Deep Thought Thursday: Your art seems expensive

Astrid Volquardsen enjoyed reading the responses to “How long did it take you to make that?”, which got her to thinking about another question that viewers often ask.  She's curious . . .

How does one respond to the question: “Your art seems to be expensive” ?

In contrast to the question “How long did it take you to make that?”, this is definitely a value question. No getting around it.


Image ©Astrid Volquardsen, Nordmannsgrund (II) Blick nach Langeness

Astrid adds: This is often asked by people who never have bought originals before. How should one react without being defensive, smart or snappy? What could be a good respond in order to open up a conversation and maybe win new customers?

Can you help her out?

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30 thoughts on “Deep Thought Thursday: Your art seems expensive”

  1. I’m not sure I’ve ever been specifically told that, (okay yes I have) but (looping back to the “how long did it take” issue) I always emphasize that I spend an *incredible* amount of time on each painting, and how much detail goes into each one before calling it finished.

    At that point I’ll explain a little about my process and see where it goes from there.

    Too bad there’s no way to force an appreciation of value onto people. ;o)

  2. I do get “I can’t afford it,” but not “it seems expensive.” Probably because I’m usually exhibiting with many other artists whose prices are similar to (or higher than) mine.

    When people say “I can’t afford it” that usually means they like the work OK but they’re not in love with it. They’re not my “right people” and I cheerfully allow them to wander off.

    But when someone says, wistfully, eyes glued to the paintings, “I REALLY love your work…it’s just wonderful… I wish I could afford it!” I take them at their word. They truly cannot afford original art. I smile and say “I wish you could too!” and give them a business card. Maybe they’ll get a raise and be able to afford it in the future.

  3. My dear friend Liz has a wonderful way of handling these types of questions. I’m guessing she’d say in an egging-on, conspiratorial voice…

    “Expensive, yes, but you deserve it, don’t you?”

  4. Robin Neudorfer

    I do think that some artists need to seriously look at their work and consider if they haven’t actually pushed the price up a bit too high. I see some work that could barely have taken two days, and they have a price tag of $1,500. Nice if you can do it, but for the emerging artist, that is rather unreasonable.

    I like to hear that someone thinks my work is reasonable, and that they are saving for it.

  5. I was told this yesterday. I responded…..”I understand it is not inexpensive but I am not able to price my paintings any less expensive because I am already so busy. If I lowered my price point I’d be working for less than minimum wage and there wouldn’t be enough hours in the week to complete the increase in orders” I also said…”I am going to be increasing my price in the near future but if you decide to purchase from me I will offer you my current pricing”

  6. I agree with Barbara’s comment. Usually you can tell if it’s a price issue. What I have learned from a few seasoned artists is to ignore the comment itself, but ask them what price range they can afford, and then you can direct them elsewhere. If they can’t afford any of your originals, lead them to the print section of your booth or gallery. Then, you can explain the original cost vs. print cost. If they really do love your work, they might settle for the print for the time being, and purchase an original later.

  7. Hi everybody,
    all your comments are very intersting and helpfull as well.
    I sell quite a bit through galleries and my prices were set up with a gallery owner. Compared to other artists, who sell similiar work, I’m still at the lower end, because I didn’t want to push it to high. Within a gallery, these prices are accepted by the customers.
    But I also do shows of my own or attend art fairs and there you meet people, who never set a foot in a gallery or don’t know anything about the art market. (Things like: you have to take the same prices if you sell from your studio or from the gallery.)
    It seems like they never thought about what it actually takes or means to financially survive as an professional artist.
    Luckely, this question arised very seldom, but I think it’s there in the heads of the people.
    Usually, I explain my working process, but sometimes I tend to get defensive and that’s definitely not the way to build up a customer relationship.

  8. mmm … my reply is; “You pay your cleaner more per hour”. People who ask this question are usually not going to buy. Eager but poorer clients will usually accept my ‘monthly payment’ option.

  9. I get such a variety of opinions regarding the prices of my work, from “expensive” to “very reasonable”. I find it all depends where my art is shown and who is seeing it.

    Where I live (Florida), another thing that influences people’s opinions regarding art prices is hobby artists or artists with other income selling their work at low prices among professional artists who are trying to make a living.

    My question is, how do we educate the public about what it takes to make art and to make a living as artists?

  10. I’m still in art school and have not dealt with this question yet. I would probably answer by explaining all the time and expense that went in to the piece. But I suppose it depends on the piece too doesn’t it?
    – Eric

  11. I don’t get the “your work is expensive” line, but I have heard “I’d buy that if I could afford it” and I can appreciate that. Not everyone has a budget for original art. I too will refer clients to smaller pieces since I price by size or offer to make something smaller just for them. Also, you can let this person know that your work is in galleries or has received awards, etc. and that your work has increased in value and will continue to do so. (This should be the case vs. starting with high prices and no sales to validate them).

    Once you have sold art, your pricing is justified. You can’t lower your prices if you’ve already sold to someone at a set price point.

