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Pricing Art: The Definitive Guide in 2018 [Infographics Included]


We analyzed Top 100 Contemporary Artworks on Artprice research to answer a question:

How does art pricing work? 

Particularly, as in the post Top 5 Art Price Databases, we investigate the role of 10 potential factors (including technique, size, a period of realization, history or critical literature about the work, rarity, theme, origin, the presence of an authentic or reliable certificate of archiving, publication of a general catalog) to realize an art pricing guide in 2018. In particular, we worked having in mind a fast art pricing guide on how to price art for beginners especially. 

And in this post I am going to share what we discovered.


That’s The Summary of Our Most Interesting Findings Are as Follows:

  1. So Donald Thompson states the art pricing do not reflect the quality of the work or their artistic value, but simply its dimensions: in cases where the works of an artist of the same size bring different prices, this difference is justified by referring to the difficulty of the execution or the particular importance of the most expensive work.
  2. The starting point for the elaboration of the price of a work (obviously referring in particular to contemporary art works, since those of the past centuries already have their price level) is the reputation enjoyed by the gallery owner. Only later, will the artist's fame further increase the price level. But this only happens for emerging artists.
  3. On the other hand, when an art dealer propose artwork by already established or deceased artists, he usually takes into consideration the prices of the auction awards obtained by the artist.
  4. Traders usually never set prices above the results obtained at auctions
  5. Normally, we can say that the quotations depend on the sum of a set of elements that the collector must always keep in mind when he acquires the work of an artist.These elements can be seen as a sort of "certificate of guarantee" by the collector, which serves to attest to the artist's real importance.
  6. Art and art system wrote that the price of a artwork is the consequence of a long process
  7. When prices go up  
  8. What happen when artwork become object of economic attention


I have detailed data and insights from our findings below


The Donald Thompson rule

To uncover the relationship between art pricing and artworks, we analyzed the business results in our data set.  


And we found that the final value of artwork depends on the dimensions: bigger paintings cost more than small size.

We started from Artprice.com 


This with due exceptions: a picture can be very small but have a big value like the "Pearl Earring" of Jan Vermeer


And this philosophy likely also applies to watercolors, drawings, sculptures and photographies.

When you ask about art pricing, you don’t want to stand around waiting for device to spit out an answer. You want your answer ASAP. Therefore, it’s plausible that experts would use dimensions as an important ranking factor.

And our data supports this theory: big artworks cost more than small sizes.

Therefore, if you want to calculate the price of artwork make sure your data 


The reputation of the gallery owner



As an important study coming from the University of Wien signed by Susanne Schonfeld and Andreas Reinstaller the reputation of the gallery owner is a crucial factor making an art pricing guide (obviously referring in particular to contemporary artworks, since those of the past centuries already have their price level).


And that’s the final part of this study


As with many of the other factors we investigated, this relationship could be the key to understanding the question, especially for people looking for how to price art for beginners. 

Obviously, not all galleries are the same: there is a huge number of galleries at the local level, an already more limited number of national galleries, up to the top of the scale, the international galleries. 

For example, a gallery that decides to place itself in the heart of London will appeal to a mature, wealthy clientele that aims at established artists; on the contrary, a gallery located on the outskirts that exhibit emerging artists will have available to customers less inclined to spend exorbitant figures.

The segmentation allows a gallery to position itself in a specific market niche and to create a product with a competitive advantage. 


The Starting Price Level (When a Dealer Start to Propose an Artwork)

It’s clear from reading The Economics of Aesthetics and Record Prices for Art since 1701 signed by Christophe Spaenjers, William Goetzmann, and Elena Mamonova



Inside this report we can find the key of our question:




Reading this study it’s clear when an art dealer propose artwork, living or deceased artists, he usually takes into consideration the prices of the auction awards obtained by the artist.


The Role of the Auction's Houses

You probably already know Christie's, Sotheby's and the other dozens of auction houses around the world.

Day after day, auction after auction, hundreds of works of art by various artists from around the world are sold. 


Although the scheme is clear, there is an important reason to buy art directly by auctions and not directly by the artists, the difference is really significant.

Although the pattern is clear, there is an important reason to buy art directly from auctions and not directly from artists, the difference is really significant. 

