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Does Expensive Art Just Look Better?

by Clint Watson on 2/21/2008 9:00:27 AM

Want people to respect and enjoy your artwork more?  Evidence suggests that you should think about raising your prices.

"If it Doesn't Sell...Raise Your Prices"

We know a very famous, talented and respected artist whose paintings now sell for upwards of $100,000 apiece.  He once shared his pricing "secret" with us.  It was a simple philosophy.  He told us, "If a painting doesn't sell, I simply raise the price."  He went on to relate the story of showing a painting in New York for $2,000 where it didn't sell.  So he moved to another gallery in New York and raised the price to $4,000.  It still didn't sell.  He moved it to a Santa Fe gallery and raised the price to $6,000.  It still didn't sell.  Finally, he exhibited the painting at a show in Oklahoma and raised the price to $10,000.....and it sold.

How can this be?  We've all heard about the "laws" of supply and demand.....but those laws just don't seem to apply to art.....or indeed other luxury items.

Expensive Wine Just Tastes Better

A few days ago I stumbled across a blog post on Brain Blogger titled Expensive Wine Just Tastes Better, which led me to the initial study reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences dryly titled Marketing actions can modulate neural representations of experienced pleasantness.

If you can look past the dry title, the study surprisingly concludes,  "Our results show that increasing the price of a wine increases subjective reports of flavor pleasantness as well as blood-oxygen-level-dependent activity in medial orbitofrontal cortex, an area that is widely thought to encode for experienced pleasantness during experiential tasks. The paper provides evidence for the ability of marketing actions to modulate neural correlates of experienced pleasantness and for the mechanisms through which the effect operates."

In short, the study concluded that Expensive Wine Tastes Better, or, more correctly, if you charge more money for the same wine.....people will think that it tastes better.

Does Expensive Art Look Better?

It seems to us, that this study, coupled with our anecdotal evidence related in the story of our famous artist above leads us to wonder....if you charge more money for the same painting, will people think it looks better?

The answer seems to be . . . yes.


Clint Watson
Software Craftsman and Art Fanatic

PS - Raising prices can be a big step.  We still feel that it's best to raise your prices little-by-little, consistently over time.  Remember that in the wine study that the people did seem to enjoy the "expensive" wine more . . . however, they were given the wine.....they did not purchase it.  We have enjoyed a couple of $100 bottles of wine that were given to us as gifts....but we've never actually purchased one.

Related Pages and Posts:

Expensive Wine Just Tastes Better (Nicole Obert / Brain Blogger)

Marketing actions can modulate neural representations of experienced pleasantness (Plassman,

Masterpiece in the Subway, Trash in the Museum (Clint Watson, FineArtViews)

Is there no Limit to Man's Ability to Make a Jackass of Himself? (Bill Bonner / Daily Reckoning)

A 71 Million Dollar Fool (Clint Watson / FineArtViews)

Guidelines to Pricing Art (Clint Watson / FineArtViews)


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Topics: Art Business | Art Commentary | art marketing | Marketing | Pricing | Sales | Best 

What Would You Like to Do Next?
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AnnaMaria Windisch-Hunt
via web
Amazing as this seems, I stumbled onto this inadvertently. I was doing a commissioned work and attempting to deliver it to a gated community.
I got the run around from the doorman to who ever
was invisible in the call box. So when I exited I made one last call announcing I was leaving. When lo and behold "oh but we are here". My personal indignation at how I was treated made me raise the price. Not an single objection to the price, which has been a lower ball park figure.

Nathan Paul Gibbs
via web
Looks like my prices are about to creep up! Check them out at

Alex English
via web
I enjoy your blog. Can you take a look at mine and give me some suggestions? I just started selling paintings and have no idea how to do the business. I think your very knowledgeable and I hope to learn a lot from you....
Alex English

via web
you know what, I think you might be on to something there. A couple of years ago I sold a painting for a price which I felt was fair. It was the highest I'd ever sold a painting for and many friends and colleagues were amazed at the price I got. But then I met with a gallery and he expressed difficulty with my prices, saying they were far too high, perhaps double the price they should be. Then I heard this from another gallerist and I started to worry. So with subsequent paintings I lowered the price, not by half but by about a fifth and then... nothing has sold since! Think I should be going back up to the old prices, the tried and trusted prices and ignore these worried gallerists that feel I'm too expensive for their galleries!