  12. I am a fiber artist and that makes my work fall into the category of “crafts” for most folks. They think oh yea, my aunt so in so makes quilts and she’s not charging $300+ for a little thing to hang on the wall. I really have to be careful in talking with the customers. Even if I’m pretty sure they have no intentions to purchase I still want them walking away with a understanding of what I do and why it’s different and more costly. Some people will never “get me” or my art. That’s fine, but I’ll always try to help them see what it’s about. Who knows their sister could be my next customer.

  13. I haven’t had this comment come up – it’s usually phrased more as, “I wish I could.” My tendency would be tell them that if they aren’t looking for an investment piece of art, a giclee print might be perfect for them. If they insisted they want an original, I would offer them a small study, which I price much lower per square inch than major works. If they aren’t interested then, I realize they probably just aren’t in the market for my work.

    In my mind, this is a difference in an investment buyer and a decorative buyer. Both perspectives are valid. Since I depend on art sales for my livelihood, I don’t want to pass up even small sales, so I try to have offerings in many price ranges, from $125 up to $7500. Giclees help cover that range.


  14. Your art seems to be expensive? Or words to that affect….

    I like this response because it puts into the light of the situation that 1. I am highly collectible 2. My galleries have successfully promoted my work and increased my status among serious collectors and 3. I am humbled by the prices myself:

    Yes, my work has gained a lot of collectors since I began back in ????. I of course honor my collectors and naturally support the pricing at the finer galleries who are representing me. They have a great deal to do with my growth in pricing and the increased costs to engage as a collector of my originals. I want to keep them happy! (With a laugh) I really never thought I would be this successful and I am so humbled.

    What level is comfortable for you at this stage in your collection? Perhaps I have something more in your current price range.

    All said with a sincere smile, a wink, a nod, and soft voice.

  15. Nicole Strasburg

    It certainly is a shock when someone makes a statement like that, I have found that those generally are not my customer. However it is an opportunity to work on your “script”, educating the public about your work.

    Rather than be defensive and start listing accomplishments or reading them my resume, my angle is to tell them it’s like buying a beautiful piece of furniture, an antique.. only it’s better because it doesn’t ever wear out. Instead it becomes an heirloom that gets passed down through generations and if I do my job properly it will increase in value, making it a very good investment.

    If they are still listening, then it’s time to tell them your history, resume, gallery representation showing them that you’re really serious about what you do.

  16. I like this whole thread; both this question and the “how long” question. I’ve had all of these questions asked of me – I hope I answered well.

    I appreciate the chance to think about responses ahead of time to avoid the snark-factor. I agree that the question of why it’s so expensive is a “not-my-customer” situation. But, I have friends who are so smooth that they might be able to actually make that sale! I, OTOH, am not motivated to make that particular sale…

  17. I agree with Nicole. It’s all about education and the understanding of your process as an artist. It’s important to never put them on the defense by taking an approach of you versus the cost of a housekeeper, or any other service. Educate them. In my case most of my work is custom to their needs – so I can use that approach when I’m funneling them through my sales cycle.

  18. I agree with the idea of not “dissing” the potential client by sarcastic comments I offer payments if they “love it but can’t afford it” give them a card and tell them I do commissions and leave it up to them, everybody and “his uncle” is a potential buyer just be interested, kind and respectful it really does pay off. If you get that question a lot your prices are probably too high….my questions are mostly process questions which are great cause I could go on forever……

  19. One might ask (before launching into an explanation of any kind) “Would you like to know what went into making it?” I have done that and the person just wrote me a check on the spot. (that only happened once!).

    Also, one might ask such a person if they have bought original art before. I’m guessing they haven’t and are basically uneducated.

  20. Hi everybody,

    Thank you for this thread, I find it very useful. I am a self-taught pastel artist living in Bulgaria, Europe. I do hear “the expensive” line from time to time, and I think it is a matter of education of the art audience. 1. I would ask Expensive? Compared to what? and 2. I would say: It is a simple business rule: the market defines the price. I sell well to a lot of people, so it’s obviously expensive only for you.

    And I totally agree with “Expensive? The passion and devotion I have invested in that work of art is priceless which made you interested at my piece” and the words of Daniel Sroka.

    Thanks once again!

  21. When, “You’re work is so expensive”, jokes are good,like, “I know, I can’t afford my own work!How about a giclee’?”

  22. Here’s what I’m going to say next time I hear this comment.

    Matisse used to say that he always tried to hide his efforts and wished his works to have the light joyousness of springtime, and never let anyone suspect the labor it had cost him.

    When I consider all the time that goes into the business of making art, from learning, planning, executing, to showing and marketing, and then the costs for supplies, studio rent, show fees, etc., the price doesn’t seem so high anymore. It’s in fact very reasonable compared to a lot of other professions.

  23. When somone asks how long a piece took to create I just tell them, “35 years” my age. If thy doesn’t put them in check then I follow up with the fact that art value is notmdetermined by how long it takes to create it. We are not making widgets, and creativity can not be produced on demand.

  24. Collecting art should be something that you do with your heart and eyes not your wallet and ears. Many people fall into the trap of “hype”. I recently found out about a site called They sell affordable art from young students who are making art because it truly is their passion. I enjoyed browsing through the art and seeing what could possibly be the future of the artworld.

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