Is there a formula to calculate the prices of artworks?

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Most media have a way of computing the artwork’s price based on physical facts like weight, size, duration, edition size, etc. Since these metrics differ between territories (inches vs. cm, pounds vs. kilograms, etc), there isn’t really one internationally established formula. The basic idea is always similar though: to derive the price from something objective and factual (a physical attribute), instead of basing it on something subjective like alleged work quality, likeability, use of material or production time (while use of material might sound objective, its use really is a consequence of specific processes and abilities, and thus subjective).

These formulas always include a factor (sometimes called “coefficient”) that inserts the artist’s individual market standing; without it, all works with the same metrics would cost the same, independently of their creator. Understand that similar mediums might still have differing factors (eg. drawings and paintings of the same size will usually use a different factor). Prices usually rise steadily over the years, which is done by increasing the factor according to sales success (eg. from 10 to 12).

  • Research the price calculation formula for your medium: For paintings, the metrics-independent formula could be as follows (talk to your peers to understand what length metric is used locally):

    (Height + Width) x Factor = Price

  • Calculate the factor for your work, based on the price range you want to be in: Once you know both the formula to use for your medium and the price you want to use for a specific artwork, you can calculate your current factor. Simply add width and height, and divide the price by it; then round the result to the next integer. For a 40 x 30 inch (or centimeter) painting, the calculation would look like this:

    (40 + 30) x Factor = 800
    Factor = 11

This allows you to have your work based on the economic realities of your surroundings (which influenced your pricing decision), yet also have a clear factor to communicate. You might notice that in pricing discussions, stating your factor will often result in more authority than stating a work’s price – even though both numbers are interchangeable. The factor also adds an indirection layer between the work and its price, which can be beneficial if you don’t feel comfortable with the economic aspects of your work; since you discuss a number (and not a price), it offers a degree of dissociation from monetary aspects.
Consider the following:

  • Memorize your factor, not each work’s price: Having a factor lets you memorize exactly one number, instead of each work’s individual price. If you raise your factor, you don’t have to memorize each work’s new price – but simply remember the new factor. Understand that since each medium will have its own factor, working in multiple mediums (drawing and sculpting, painting and performance), requires you to memorize several factors.

  • Use the factor when discussing prices with peers: Knowing your factor lets you easily discuss your work’s prices with peers. To prevent misunderstandings, make sure to know whether the formula is used to calculate the artwork’s price before or after taxes – both is common.

Consider reading the anatomy of art pricing, further art pricing facts and the formula to calculate art prices.

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