What is your art worth?

Pricing our artwork is possibly the toughest reality check we have to face as visual artists. Writers, singer/songwriters, and other non-tangible-art makers don’t really face the same quandary. Unlike others who make things with their hands, it’s not always as simple as materials+time spent = price tag. Thank you, shall I wrap that for you?

Galleries and auction houses have been making money for hundreds of years based on the speculation of ROI (Return on Investment) for collectors. For artists, although this is changing now, the pinnacle of their trajectory has always been being accepted by a commercial gallery. It’s the ultimate validation, isn’t it? That someone is so convinced by your artistic skills that they are prepared to hang your work, promote it and stake their own reputation on it?

Make no mistake, for a quality commercial gallery, the prospect of taking on a new artist is daunting, simply because these days it’s all about investment. The art-buying public has been taught to expect a return on their investment, and they are not prepared to take a punt and wait for the 10, 20 or let’s face it, 50 years it might take for an artist to develop. Not many collectors are playing the long game these days; they want a guarantee that the work is going to be worth more in even as little as five years. This hoped-for (demanded?) ROI increases exponentially with the purchase price, naturally.


My opinion is that this damages the art business the same way it has caused bubbles in every other market that has been inflated through speculation, fear, and greed. Think about the housing market. Until the late 2000’s few people speculated on real estate except as developers. That everyone now expects the family home to appreciate in value is antithetical to the continuing affordability of housing. In the same way, the expectation that every piece of artwork purchased will make money for the buyer in the long or even short-term actually stops collectors from buying what they love.

And remember, any time there is a money-making opportunity, there will be people artificially manipulating the market. Art dealers will create scarcity by ‘selling out’ a show; buying up the works only to store them for later ‘re-sale’, drip-feeding them to an unsuspecting market.

So as a collector, even on the smallest scale, buy what you love. And as a working, selling artist, don’t try to sell your work as investment pieces. Love what you do and it will show in the work. Use social media, markets, co-ops etc to find your audience, those who love your work, and you will never have to ‘sell it‘.

Now, go make some art!