Mary Sheehan Winn
via web
I've been showing my work at an annual Open Studio since 1994 and I finally began, about 2 years ago, pricing my work by size.
Still, my paintings are priced quite a bit lower than my peers who have gallery representation and have won numerous awards in Art Shows. I've not been as diligent about entering shows but have a 'name' in my community because of the Open Studios event which has become very well known and attended in our area.
I've heard that you can go up but you shouldn't go down.

tom heflin
via web
i think the rationale about higher prices is far from a realistic conclusion. just because a painting does'nt sell in one locale does'nt mean the price was too low it could mean it didnt reach the right collector. the right collector happened to see the painting in oklahoma and bought it...he probably would have purchased it for the original lower price to start with.
remember this...once you raise your price you dare not devalue it by lowering the price if it does'nt sell.

Lori Woodward Simons
These days, Volvo's look an awful lot like Hondas - all those small cars with short back ends and sloping rear windows.

However, people who drive Volvos or BMWs get more attention than those who drive Civics.

bonnie teitelbaum
So this artist raises prices on one work. Now what about the rest of the paintings? Do they go up as well? I think the work should sell for the same price no matter where it is shown. How do his collectors feel having his prices all over the place? Does the Oklahoma collector feel ripped off when they find out that they could have bought multiple works for that price? How do the galleries that represent this artist feel about this kind of business? I know mine would be pissed! I think this practice is irresponsible.

Barbara Andolsek
A long time ago Seth Godin wrote an article on this, it's in his book too (can't remember name). It seems to be a psychological response, if it's more expensive, it must be a better product. Honestly, I've seen both the high pricing and the right person seeing your artwork at the right time scenario. With the right place right time happening more often than pricing. If a person sees a work that grabs them, that's usually it. They have to have it!

Judith Monroe
I've been thinking about this not so much in terms of raising my prices right now but in creating larger works that cost more - I'm starting to get the attention of serious collectors at art fairs who previously would have passed me by maybe because I didn't have substantial works in my booth? Or maybe the evolution of my work is reaching that interest point? Hard to say, but I think the big expensive artwork certainly gets more attention...

Demetrios papakostas
As far as I know, it's hard work and dedication that sells work. I think this artist is an urban myth!!! Let's try it on Mythbusters!!!!!

Lori Woodward Simons
I've heard stories and seen evidence of artists who showed a piece at a show that they wanted to hang on to, so they put a higher price on it... and then it sold.

I think Howard Terpening's prices are a good example. Many years ago, he increased the price of a painting he wanted to keep and it sold at that price. That raised the worth of his work to a new level, and it's been going up every since.

Charlotte Herczfeld
Of course a lot of circumstances and facts like being established and other variables are important. But generally, higher price = better in most people's minds.

In my admittedly limited experience, I had one painting in two shows, lowered the price on it in the second, and then just for the... fun of it, doubled it (from the original price) in the third exhibition. I am sure you've figured out what happened -- yes, it sold.

The principle works on luxury products that people buy seldom. Paintings are regarded as a luxury, and like wine, may be given as presents.

Another story, from the cosmetics industry (luxury). An internationally known brand tried to be customer friendly, and designed a quality lipstick, and gave it a very reasonable price. Few bought it. Then somebody got smart, raised the price to ten times as much, and it started to sell like hot cakes.

Go figure. Literally.

Lori Woodward Simons
Charlotte, thanks for sharing that... so encouraging.

I do think that if the quality of ones artwork is apparent, higher prices can seal the deal. It's my personal opinion that if the work looks amateurish raising the price will not sell the work.

at the highest end super expensive wines are often the costliest item on menu, exceptional vintages from best vineyards sell for thousands dollars, expensive red wines with complex subtleties traditionally more costly than other, 1.5M worth diamond dust painting for private or gallery

some part of masterworks not exhibited in the museums, belong to private collectors, most expensive, exclusive hobbies, reserved to billionaires, it may be divided in old masters, impressionist, modern, and contemporary, estimation of works based on some facts like provenance, sale history, looking for some high valued art piece and don't want to leave your house see here 175K worth original Picasso painting available to quire online


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