Understanding Fine Art Pricing


It is wonderful when people get in touch with me to tell me that they love my work and would like to purchase a painting. Often, those are people who don’t know much about fine art or the art world in general. Many are on facebook and come upon an artists work they like.
I decided to do a blogpost to explain why buying original art from a professional artist can be more expensive than most people think.

Most collectors are very familiar with the art world and visit galleries and art auctions. For the lay people, the whole business is sort of mystifying and strange.

Firstly, the operative word in art is: business
Art is a business. That means, everybody who’s involved strives to make money, even the collectors sometimes. How does an art buyer make money? As an investment. They are constantly out looking for new talent and many try to buy an artists work early in their career. They know once the artist is established, the work will be worth ten times as much.
The value of a painting is therefore a perceived value. If an artist is unknown, nobody will buy their work (except maybe family members and friends) If an artist is well known and has a big reputation, the paintings will be sold for a much higher price.

Emerging artists sell work for a lot less than professionals with a long list of accolades. It’s only fair. Getting established is a lot of work and takes years and years, even if you’re exceptionally good!

Secondly, there are the galleries.
Galleries are a great thing. It is the only place where we can truly admire art work.( aside from Museums) No, the internet does not work. A photograph of something in this day and age can’t be trusted at all. Sadly, there are artists out there who embellish their work with photoshop applications. I know first hand because I was on the board of a big watercolor society and saw a few cases of this with my own eyes. Too bad one can’t name people on here! That’s another issue anyways and maybe worth another blogpost.
Collectors usually don’t buy on the internet. They might look but then they need to see the art. Of course, the do!
Would you commit to buying a car just from a glance at a picture? No way. Art can only be judged in real life.

When it comes to pricing, most galleries take upwards of 50% of the money for a given painting. In San Francisco, there are galleries that take 70%. Yes. The thing is, they do a lot of work for us artists. They promote, they sell and they build our careers. They deserve half the money. Maybe not 70%, that is certainly excessive but 40 or 50% is commonplace. That means the artist only gets 50% after framing, shipping, insurance and other costs. Galleries don’t pay for the frames, artists do.

If I get an email about a certain painting, even if it’s not in my gallery’s possession and I could sell it directly, I cannot undersell my gallery! I will have to charge accordingly. If I undercut them, they will stop working with me.

Lastly, there’s the value of an original. All my paintings are unique pieces unless otherwise noted. That means there’s only one!
It is not mass produced. It’s not available on etsy or ebay. Nothing inherently wrong with places like that, you just won’t find serious artist’s work on there. That’s my opinion. It implies ‘bargain’ and ‘craft’. Not Fine Art.
Speaking for myself, my art does not go ‘on sale’. It’s not available everywhere. It’s exclusive and it will stay that way. For $200 you get a print, not an original.
I am aware that there are some of my colleges out there who give away their paintings cheaply. That is on them. I think it will hurt them in the long run but everybody makes their own decisions.

I hope I shed some light on this topic. I haven’t even mentioned expenses like studio rent, fees for exhibitions and advertizing. All has to be financed somehow. Overall, the job of being a pro artist is not an easy one and most cannot survive without teaching, myself included.

Final tips:
If you’re in a gallery and see a piece you really like, it’s ok to ask the gallery sitter or artist about a payment plan. Most galleries are open to that.
If you buy more than one painting, you can usually ask for a small (10 percent) discount.
If you want the artist to do a commission, be mindful that the price will be around the same (or more) than his or her regular work. Commissions are even trickier since the artist is trying to please the taste of a person they don’t know.

As many art collectors would confirm:
Buying art is an art in itself!

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8 thoughts on “Understanding Fine Art Pricing

  1. Susan Loeb

    This is right on. Thank you for educating the public. Most people have no idea what it costs to be a professional artist ie studio rent, utilities, materials, insurance, internet, commission to galleries ( I agree, they earn every penny ), and so on. It is a business and deserves respect.

    1. frankeber Post author

      I felt it deserved a blogpost, Susan. I wish I had better reach with this blog but I will link to it on facebook as well. thanks!

  2. deepbevel

    I needed something like this to refer framing clients to, they always ask my opinion, and I have no clue! now I can point them to this excellent post, thanks Frank!

  3. deepbevel

    You can count on me to share your posts frank, you’re a great blogger and I have a lot of artists in my networks who would value your opinions. Keep it up as you can!

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