Pricing Artwork

Recently I had an interesting email exchange with a very well-known artist, whose work I have sold (in my capacity as an art dealer and gallerist) many times in the past, including to American and Latin American museums.

She was giving me prices for her new work, and checking up with me (and all her other dealers I assume), because she had noticed that some galleries were selling a particular limited edition etching for “$3,000 each, when the gallery price should be $5,000.”

I’ve never seen this work listed for under $5,000, but I digress.

She affirmed that the gallery price for that particular work was $5,000 and that only she could sell her own work in her own studio for $3,000.


This is a harsh lesson that most artists need to learn very quickly: An artist cannot afford to compete with him/herself when it comes to prices.

Nearly all emerging artists, when first dealing with a gallery encounter the business fact that a gallery has to make a commission from the artist’s work in order to make ends meet as a business. The first reaction of the artist is sometimes to “bump” the price to meet the gallery’s commission.

No good!

The exact same editioned work can’t be sold for $1000 in DC, for $4000 in London, for $800 in Brazil and for $500 bucks in your studio. The same size painting cannot wonder all over the price scale depending where it’s being sold.

See what that does?

1. It can damage the reputation of a dealer. Imagine the collector who pays $1,000 in London and then he sees the same work for $500 elsewhere? The immediate reaction is “that dealer ripped me off,” not realizing that the artist is the one who is ripping everyone off by creating price confusion and trying to pass the gallery commission off to the collector. A good artist and gallery relationship is a symbiotic one, not a money struggle.

2. It will damage the reputation of the artist and will always bring the “real” price of the work down to the lowest price, when the idea is for art dealers and artists to work together to raise demand and thus prices; not have prices wondering all over the scale.

This is very different from the secondary art market, where auction prices can wonder wildly all over the place.

But artists must be consistent in their pricing and accept the fact that if they are going to work with an art gallery or art dealer or both, then they can’t have them competing with each other and also with the artist, because a good art dealer’s job is to protect both the artist and the collector.

Of course there are nuances to this process… both dealers and artists should have a specified leeway to give collector’s discounts to ahhh… collectors, and also offer discounts to multiple buys when someone buys several works at once.

But not discount your own work by 50% just because it is being sold out of your studio.

That just drags your prices down and will cause your art dealer to scold and educate you, or even drop you.

Of course, like some artists that I know, if you do not need an art dealer and can sell your own work all the time, then — since you are the only one selling it — you control prices and can do whatever you want, and hopefully won’t be having art “sales” where you’ll be “discounting” the work that you sold to collectors a week earlier for a specific price, to a much lower price.

It’s a little complicated at first, but once you truly examine the issue, then it should be clear to see that the idea and goal is to expose your artwork, get it seen, commented upon and — if that’s your goal — sold for a fair and reasonable price, and letting the laws of economics take it to where it should be.

But definitely not under the “blue light special” of your own studio.

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  1. September 2, 2008 @ 3:12 am

    Monika Said,

    This has been very helpful to me. I am currently researching how to get my art out there and sell it better than I am doing and what is are good solid practices in the trade.
    I have seen this where artists drop prices out of their studio and I wondered about it. I have also seen artists offer a piece for say $5000 and when the people pull their wallets out suddenly the artist says, “This is underpriced and I won’t take less than $7000″ right to their faces! If I were a collector and had that happen as I stood there with my credit card in hand I would wonder, “What the heck? You mean that is a teaser price to sucker me into more money?”
    Can you elaborate on this practice and how is affects collectors and the artists reputation? Thanks!

  2. September 3, 2008 @ 9:00 pm

    Lenny Said,


    Maybe that would work for a superstar artist, say in the top .0001% of the arts market… not for the rest of us… no reputable art dealer would stand for it nor would a savvy collector…

  3. December 6, 2008 @ 3:55 pm

    Dea.Raymond E.Johns Said,

    Mr.Campello,will you please sell one of your works in your galleries for me? I really need the money.it is a watercolor from 1991,called ‘Highland Visitor’it is a 19′1/2x 15′1/2. I will send it if you are willing to help me. thanks,I hope you can help me.

  4. December 28, 2008 @ 6:39 pm

    Dea.Raymond E.Johns Said,

    Mr.Campello,I may have sent you my email the wrong way.I was trying to ‘ask’ you to sell a painting for me in your gallery.

  5. December 28, 2008 @ 6:41 pm

    Dea.Raymond E.Johns Said,

    Mr.Campello,I may have sent you my email the wrong way.I was trying to ‘ask’ you to sell a painting for me in your gallery.I’am not a scam,I’am true to what I say an do.

  6. July 7, 2009 @ 12:09 am

    Dea.Raymond E. Johns Said,

    Mr.Campello.can you answer back,when you find time.

  7. July 21, 2009 @ 10:26 pm

    Michael Mattocks Said,

    Hey Lenny,

    You are well educated and enthusiastic about the work you do. I enjoy that. Your decision making also appears to be diplomatic.

    I am educated and also very enthusiastic towards my work. I have a diverse and large collection of approx. over 200 paintings (counted currently) of digital reproductions, art prints, oil and acrylic composites, pouring and mixing medium composites.

    I strongly believe there is a convergence in our life goals. I look forward to speaking with you.

    Thank you for your time and interest.

    Michael R. Mattocks

  8. August 23, 2010 @ 1:28 am

    Dea.Raymond E. Johns Said,

    Are you in the country-and are you yet alive.I would like to convers with you.

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