What Price for a Fine Art Painting for Your Home or Business?
Bloomberg News recently published a stunning graph comparing the price of daVinci's "Salvatore Mundi" auctioned at $450 million to the prices of other recent art auctions. Obviously, these prices were established by a factor that most consumers of art for their homes do not have to contend: Historical Rarity.
There is also a set of "brand name artists" that sell mostly to the very wealthy collectors.
Here's where pricing art gets real
But what about the market most living fine artists serve? What are our paintings worth? How much should a consumer expect to pay for professional art to display in their homes or businesses?
"How did you determine the price for that painting?"
I get that question a lot. It is a reasonable question. Especially when the price for one of my paintings (or from almost any other professional artist, for that matter) is more than the couch that will rest below the painting. Set that against the fact that the image of the "starving artist" is all too real.
Consider that a highly skilled artist working 40 hours a week and charging clients just $20 an hour could earn less than $40,000 a year. Not starving, but not much to raise a family, either.
Consider the cost of running an art studio.
Not every painting produced is sold (which of course does not happen in any business). So the "starving artist" does not actually earn $40,000 either since that would assume every hour resulted in a sale.
Before we ever launch our careers as artists there is the cost of education; every bit as expensive as any other college degree. There are direct costs for paint, canvasses, brushes, etc. to produce a painting. Overhead, marketing and research are just as real for an artist as for any other business. Travel to locations, photos of the subjects, equipment like easels, studio furnishings, computers, printers, monitors, and supplies. And commissions paid to dealers. All this has to be factored into the price set on a painting.
Comparing the Prices of Artwork
I recently put together a spreadsheet of 150 paintings for sale at several recent Cincinnati art shows.
- Some were listed over $20,000.
- Most medium-to-large were in the $4,000 to $10,000 range.
- Smaller paintings were often below $3000.
Prices go up with the size of the painting. However, when I calculated the "cost per square inch" for each painting, smaller paintings actually cost more than larger works.
Still, size is a big factor. Larger canvases and frames cost more. More paint is needed and at $25 - $45 for a 2-ounce tube of paint for 30 or more colors, this alone can make a larger painting more expensive. It takes longer, of course, to paint a larger subject as the degree of difficulty is much higher than for smaller paintings.
Being an artist is not just a hobby
Like most of us in the business world or who play professional sports or are musical performers, we deeply enjoy our careers as artists. When I was in marketing for over 50 years, I loved every minute I worked and often said I would keep on working even if I won the lottery.
The same is true now that I have set marketing aside for painting. But work is not a hobby and being an artist is not a hobby. They are careers for which we are paid to perform.
So how do I set the price for a painting?
Wet finger in the wind?
I stick a wet finger in the air and see which way the wind is blowing? No, really, I generally try to consider the type of clients who buy my work. They are not wealthy (but neither am I). I realize the price of one of my paintings may exceed the cost of the couch below it. I set the price as high as I believe each finished work is worth if the buyer later re-sells the art.
At the same time, I try to set prices that allow me to be competitive in the market I serve. I have to make a living that is fair and appropriate for someone with a relatively rare skill.
A few factors that impact price:
- Artist experience, skill, competition, credentials
- Type of painting: landscape, urban landscape, figure, still life, abstract
- Artistic style: impressionist, realist, expressionist, splattered, geometric, etc.
- Medium: acrylic, oil, water color, pastel, mixed media
- Decorating considerations such as color, frame, impact on the location
- Budget: Can I afford what I really want?
Pricing is judgmental. It is value perceived by seller and buyer. It is not "cost per square inch of a painting" any more than it is time and materials. That's my answer to the question.