How to Price Your Artwork: A History
by Ric Kasini Kadour
On April 28, 2005, I was asked to participate in a panel discussion in Burlington, Vermont about pricing artwork that was hosted by the South End Arts and Business Association. A few dozen people sat around the organization’s offices on Flynn Avenue while each of the panelists made a brief introductory statement about pricing and selling artwork. When it was my turn, I read a poem.
In earnest, “How to Price Your Artwork” contains little practical information about actually pricing artwork. The point of the poem is to underscore the ridiculousness of art pricing. A more practical discussion of pricing art is to say that in the current market, art is like real estate. The value of property is equal to the price for which it is sold. Where a two bedroom, two bath condo in one city may cost ten times more if it is in another city, a painting by one artist may cost ten times that of another. And while one would like to think that skill, value of materials, or time spent making the painting would impact the price; it is much more likely that the price is determined by the pedigree of the artist and the gallery’s assessment of how much its clientele will pay for artwork. There is method to the madness, but systematic stupidity is still stupid. There is little connection between the price of artwork and the value of artwork.
That disconnect is part of the eccentricity of the art world. It is what allows for extravagance and excessiveness. It would be charming if it also didn’t alienate people from art. The ridiculous speculative nature of the art market prevents people from taking art seriously. Artificially high prices keep art out of reach of most people. They also undercut arguments in favor of public support for the arts. In this scenario, very few people win. This is why I presented “How to Price Your Artwork” at a panel discussion in April 2005.
After the talk, a number of people came up to me and asked me for a copy of the poem. I sent it off to a few people who were there. But people kept asking me for copies so I decided to turn it into a little book. I turned the poem into a twenty-page, saddle-stitched, 4.25″ x 7″ chapbook with a collage of paintings on the front and back. In November 2005, I released a signed, edition of 100 copies.
“How to Price Your Artwork” was significant to me for a number of reasons. This was my first art product and first zine and a change in thinking about how to market my writing, art, and creative endeavours. While I continued to write for other people and make large art, I became enamoured with the idea of making small, accessible art products. This led to making art products for other artists, building and running an art shop in various incarnations and a project called INSTANT ARTSHOP, where I set up the store of art products at various places around North America. INSTANT ARTSHOP has gone to traditional art spaces and fairs and it has gone to places like flea markets in Rhode Island and farmers markets in Amish country. It is one thing to feed contemporary art to those wrapped up in the art world. It is something else to explain a pack of “I <3 Yoko Ono” magnets to a trio of Mennonite girls or explain “Love Guns and Other Weapons of Affection” to a man in full NASCAR drag. I don’t have had those experiences when I am selling $5,000 paintings.
Money is a part of culture. How we choose to organize our resources helps define our society. In the 20th century, wealth was dispersed to a much larger degree than it is today and, for better or worse, consumerism democratized our experience. Andy Warhol explained it best:
“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca-Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca-Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca-Cola, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”
Those times are in the past. The art we talk about today tends to be art for the affluent. And while a Coke may still be a Coke, a Takashi Murakami throw pillow is going to cost you $375, roughly the weekly take home pay of someone who makes $10 an hour.
At the end of the panel discussion, the best advice was this: Price your art to sell it. There is no point in pricing art so that it never sells. You can always make more. More importantly, a $100 painting on the wall of someone who wants it is more valuable than a $10,000 painting sitting in your garage or that same painting sitting in someone’s art warehouse. What matters are the people you reach and connect with. Those are the people for whom art is made.