How to buy art: Why does it cost so much!?!

“I really love that painting, but is it worth the price?”

Have you ever asked yourself this? I have. Prices for original artwork can seem random and mysterious. This is understandable, since many artists price their work based on a variety of factors and aren’t always clear about what those factors are.

Time is often the most significant component when calculating costs. The medium is also considered, as is whether the work is on paper or canvas, whether it needs to be framed, what similar works are selling for, and how well-known the artist is.

Another complication that sometimes enters the equation is the artist’s attachment to her/his work. An artist might artificially inflate a particular price due to a reluctance to part with it, or because an inordinate amount of time went into that piece.

Customers, on the other hand, tend to view the value of art in terms of its genre (Do I like the subject?), size (Will it fit and look right on my living room wall?), and medium (Oil paintings cost the most, right?). Whatever the case, the result may leave you feeling unsure about purchasing art because you’re not sure whether it’s worth the asking price.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I want you to clearly understand my pricing system so that you’ll be comfortable with your purchase.

My pastel landscape paintings are priced by size. I calculate the price of a 12-inch square original work this way: 12″ + 12″ = 24″ x $20 = $480.

I arrived at the rate of $20 per linear inch by comparing prices with other regional artists working in the same medium and genre. I settled on a median price that fairly compensates me for my materials, time and where I am today in my career as an artist.

My landscapes are labor-intensive, and the amount of time I spend on any one painting varies greatly (typically 40-80 hours). Linear-inch pricing takes any emotional attachment out of the equation and offers you a clear, understandable pricing structure.

Pastels are delicate and require framing. I typically go ahead and frame my work so that I can exhibit it. I add the price of the frame to the linear-inch price (I don’t take a mark-up on the frame, but do add in associated costs like shipping or mileage). Other costs that you’ll see if you buy an original piece include shipping, credit card fees, and sales tax (when applicable).

Prints, on the other hand, I calculate differently. For giclée prints, I pay a base fee to print the image, plus a fee-per-linear-foot. I add a standard retail markup (100 percent over cost). This covers associated costs like meetings with the printer, scanning the images, and travel expenses (Note the new lower price on my giclée prints as I recalculated my costs to ensure pricing clarity!).

Digital prints (supplied through my print-on-demand service) are geared toward affordability. I take a minimal markup (from $5 for an 8-inch print to $50 for a 40-inch print), again, based on comparing prices with other artists’ work.

All of the above prices are, of course, for work you intend to enjoy for your personal use. Prices for commercial work are based on selling the right to reproduce the work in various formats and media. Industry standards help define how these fees are calculated. If you’re interested in any of my work for commercial use, contact me and we’ll go from there.

Remember, the real value in a work of art is the artist’s particular vision and expertise. This is the biggest variable in pricing, and it’s determined by the market in ways that are impossible to predict. I hope that the things I make will increase in value, just as you hope your purchase does. So, here’s how I price today, and I’m confident that you’re getting fair, honest value on my work.

As I said in my last “How to Buy Art” post, good art is “what you like, what speaks to you, what you feel you want to look at and enjoy for awhile. If it gives you pleasure, hope, contentment, then it’s good.”

I would love to hear your thoughts on buying art. Please share them with me.

Anne Leeds
Artist, Art Educator

P.S. My next “How to Buy Art” post? How to decide if you can afford to buy art and buyer’s remorse.