An artwork’s value is an evaluation that can only be made by the artist themselves. Art valuation is integral to where an artist sees themselves, and how they then approach clients.
Artists, or anyone trying to successfully run a small business, whether it’s a clothing brand, or homemade skincare and cosmetics, knows this struggle: clients and friends are always asking for free or discounted work.
Unfortunately, handing out friend and family discounts left and right isn’t a sustainable business model. And thus, understanding and maintaining your artwork’s value is paramount to becoming a successful artist.
These three artists shared their art valuation tips on how they control the financial aspects of sustaining themselves while doing what they love.
Where does the market for art stand right now?
AJ Mehta is a 31-year-old multidisciplinary artist based in New Jersey. These days, he mainly works in acrylics, though being a painter isn’t necessarily his end goal. He says artists are doing well right now.
“I don’t think consumers are undervaluing art as much as artists think they are. I think the art market right now is probably the best it’s ever been. You see kids who are still in high school making a career out of it, like, that’s amazing!” passionately declared Mehta.
“I think you need to understand that there are different levels of the art market and different levels of consumers. As an emerging artist, you’re only gonna get so much for your work, ‘cause you’ve only been working for so long. I think there’s also this other issue of people getting confused with auction house prices and consumer prices, cause that’s not the same thing.”AJ Mehta
Art valuation tips from fellow creatives
Ladon Alex is a 21-year-old digital illustration student based in Little Rock, Arkansas. He started getting paid to make artwork for people while he was still in high school. It was clear from then on, he knew his artwork’s value.
“I think when you’re starting out as an artist, it’s kind of understood that you will be underselling your work for quite a while and you have to keep working and know when to cut that off. People are always gonna want a lower price,” Alex said.
He began to increase his price incrementally as time went on.
“You don’t want to raise it and then have to lower it again. You want some sort of consistency for your own sake,” he added.
As his portfolio began to grow, so did his talent – and he learned how to control his pricing along the way.
“You need to start building up your portfolio and get your name out there somehow. A lot of it is a social value thing, where who you work with will affect your price. If I did a cover for Beyonce today, my price is gonna look a lot different tomorrow,” explained Alex.
Alex says continuing to make work will help creatives manage their value and stick up for themselves. This is a consistent creative value tip from artists.
Staying true to your artwork’s value
24-year-old Baltimore-based artist Vinnie Hager’s work uses various symbols and lines which adorn everything from clothing to furniture.
He echoes Alex’s sentiment.
“The biggest thing that I think about is sticking to my price, and if a customer isn’t satisfied or that’s not in their realm, then just be honest with the customer and explain why you charge that much, your process of creating artwork and maybe even bringing up other similar instances where the artist stuck with their price,” he said.
Like Alex said, it’s easy to get discouraged when no one is willing or enthusiastic about paying the price, but Hager encourages staying firm.
“I would never give a discount for your work; I think you should always steadily increase your pricing as long as a lot of your work and commissions are steady. Never devalue your work and just stay true to your own practice and work.”
“I think artists should stand by their prices and be firm and not devalue their own work. I don’t think any customers’ opinions, especially if they’re not artists, should trigger an artist to devalue their work or think any less of their own work. Artists should stand by their price and [be] firm with that,” Hager concluded.
Building relationships can be just as important as monetary gain
Alex and Hager both agree that creatives should always be upfront about their pricing and honest about their capacity – even if it means turning down a big project. Alex said he paid someone back when he couldn’t deliver on what they wanted, which is understandable for student creatives.
He said that even if you do end up lowering your price, you should at least gain a good relationship with a valuable client that can help you with networking or other opportunities later on down the road.
“Sometimes certain people will hit you up and you can get easily persuaded by who that person is; if they’re a big musician or something like that, and you just have to weigh that. [Through] the years, [I] have [definitely] done work for musicians and people that I liked for a lot lower than I probably should have.”Ladon Alex
“I don’t regret all of it because I do think it’s important to just build relationships, but I think that you definitely have to know where that line is and understand your worth and just have some integrity about yourself when you’re going through that. People respect that.
I think you’ll weed out people looking for lower prices and not really caring about the artwork specifically or the fact that you’re making the artwork, they just want something pretty and cheap,” Alex concluded.
Art valuation tips 101: Understand the project fully before being commissioned
To avoid making work for a lower price that could become unsustainable, Alex makes sure to ask clarifying questions about the project for which he’s being commissioned.
“I usually ask them what their budget is, or tell them my price for what they’re doing after asking for a few questions for details for my sake. I don’t think anyone’s ever countered with a lower price; they either say they can do it or can’t do it.”
Hager said that sometimes he gets asked for commissioned work that doesn’t fit his style of artwork. He has to make an art valuation as to whether or not it’s worth it to take on the project.
“Sometimes, people that have something in their head that they want commissioned don’t understand how the artist works, or how their artwork would be conveyed into the language that they have in their head,” he said.
“When you have to explain to them that that’s not in your realm of doing, they can kind of get upset.”Vinnie Hager
For example, someone may ask him to make a portrait of their family’s dog. Because that doesn’t fit with Hager’s work, the customer will get upset and begin to devalue the work that he does create.
But it is important for creatives to know that their artwork’s value is ultimately determined by themselves, and no one else.
An artwork’s value is determined by the artist
“It’s important for artists to not get discouraged if you keep saying prices and nobody wants to pay that amount. I think a lot of artists get discouraged when people don’t wanna pay certain prices and so they keep devaluing their work, which I think is kind of backwards in a sense,” Hager said.
Hager said the main thing is time, materials and size to help artists determine their pricing. And his art valuation tips have never felt more important.
“For my practice, obviously size is a big pricing point. The bigger the size, the more expensive it’ll be. The time I spend on it is a large factor, and the amount of money I had to spend on materials is something else I have to factor in. As somebody starting out, I’d definitely think of those three main things.”Vinnie Hager
Final art valuation advice from Mehta, Alex, and Hager
Hager’s advice for new artists was straightforward.
“For any new artists starting out, just make as much work as you can. Post it on the internet and a lot of opportunities will come from there. I’m sure there will be bumps in the road. I’m always learning different things. Just stay firm in the price of your work and your value and keep practicing and just keep creating,” he said.
Mehta’s advice for artists who are just starting to ask for money for their work echoes this.
“It’s scary when you first get into it because you don’t wanna set your prices too high and scare people away, but I think if you really believe in your work, it’s worth holding out. Your work is worth it. You’ll find someone who loves your work; there’s people who are out there. Don’t devalue your own work. If a customer wants to, whatever; that’s on them, that’s not on you. You don’t need to stoop to that.”AJ Mehta
All three artists said they were encouraged by the community of artists online who support each other and said not to be afraid to reach out.
“It’s scary, cause everyone treats it like a competition, but it’s not. It’s collaborative; we riff off of each other all the time. Artists look at other artists’ work and it shows up in their work; that’s just how it works,” Mehta said.
With time and intention, any artist can break into the field they desire. But to maintain freedom and peace of mind, creatives must properly value their artworks. These three artists and their art valuation tips are a quick blueprint to maintaining artistic control and value.