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I bet you don’t know you can take the finished artwork that’s scattered around your studio and increase its value right now, do you? No, you don’t have to change it. No, there’s no trickery. This is 100% legit time-tested art business stuff that people who buy artwork higher prices for, and I’m going to tell you exactly what this stuff is and how to do it. Ready to increase your net worth? Excellent.
Here’s the basic theory. Take two identical artworks. One you know nothing about; the other you know a whole bunch about. Now they’re both the same price, you like them both equally well, and you can buy either one or the other. Which one are you going to buy? Right. The one you know a whole bunch about. Why? Because the more you know about a work of art, the better you understand it, the more you appreciate it, the more meaning it holds for you on a variety of levels, and with respect to the marketplace, the more attractive it is to buyers, and the easier it is to sell (or resell). That simple and no more complicated.
You add value to artwork by informing, enhancing, and deepening the experiences people have when they see it, and any artist, including you, can add value to any work of art almost instantly— and ultimately increase the price that collectors will pay to own it. The following straightforward procedures work every time, all the time. So grab some artwork and let’s get going…
First and foremost, sign it. Or if it is signed, but only people who know you can read the signature, sign so people who don’t know you can read it (as astonishing as this may seem, not everyone knows who you are). You can’t do anything more important than sign your art legibly because, without exception, the number one most common question people ask when they first see a work of art is, “Who’s the artist?” And given two identical works of art, one signed and the other not, the signed one is worth more and will sell for a higher price than the unsigned one.
You can sign your artwork on the back, on the edge, on the top, embedded within the composition, wherever. Makes no difference. Your name doesn’t have to stick out or interfere with anything, but it has to be there, and it has to be legible. If you have an illegible signature and you like it, fine. But sneak a legible one onto the art somewhere, so you can be identified. Even if everyone on the planet already knows who you are, sooner or later, people will be born who won’t. And if any of them ever inherit or otherwise acquire your artwork, they won’t know what to do with it because they’ll have no idea who you are or how famous you’ve become, which means they might throw it in the trash which happens way more often than you might think.
Title it. If it doesn’t have a title, then title it “Untitled.” Given two identical works of art, one titled “Untitled” and the other untitled, the one titled “Untitled” is worth more than the one that’s untitled. Why? Because you’re sure the first one is titled “Untitled,” but you have no idea whether the second one ever had a title or not. If you don’t like titles or you don’t use titles, explain somewhere why you don’t title your artwork. Given two untitled works of art, one with an explanation of why it’s untitled and the other with no explanation, the one with the explanation is worth more and will sell for a higher price than the one without.
Date it. Some artists don’t like to date their artwork because they think buyers only want the fresh new stuff, or they want to be able to quote whatever date they think buyers want to hear, so fine. Then date it in secret, in code, hidden in the compositions, in your daily journal, on an inventory list. When you get old and famous, those dates will come in mighty handy, like for your retrospective at MOMA. Given two identical works of art, one dated and the other not, which would you rather own? People prefer knowing its age to guessing its age.
Other interesting facts about artwork and datesä The more famous you get, the more significant your earlier (seminal) artwork becomes in relation to your current artwork; savvy competitive collectors like to say things like “Mine is older than yours” or “The artist made mine first, and first is better.” If you get really famous, your early artwork will likely sell for more money than your later artwork. When you’re young, buyers want the new stuff; the older you get, the more they want the older stuff, unless you’re Grandma Moses, who most of you aren’t. You know what else this all means? Save a percentage of your best early artwork, and put it in your retirement account.
Number it. If you’re a printmaker, digital artist, photographer, sculptor, or you make multiples of any kind, set the edition size, never change it, and consecutively number every piece in the edition. People who buy multiples expect exclusivity based on edition sizes, and they equate those edition sizes with value (the fewer there are, the more they’re worth). Before they buy, they want to know how many there are, which ones they’re going to get, and most importantly, that their interests are protected by your promise never to make any more of them again.
Explain it. People want to know what your artwork is about, what happens in it, where it starts, where it ends, and what it does along the way. You don’t have to get technical or tedious. A simple paragraph or two is fine. Either write a brief explanation for each piece, or generally explain your artwork in your statement, a gallery catalogue, an essay, a website, or in a published article about yourself. If you don’t know what your artwork is about, write about your process, what you think about while you work, how you start, how you proceed, how you know you’re done, and so on. Anything is better than nothing. Given two identical works of art, one with accompanying text and the other with nothing, the one with the text is worth more than the one without. Similarly, artwork with text written by the artist is worth more than artwork with text written by third parties (although under certain circumstances, informed or famous third party commentaries can influence value). One caution: Be careful not to get dictatorial and tell people what your artwork should mean to them. Instead, tell them what it means to you, and let them decide what it means to them.
Place it in context. When and where did you make it? What were you reading? What was going on in your personal life? Who influenced you? Whose music were you listening to? What were you thinking about? What inspired you? Were you happy, sad, frustrated, or angry? Is it from your orange period? Mauve period? Had you just came back from hunting snipe in the Kentucky hills? People want to know you as a person, and understand how your life’s experiences influence your artwork.
Document it. Has it been exhibited, written about, mentioned, illustrated somewhere, included in a catalogue, received an award, selected by a jury, defaced by a crazy person, posted on a website, commented on, or critiqued in any formal circumstances? This information is extremely important, especially with the passage of time, and can substantially impact value. For instance, given two identical works of art, one that was exhibited and the other not, which would you rather own? Would you be willing to pay a little extra for the one that was exhibited? Suppose the exhibit was important. Would you be willing to pay more than a little more? Savvy collectors would, and they do— all the time.
List the ingredients. Also include instructions on how to take care of it. People need to know what artwork is made out of because as it gets older, it can degrade, deteriorate, change appearance, dry out, shrink, crack, get wet, start smelling, get dirty, get dusty, or incur damage, and people who restore art (fine art conservators) need to know its ingredients in order to effectively treat, maintain, and preserve it over time.
A few more effortless value enhancers:
Take a picture of yourself holding the artwork.
Shoot a brief video of yourself making the artwork.
Keep track of who owns your artwork. When retrospective time rolls around, you’ll be glad you did.
Pair each piece of your artwork with a packet of information about yourself and tell whoever buys that art to keep the two together. That way, when your artwork changes ownership (and believe me, it will), all future owners will know what they’ve got.
Always remember: You can never provide too much information about a work of art, and the more you do, the more they pay.