What goes into an artist's price for their work? How to price art is not often spoken about. Few written guidelines for how to price art exist, but in some ways much about pricing art comes down to common sense.
The following may provide some insight into this process, according to a few notable artists and gallery owners in Taos.
Pricing art is a subjective matter to any artist. As Maye Torres, artist-owner of Studio 107-B said, "Pricing is unusual in the art world. One of my college professors, master painter John Wenger, told me if you become the best collector of your own art, it is probably priced too high."
Rob Nightingale, artist-owner of Wilder Nightingale Fine Art, represents more than 30 local artists. He said he "lets the artist determine that (pricing). The artists I represent have the knowledge of what their work sells for. If they don't know or I feel it is way out of line, low or high, I will give my input and go from there."
Many artists rely on the gallery director to price the work they show. Gallery owners know what price will be a selling point and also what price may be considered too high. The gallery staff deals with customers on a regular basis and understands the marketplace, often better than the artists themselves.
Jeff Cochran, a painter who exhibits with Heinley Fine Arts, told Tempo, "The galleries all know what price will sell and what price will prevent a sale."
Galleries are retail spaces. It is standard for a gallery to pay artists 50 percent of a painting's sale. Rarely does a gallery take less than 50 percent although there are still a few in Taos that take as little as 30 percent. It's also rare for a gallery to pay an artist outright for the art they'll be displaying.
"Our artists spend many, many hours on a single piece of art," Orale! gallery owner Tre DeCosta explained. "They have the expense of the tools, medium, work space, framing, etc … It's not cheap to create. The artist is literally invested financially and emotionally in the piece by the time it reaches the gallery for sale. Pricing art is a fine line. Artists must be compensated fairly. The gallery has to pay rent, and our collectors usually understand that."
Prices do go up. Some artists regularly raise their prices by as much as five to 10 percent each year. "As a full-time artist for the last 20 years, I have raised my prices from when I was a beginner," Shari Ubechel of Earth & Spirit Gallery said. "However, I haven't raised them significantly in the last few years. I am probably due for a correction, but I try to keep them affordable and accessible. I believe that I sell more that way."
Max Jones, co-owner of Jones Walker of Taos, said he has been "at the same pricing for a long time. My rule of thumb is when the pieces are selling faster than I can paint them then it is time for a small increase. I try to keep my pricing accessible to the average Joe."
According to the handbook, "Art Marketing 101" (1997) by Constance Smith, "The price that you charge from your studio and the price your dealer sells for must be the same. You get to keep the commission when you sell a piece from your studio. Some collectors mistakenly expect your studio price to be 50 percent less, but it never should be."
In keeping with this philosophy, artist Mimi Cheng Ting said, "I keep my retail prices consistent whether a sale is made through the gallery, a consultant, or directly out of the studio, as well as across geographical locations. I am ultimately responsible for finding a fair pricing structure for my work. I try to factor in all work expenses, such as studio, travel, shipping, materials and all marketing costs into the pricing, but that is an implausible task."
Artist Leigh Gusterson provided Tempo with this insight. "Size does define my prices," she said. "Time and effort in my own work do not affect the price. A 24-by-28 inch painting that took months to paint because it has a lot of detail is the same price as the one that got started outside, and if I decide is successfully finished in that hour and a half that I painted outside, it is still the same price. It only happens maybe once or twice a year. It is the result of 30 years of painting that I am able to create an amazing work outdoors in that amount of time. Theoretically, those alla prima paintings should be priced higher. I consider them my 'masterpieces.' But because I really try to keep my emotions and opinions out of the pricing process, I price everything according to size."
Artist Marcia Oliver told Tempo, "I can say that pricing is always a rather arbitrary issue. Originally Tally Richards (former notable Taos gallery owner), insisted on pricing my work lower than others in her gallery because she stated I did not have a reputation. I'd just finished a graduate degree with honors! But, the final crux is, like most everything else, supply and demand."