Over these last few months I've been researching. I've looked up a lot of things to do with art and marketing and SEO (search engine optimization). I've read about what people think about art, and how they make their art, and how they frame it and how they sell it. I've read about how to blog for your readers and how to blog for search engines. Every little scrap of information I could find on art and being a successful artist. And in my efforts, I've read a lot of really useful and important information and ideas shared by some very generous people.
One of the more divisive topics, however, seems to be how to price artwork. How can you tell how much a piece of art is worth? How do you know what someone will be willing to pay for it? The short answer is that you don't. You can't know. So you just have to take a deep breath and have a good stab at it.
Just now I was reading a forum where someone was asking if they could sell their artwork, and posting examples to be judged. The topic moved to prices, and someone suggested a pricing scheme of $3 per inch, which is a method of pricing I've seen suggested before. But when the artist added it up, and calculated that his quite large paintings would come to about $900, he replied along the lines of "That can't be right. It's too much. People have food and groceries to pay for. They won't spend that much on my art."
That sums up the attitude of a lot of beginning artists, or artists who have been outside the commercial arts scene. They think "I wouldn't spend that on a piece of my art, why would anyone else?" But the most important thing to remember when pricing your art for sale is this - You are not your customer. You are not your target market. If you want to sell your art, you have to find the people that are in your target market.
One of the most difficult things about placing value on a piece of art, is that most of us create for the love of it. We didn't start learning to draw or paint or create, however long ago, because we thought one day we could make a quick buck out of it. Most of us learned to create art because it was fun, or interesting, or rewarding, or therapeutic. Admittedly, some people get into art to make a quick buck, but they aren't generally the ones that are concerned about taking other people's money.
Most artists who undervalue their work don't think about all the work they've already put in. They don't consider the many hours of practice, the expensive art classes, the time spent studying and planning and doing preliminary sketches and carefully selecting their favourites to create a finished piece. They've already done all that. And because they've done it, they figure anyone else could do it too. Of course, anyone could do it. Generally speaking, a lot of the people who buy art aren't artists. They're the people who look at an artist's work and say "Wow, that's really good. I wish I could do that!" But they're also the people that don't wish quite hard enough that they're willing to put in the many hours of work and training that you have in order to be able to do what you do.
I currently have a day job in retail selling quite upmarket, quality bedlinen and homewares. To be honest, before I started working there it was the sort of shop I'd have never walked into if I was looking to buy. And that's because my attitude was "Why would anyone spend $200 on a quilt cover when they could buy one from another store for $20?" The first sale I rang up when I started work, I actually cringed, because the few small items they put on the counter added up to a couple of hundred dollars. The thought crossed my mind that they hadn't looked at the prices, they were going to say "Oh" and sheepishly put them back. But when I read out the total from the register, the lady swiped her credit card without batting an eyelid.
That was the moment that I truly learned that value isn't the same for other people as it is for me. There are people out there who will spend $70 on a bathmat. And that's fine. Some people will come in and look at a quilt cover that they've had their eye on for months, carefully inspect it, take it out of the packet to feel the fabric, agonize over the decision of buying something so expensive that they love so much, then finally come to the decision that they'll layby it because sometimes it's nice to treat yourself to something really lovely and decadent. Other people will come in and within ten minutes they've casually picked one out and paid for it in full without a second thought. Some people, like me, walk past the shop without any intention of ever going in there, because they just don't value bedlinen that much. Don't expect that everyone values things the same way as you do.
Find the people that love your art enough to tell their friends about it. Find the people that love your art enough to buy it. Find the people that love your art enough to buy it for their family and friends. There are people out there who will value your work and want to support your ability to make more of it. There's no reason to sell yourself short or tell people that you aren't worthy. If you think you aren't worthy, keep creating and sharing your work until you feel like you are. Surround yourself with the people who enjoy what you do. They are out there. Don't disappoint them by believing what you have isn't good enough to show them.
One of the best quotes I've ever heard about art is this one by Kevin Smith - "Remember: It costs nothing to encourage an artist, and the potential benefits are staggering. A pat on the back to an artist now could one day result in your favorite film, or the cartoon you love to get stoned watching, or the song that saves your life. Discourage an artist, you get absolutely nothing in return, ever."