Should You Use Price-Per-Square Inch to Price Paintings?

Is Price-per-Square inch a legitimate way to value or price paintings?  Price per square inch is determined by taking the total price and dividing it by the total square inches.  Let's say I like a Gary Lynn Roberts painting that's 16" x 20" and it's priced at $4,750 (a good deal if you ask me), the price per square inch would be $4,750 divided by 16 then divided by 20 to get a price per square inch of $14.84.  It's an objective way to analyze painting prices, and I think configuring the price per square inch can be a useful tool in comparing painting prices; however, I don't think it should be used exclusively, rather in conjunction with other factors that are important in determining an artwork's value.  See "Painting Evaluations".  For the most part, configuring the value of a piece of art is subjective, and that's why you always see estimates in auction values and not an exact figure.  One of the great things about Art is that it's subjective.  Who's to say one painting is better than another?  People have different tastes and preferences in style and subject matters, so what they're willing to pay is going to be different too.  A painting is worth whatever someone will pay for it; however, those baselines are usually set by previous sales, supply/demand, and the Collection Factors of the artist and work of art.

Let's use Gary Lynn Roberts' work as an example when using price per square inch as a tool to analyze value for a painting.  Here are 3 examples of recent auction records of Gary Lynn Roberts' work.
  1. "Painted For Battle"  36" x 48"  Estimated: $20,000-$26,000  Sold: $28,750  Square Inch Price: $16.64
  2. "The Scouts"  40" x 50"  Estimated: $25,000-$35,000  Sold: $40,250  Square Inch Price: $20.13
  3. "Men of the Northwest"  20" x 30"  Estimated: $7,500-$8,500  Sold: $10,600  Square Inch Price: $17.67
When you look at the information above, you can see that the demand for Gary's work at auction is strong becuase they all sold above the high estimate.  The image shown is titled "Pathfinders" and it's a 16" x 20" oil priced at $4,750.  If you take the price per square inch: $14.84, you can see that it's a good value in proportion to his recent auction records.  It's important to note that the paintings that sold at auction are larger, and the subject matter of the first two listed are of Native Americans, but it's safe to say that the $4,750 asking price of "Pathfinder" is not unreasonable and if you like the painting it would be a good value.  Contact me if you would like to purchase "Pathfinder."

As a buyer, we always want to do our due-diligence in researching the artists we like, the dealers we work with, and any details about the painting we're interested in.  It's in our nature to research major purchases because no one wants to get ripped off.  Price per square inch is just one tool that can be used in comparing painting prices to make sure we're getting a fair value, but it's very important that we take into consideration the quality of the painting, the overall size, the provenance, subject matter, medium, condition, and most of all, how much you love the painting.  I've never heard someone talk about how much they regret buying a painting, but if I had a dollar for everytime someone told me about the painting that got away, I would be able to feed the 50,000 children living on the streets of Kinshasa, Congo.  From my experience, if you come across a painting that moves you, buy it!  I can't tell you how many people are haunted by that painting that they didn't buy.

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