if you decide to live from your art.
The problem is that young artists usually do not have a good reference point to start off with (except perhaps selling to “family and friends” at the yearly art school show).
Speaking with artists about pricing, they often try to find answers to following questions: does it feel right? Is the emotional aspect of separating from a work to take into account for pricing? What about other artists of my age? Do I have studio price and gallery price if I want to get into the market? Do I increase the price of a work I spent more time working on? It is a hard topic which mixes emotional and pragmatical aspects. IT also comes back to the endless ethical conflict between art and money.
The problem here is that if it gets messy, it confuses collectors who feel reassured by some kind of logical structure understanding that the prices are not found out of the blue. This is especially the case if a collector decides to support a young unknown artist; he will follow the pricing progression and market recognition in order to validate his choice.
The Pricing Formula
Starting my career in Berlin many years ago, I was surrounded by young artists. I discovered that the German artworld used a very structured formula to price a work: “length + height x factor of the artist”.
This formula was invented by the Impressionists during the Renaissance. It is based on the idea that the “fame” of an artist should also play a role in the pricing. So this “artist factor ” / in German “Künstlerfaktor” would somehow be the equivalent to “fame level” of the artist.
This formula still applies today, especially for young artists. It doesn’t matter if we talk about watercolor or oil painting. Whether the work was created in 15 minutes or 15 hours, is irrelevant. It is always the same system; no emotion, no questions raised. For sculptures, if the material was expensive, it can be taken into account. For such artworks, depth is also relevant (length + height + depth x factor).
Usually artists coming out of art school start with a reasonably low factor between 5 and 8. On the other hand with this formula you can also play around and estimate the usually high factor of a famous artist doing the calculation in reverse ( price : (length + height) = artist factor).
But in the end, what is this factor based on and how does it go up? The progression of the factor is made out of elements such as press coverage, internet reviews, exhibitions or if you were a student of a renown artist. An art award would also influence the factor.
Finally, if an artist manages to make a name for himself and build a successful career, the factor becomes almost irrelevant as the artist builds his own “brand”.
To be continued…
I don’t think this system is widely used as a outside Germany / Europe; however it can help young artists to start and remain realistic if they want to build a progressive and sustainable career. It’s always good to have a reference point and when approaching galleries without being emotional. Later if a gallerist decides to jump on board, he will usually have a feeling for right pricing, adjust and contribute to selling your art. If you are on your own, you have a reliable and comprehensible indicator of your progression.
I’ll elaborate on additional pricing rules for your artwork in a follow up post to this one, so stay tuned for that! In the meantime, sign up for the Outside The Studio workshop and learn how the pricing formula fits into the “big picture” of your career. Get practical information on the protocol, conduct and temperament of the art world. In a total of 9 sessions, we build on your individual strengths with a hands on approach:
The workshop is divided into three main sections, each with 3 chapters for a total of 9 teaching modules (ca. 180 minutes total). Each section comes with a worksheet, templates and practical assignments. Scroll towards the bottom of this page to get the workshop outline.
We first cover “Meeting the Artworld”, looking at the interaction between the contemporary art market. The second part focuses on “Your Work Outside the Studio”, discussing how to document your work, creating a bio / CV and finally, how to promote yourself elegantly. Lastly, we get to “You Outside the Studio”, looking at the particular networking skills required in this business. This section covers the art of pitching, how to make the opening night a success and follow-up on new contacts and finally, preparing for a studio visit.
- Insight to the “Big Picture” of the art market
- Professional artist management methods
- Further clarity and strategy towards career goals
- Communication skills
- Confidence and motivation