Determining the price of a painting

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Most people interested in art wonder how in the world artist’s establish their prices; what factors determine the worth of a painting? There are at least six factors that can be easily identified:

1) Public demand for the artist’s work.

2) Public identification with the artist’s name.

3) Medium used (oil, watercolor, pencil, etc.)

4) Desirability of the subject matter.

5) Size of the work.

6) Quality of the art.

The public’s demand for an artist’s work is far and away the greatest factor determining what an artist charges (the supply and demand idea). The public determines what the fair-market value of a product is. Public identification or recognition of the artist’s name also plays an important part. Some people buy art solely because of the name and the prospect of an increase in the value of their investment. A recognizable name, more often than not, increases the desirability of an artist’s work, thereby increasing demand. Just as companies advertise their product in an attempt to create a need for that product in the minds of the consumer, so artists also need to have their product seen by the buying public. Some artists, because of wise marketing, have highly recognizable names and can therefore just about name their price. and there’s still a waiting list.

The medium used affects the artist’s price structure as well. Although an oil painters materials are the most expensive, that in itself is not the reason for the increased value. The real reason is, I believe, historical tradition. It seems that almost all the major works of art throughout history have been done in oil, that’s a difficult tradition to overcome.

It should be obvious that the public’s desire for a particular subject also affects an artist’s pricing. The high prices and number of artists in Western Art attest to this.  Almost across the board, people just cannot bring themselves to pay more for a 12″ x 16″ painting than they would for a 24″ x 36″ painting from the same artist. Size is an important factor.

Finally, the quality of the art can be a determining factor. I say “can be” because, unfortunately, this is the most subjective and often times the least considered by the buying public. All of the above factors can very easily trump quality. Also, the artist is not always the best judge of quality. I think this is because of the artist’s close proximity to the work. It is just too personal. This is overcome with time and distance; it’s only after being away from one of our creations for a while that we can look at it more objectively.


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John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
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