Don’t Confuse Price with Value

Guest blogger: Debby L. Williams

Have you noticed on Antiques Roadshow that the appraisers always start with: “Tell me about this piece” ?

Appraisers are trying to find out the story and history of the object and how much it means to the owner. Before they give any valuation to the owner, they want to know what the emotional investment is.

Price Tag

This is the sentimental value and is different from the monetary value that the appraiser is going to hit them with at the end of the segment.

The value of a work of art is based on how a person feels about the object.

Your creativity, use of materials, technique, and the spirit you infuse into each piece make your art valuable to you.

These things are subjective and can change from time to time and from artwork to artwork.

How you value your art is different from how you price your art.

Art pricing is based on many factors – most notably, what the market will bear.

Don’t price your art based on what you think the value is. The price is not usually an emotional response. It is an amount arrived at after diligent research.

  • How much are your materials and overhead?
  • What is your career track record?
  • What are buyers willing to pay?

Alyson and I have a lot more to say about this in Pricing Your Art with Confidence. The teleseminar is this Wednesday, March 28, at 4pm ET. Sign up and join the live call or listen to the recording and read the transcript later. Click here for details.

About our Guest Blogger
Debby L. Williams is the Director of Oklahoma Art in Public Places. She’s been a curator, museum director, and arts administrator and she loves to laugh – but not about pricing. She’s dead serious about pricing art.

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11 comments to Don’t Confuse Price with Value

  • This can be true in both directions of over valuing and undervaluing product with over-inflated and under-inflated self confidence. Research is important as well as standing by the value of time and creativity. Consider what the market will bear, but also how that market has developed its valuation standards and how the market itself changes, and who controls the market.

  • [...] Chances are, you will see a lot of links from her blog in this space in the future. This week she has a guest post from Debby L. Williams, the Director of Oklahoma Art in Public Places, about the pricing and value [...]

  • Forgive me for this example in advance…In the movie “Bean”, Mr. Bean gives a lecture on “Whistler’s Mother”, painted by James McNeill Whistler in 1871…The brunt of this speech is that the painting is important, because, well, it was of Whistler’s mother…It has value, sentimental value, not only to the artist, but to those who have mothers, or who like or venerate their mothers…It is an emotional argument…I feel that emotional value, sentimental value, is an important component in art, & should be included as a factor in researching price…Emotional intelligence is a newer paradigm that allows the hopeless romantic a place in the business world…I think that an overcompensation by women in business to cut off their hearts to seem more ruthless to the male world is a dangerous path…People will bid higher on ebay if something stirs their sentiment- the artist should not be restrained either…

    • Debby Williams

      Hi Sari,

      I completely agree with you that value, sentimental value, is an extremely important aspect to any kind of artwork. Artwork that speaks to a viewer’s soul is important and valuable. However, when an artist is starting a career in the artworld it can be detrimental to decide the price of their work wholly based on an emotional response.

      I wouldn’t want artists to separate their heart from their work but most artists need to approach the business of art in a manner that will allow them to continue creating their art.

  • Hi Debby,
    Yes, I know what you are trying to say…That weird impulse that makes one price a painting at 5K while all the rest are $600 …
    But I also think the older idea that states every work must be the same price if they are all the same size or medium or material or something is a bit cookie cutter…
    I’d like to see perhaps a slightly newer formula, that might include 1)the standard materials & labour, 2)your experience & skill, 3)comparative pricing on what the market will bear at that moment, & then a component that includes 4)how you FEEL about the work/ how others are responding to the work before it has been priced…
    I see this on Amazon when the same product is offered but in different colours…They now have different prices for colours that are more in demand…The navy wetsuit is cheaper & the cool pink camo one is more expensive…(that may be a material supply thing there though)…
    *My friend the photographer prices all her 11×14″ photos framed at $125…Which is the old standard…But her work is uneven-some photos are breathtaking & others merely very good…I’d like to see her breathtaking works priced higher, but that is just me…What do you think?

  • I find it confusing when pieces that are the same size and same materials by the same artist are priced radically differently. I wonder, what’s going on here? Is one piece really so much “better” than the other? (And then I have to stare at them to see if I can tell what’s the difference.) If there is such a big difference in quality, why even offer the not-so-good stuff at all? Buyers are going to wonder what’s wrong with the cheaper pieces. Is that really what you want them thinking about? I don’t think that’s a good message to send. But it sure is common! I don’t get it.

  • This is an interesting conversation. Barbara brings up a point which I have heard from gallery owners: customers will think the lower-priced piece of same size must be not as good. One gallerist has also told me it makes it easier on them to have the prices consistent in relation to sizing so they don’t have to stop what they’re doing to look up the price if it’s a phone inquiry, for example. I think Sari’s points are valid too, so wouldn’t it be nice if you, as an artist, were having a solo show at a venue where the artist has a little more control (like in a non-profit space, co-op gallery, etc.) and could price the pieces you truly love as high as you want to.

  • Debby Williams

    Rani and Sari, if you don’t have gallery representation and are going to have a solo show then you do have the freedom to price your work any way you want to. That’s a wonderful thing, it is your work, you get to decide on how you are going to price your work. However, I think Barbara said it well, inconsistent pricing confuses people. What we are talking about is how to create a situation where you are helping people buy your art. There are things that you can do to make it easier for them to make a decision to buy your artwork. I think that having a thoughtful, consistent pricing system does that so when they do make a purchase they can feel that they have been treated equitably.

  • Only to give another perspective & not at all to be argumentative or difficult (& probably stupidly because I greatly respect our guest blogger & would love to make a new friend), I just want to add:
    In 2000, I had a big solo show with a gallery who let me make the decisions about alot of things…(very cool director)…Everything was exactly the same size & medium…Everything was the same subject, marshes…But I felt differently about each & every piece…I made a price list that labelled each work with a letter, & had corresponding letters stuck under each work…On the list that every guest got were the prices, & really, most prices were different…All under a thousand dollars, but I varied depending on how I felt about each work…So many collectors had children, so I made a point of telling them to bring their children & serving cookies & drink as well as wine & snacks so the children could enjoy too…What happened was the children took the list to be a scavenger hunt, & ran around trying to figure out which painting was “A” & why was it more than the painting with the number “E” on it…The parents tagged along with their children & enjoyed the interaction of the game…It became a conversation piece…The complication kept people looking & interested…It was a very successful show for me, & when the market here collapsed in 2001 (9/11), I already had some good people under my belt who knew of me…I know this is not a normal story, but it is why I wanted to tell it…

    • Debby Williams

      Oh my goodness, that is an amazing story Sari! I love that and wish that I had been able to experience it. Being able to make it all interactive and exciting for the adults and children is wonderful and exciting. However, as you said, this was an exceptional opportunity that you took full advantage of and the pricing guidelines that I try to give emerging artists is just that, guidelines for standard practices that have proven to be successful. Sometimes I think you need to understand the foundation and reasoning first to be able to take full advantage of special circumstances to the greatest degree. I am so glad you shared your story with us. Thanks so much. (I don’t take that as being argumentative!)