We have also analyzed the type of scheme used most often for the purchase of art. Here's what we found this from Artgallery.co.uk:



It’s possible to say from our data the main reason in buy art directly by auction is a set point situation.

That said, when used properly, this schema can improve your artwork in visibility on any platform. So it makes sense to use it, even if it won’t necessarily help with. 

Buying art by auctions: a schema like that can help your overall artworks efforts.



Normally, as in our post 10 Criteria For Evaluating Art,  the quotations depend of a number of 10 elements: 1. The quality of the work; 2. The degree of merchantability and pleasure; 3. Economic strength and the importance of the gallery owner; 4. The reference critic; 5. The publications; 6. The curriculum of exhibitions; 7. Collectors; 8.   National or international diffusion;  9. The role of museums and public institutions; 10. Advertising investments.



The definition of the value of an artwork is a work that is difficult to identify because the notion of an artistic asset pre-eminently includes values immaterial, such as the cultural message that the good carries, the aesthetic emotion, the intellectual gratification that derives from its enjoyment. That's another important point for people looking for an art guide on how to price art for beginners

Throsby divides the cultural value of a work of art into different areas: aesthetic value, or properties of beauty, harmony, but also of style; spiritual value; social value, or the sense of identity that a work transmits; the historical value; the symbolic value, that is the particular value of the meaning conveyed by the work; finally, the value of authenticity, the originality of the work and its integrity as added values. 

This is due to the fact that the value of the work of art lies essentially in that set of corpus mechanicus (the concrete object, realized) and the corpus mysticum (the creative idea of the artist, immaterial value) that determines the uniqueness of the artistic object




The Long Process

Art pricing is a long process consisting of a chain of complementary roles in which the gallery owner, the critic, the collector, the media and the museum contribute and different weights.  To the evaluation of the final price of the artwork: this system has assumed international dimensions since the sixties, with the intensification of the exchanges between Western Europe and the United States. 

The extrinsic value of the artwork differs strongly from the intrinsic value: although similar by author, dimension, technique and style, a work of art is not can replace another exactly.

When Price Go Up

If the artist, with a good gallery behind him and the support of an important critic, is included in important exhibitions (such as the Venice Biennale or an important Museum like the Guggenheim or an important Gallery like Gagosian), thus succeeding in establishing himself internationally, will see its prices go up.

It's clear from reading https://www.artbusiness.com/artists-how-to-price-your-art-for-sale.html



 When artwork become the object of economic attention

When artworks become the object of economic attention, something special happens.

First, they start to be affected by scarcity: most of the works of art are present in unique specimens and availability is always limited (except for rare exceptions).

It's clear to read https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51797088_Art_and_Authenticity_The_Importance_of_Originals_in_Judgments_of_Value



A second important factor is that such artworks are subject to a double valorization over time: not only for what concerns the material support of the artwork but also as regards the contribution of the specific work of the artist (that's another important aspect for people looking for an art guide on how to price art for beginners).

This added value, therefore, is given by the creative idea of the artist and by the technical quality of the work.



 Summary and Conclusion

In this art pricing guide 2018 I tried to explain what elements the contemporary art pricing system is made of and what are the most characteristic aspects of its functioning. 

It is evident that a system is a set of multiple factors, in the case of contemporary art are part of the artist, the artistic product, the collectors, the merchants, the art galleries, the auction houses, the museums, fairs, biennials, companies that invest in art collections, the art market, magazines, art critics, museum curators, temporary exhibitions, courtiers, framers, art publications, indices that calculate trends in the art market.

All these elements contribute to legitimize what can and cannot be part of the contemporary art system and determine the value of the work of art in economic and commercial terms.

It is possible that even one or a part of these elements determine what can be considered an artwork of art and its value in the market.

This is the case of a few great collectors who with their purchases are able to raise the market value of an artist, even an emerging.

They are few subjects who have built over time a position so dominant in the market that is imitated in purchases from other collectors: sometimes their collection is so extensive that they have an exhibition space in a large city comparable to a museum space, where they can promote the artist who is part of their collection, through the organization of exhibitions and the critical and museum legitimation, legitimacy that also happens thanks to the fact of being part of the collection itself, whose prestige is recognized by all the insiders.

In addition to collectors as individual individuals, auction houses also contribute to the legitimacy of an artist in the system.


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