Current art-pricing trends

by Robert Genn


March 12, 2013


Dear Rodney,


Over the last while, another raft of emails has come in from artists wondering about pricing. Some new trends in pricing also require that I update. I'm dividing my comments between artists who sell through galleries and the ever-increasing Internet-empowered artists known as "self-sellers." Two different price lists are required.


In the artist-gallery situation you need to build in your dealer's commission. This can range between 25% and 50%. No matter what the commission charged by the dealer, your final selling price should be the same in all locations. The well-galleried artist needs controlled pricing and, in most cases, annual increases. We need to also give our dealers a small amount of wiggle room. I generally allow 10% off when a gallery sells more than one to a single collector.


While many opinions abound, paintings should be priced by size. If you paint a range of sizes, your smallest need to be underpriced according to their size, and your largest need to be overpriced according to their size. Your larger masterpieces test the upper limits of your prices. As in the "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" situation, the middle sizes should be priced "just right." Trouble is, "just right" is a sticky wicket--often a combination of rarity/availability, perceived quality and market conditions. Multiple dealer advice is most valuable. Average it out. Dealer goodwill and friendship are keys to thrival.


For artists who choose the direct-to-collector route, prices can be lower, but the same size-related price advancement ought to apply. The dealerless or online pseudo-dealer systems are actually a paradigm shift that's causing a few headaches among traditional dealers. With more artists than ever lunging toward a limited crowd of art buyers, brick-and-mortar dealers have more than ever to be the gatekeepers of quality and protectors of investment. When galleries lose sight of these ideals, they lose customers to the ubiquitous Internet. The same thing is happening in the stock-brokerage business. In the new dispensation, many "self-sellers" are selling their art with integrity and panache. You'll also be glad to know that in the current melee, dead artists continue to do well.


Best regards,




PS: "I was very embarrassed when my canvases began to fetch high prices. I saw myself condemned to a future of nothing but masterpieces." (Henri Matisse)


Esoterica: The nice thing about working with dealers is that the artist can be full-time in the miracle of creativity. By being one degree separated from the marketplace, this artist is freer to ask the life-sustaining question, "What shall I do today?" On the other hand, the nice thing about self-selling is that you get to keep more of the winnings. Trouble is, self-promoted winnings tend to stay rather less than if you have someone regularly going to bat for you. To really thrive in our game, you need good art and someone who thinks it's good art, besides you.


A word of caution: Self-sellers, if and when they tire of the rigmarole, often have trouble getting into the better galleries. Some dealers have an intrinsic distaste for other entrepreneurs.