What is my art worth? is a question shared by artists universally. The answer to the question may be reflected on the price tag, or by its gifting (or keeping). As you know, it depends on many factors— intention of sale or gift, the time and energy spent on production, artist and/or artwork location, artist reputation, etc.. Here are some considerations to mind when making value decisions about your own work, specifically when selling it.
What is your intention?
Why did you create this piece? Why do you want to sell it? How important is it to you that the work sells? Are you more interested in selling this work, or any work of yours? Are you trying to build a name for yourself? Gain more exposure? Grow your following? Get your price? Earn a living? Become famous? Be specifically known for xyz? These are but some of the questions you’ll want to ask yourself so you know your “why.”
The Bottom Line: Before any other consideration, know why you’re selling your work.
What were the materials and labor costs?
This is (likely) your bottom-line with regard to your artwork pricing. How much did it cost you to produce your work? Account for both the materials and your time and effort spent creating.
Are there exceptions to this? Sure— maybe you accept some lowball offers because you’re focused on a fast turnover rate, or maybe your buyer is too appreciative of your work to let cost be the barrier to the sale. Is this practice sustainable? Well… have you ever heard the endearing descriptor “starving artist?”
Figuring out materials costs and trying to put a number on your time can be challenging, but it is vitally important. It is also important that you are honest— include all material costs, from paint or clay to matting and framing, and do keep account of how many hours you spend actively working (and write it down!).
The Bottom Line: Think about costs before you even start a piece so this can guide you when purchasing materials and help you set a realistic, "blank-canvas-to-completion" work time goal.
Where are we?
Location, location, location! From what types of work sell to how much these works sell for, location often dominates all the other factors contributing to the value of art. Keep this in mind when deciding where to sell your work. Maybe it is worth driving the extra hour to show in a more art-centered area than your local community, or making more of an effort than you may otherwise need to if you were somewhere else.
The Bottom Line: We repeat: location, location, location!
Who are you?
Notice that this is the largest section! When your name is mentioned, does anyone know you and your work? Who is talking about you— other artists, previous clients, local publications, national art jurors? What are they saying about your work— and you? Don’t underestimate the “you.“ Yes, your work is what captures initial interest. But as all artists who have sold or are selling their work know, actually making the sale involves more than just this. Associate the human with the artwork in your potential buyers’ minds— attend openings, receptions, art fairs and community art events, etc, and make yourself available so that you are both aware of barriers to a potential sale and can remediate appropriately without the need for time-wasting communication through a third party. Speaking of a third party— does the gallery team representing you know you? Do they know what price you’re willing to sell for without having to contact you mid-sale (and risk losing it)? Do they know what other work you have available if a potential buyer likes your work but wants something different? A good gallery team works for you— they won’t offer potential buyers less than the original price or other works not in-house. Having this information readily available simply allows them to close a sale that otherwise would not happen or keep a door open that would have closed. Lastly, and just stating the obvious here, people prefer to buy from people they like… and usually don’t buy from people they don’t like.
The Bottom Line: Be an active participant in the showing & selling of your work… and be likable!
Notwithstanding all of this, the actual value of art is, ultimately, dependent on another— either you as the artist, or someone else. Your work may be treasured, remembered, and inherited, or forgotten about tomorrow. Work might sell for a price considered too high, or collect dust at a “good” price. Trial and error is a time-tested and reliable strategy. And comparison is said to be the thief of joy, but it can definitely help when you’re new to the art world or are entering into a new market. Don’t be afraid (or too proud!) to ask for help from others more knowledgable than you about a particular market and how to price appropriately.
The Bottom (of the Bottom) Line: Your work will never sell for more than your own valuation of it, and never for less than someone else’s valuation of it.