Art As Area: What’s It Worth?

There are so many items that we pay for that charge by the area. The cost of a house is usually related to the number of square feet. Renting commercial space? Buying flooring? Paving a driveway? The cost will often be calculated in terms of the number of square feet or square meters. In short, area is a simple measure that can be correlated with cost. It’s easy to see how the pricing of art could follow a similar approach, particularly “two-dimensional” work like paintings.


Detail of “Sex Cells 2” by Dan Nuttall,  at 144 square inches, what’s it worth?

The math is simple: take the price of the painting and divide it by the area. You can then compare the value you derived, in cost per unit area, to examples of art across a broad range of price points. For example, “affordable ready-to-hang” art costs at select retail sources are roughly as follows:

  • HomeSense                         $0.06/square inch
  • Winners                                $0.06/square inch
  • Ikea                                        $0.04/square inch

The pricing of a popular Toronto artist who has been successful at marketing their work through community or artist run galleries and some retail stores in Toronto (no, it’s not me):

  • Toronto artist                         $0.77/square inch


Detail of “Balsam” a silkscreen by Charles Comfort priced at $0.825 per square inch

This silkscreen, “Balsam”, by Charles Comfort, is priced at $0.825 per square inch

Here is the pricing for a Canadian artist, with an education in art (BFA, MFA), who exhibited last year at a well known and highly respected art gallery in downtown Toronto (again, not me):

  • Trained artist $3.23/square inch

Let’s go all out and compare all of the above to some art “super-stars” Francis Bacon and Jean-Michel Basquiat, the cost per square inch for, respectively,  Three Studies of Lucian Freud  and Untitled:

  • Francis Bacon                         $10,492/square inch
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat             $22,486/square inch (info HERE).

Why think of art in these terms? For collectors who are just staring out it may be a useful starting point for organizing your thoughts around purchasing.

It’s obvious that there are many other variables that come into play. Are you a serious collector? Is it your expectation that a work of art appreciate in value over time? Are you changing your art every year? Will you gaze at the art every day or is it really about covering up that stain on the wall? Should you hire an art consultant?

Dan Nuttall, “Halo”, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 48″

Here are some of the advantages to the “art as area” approach:

  1. From the perspective of the purchaser it allows you to establish a ballpark figure for what you might spend on a piece and to compare prices across several different artists and different paintings. If you look at the yawning empty space above your sofa for example, and feel a 36 x 48” piece of art would be ideal you know that (36 x 48” = 1728 square inches x $2 per square inch = $3456. From this point you can begin to play with the variables – How does changing the size of the piece affect your decision-making? Do you feel that your unit area prices need to go up or down to meet your budget and aesthetic goals? When you visit a gallery or art website how do the prices of paintings you like break down to cost per unit area? What do you consider to be a fair price to be charged for services rendered?
Dan Nuttall, “Fall Stream” (diptych), acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20″ each
  1. From the perspective of the artist it allows the artist a quick and surefire method for estimating the price point for their work on the spot. If you charge $5.00 per square inch and have a 10 x 10” piece of art in front of a potential collector it’s easy to do the math in you head – no running for the price sheet – 10 x 10” x $5/in2 = $500. As well, “art as area” thinking also provides a baseline for changes in prices. Had a good year? Great reviews? There is a waiting list for your work? It’s easy to take your $5.00 per square inch price and edge it up to $5.25 and relate this price increase to the aforementioned variables or the rate of inflation or increases in the price of art materials or life expenses. Feeling that your painting price point is strategically situated within the art market and defensible in terms of your efforts can provide a sense of confidence to your practice. Keep in mind that artist materials start at $0.03/square inch (e.g., wood panel) and can skyrocket upwards at an alarming rate depending upon the type of materials used.
Dan Nuttall, “Diving Loon (Gavia immer), acrylic on wood panel, 16 x 16″

This is just one approach and, admittedly, it’s superficial. Hidden behind any marketing and pricing strategy are living, breathing artists who create highly original and engaging works of art – and who need to make a living. Will you avoid the lower end mass marketed prints that clutter our landfills? Will you support local living artists? What would you be willing to pay to support a local living artist whose work might accrue in value? What did the artist’s materials cost and what is a fair wage for an artist who spends a month on a painting and experiences the same cost of living as you do? Thinking of art as area may be just the right starting point for your art collection.

Dan Nuttall is a Toronto Artist who charges about $1 per square inch for his paintings.

You can find his web site here:

And his FB page HERE.  

Inquiries welcome. 












3 thoughts on “Art As Area: What’s It Worth?

  1. Hi Dan, that’s an interesting approach to pricing. I understand that this is just an example and the pricing mentioned here just an indication. However, to what extent do you consider time when you price your art?


    1. I use “time plus materials” as a guide AND i attempt, with the help of others, to “situate” my art within the market – who has a similar background and is selling similar work and what are they charging? CARFAC indicates what artists should charge for their time. Hope that helps!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Dan, first I would like to thank you for your time and effort in writing this blog. I found it a very interesting read. I appreciate how honest you are regarding your prices and found your formula helpful. See you at the Artist Project 🙂


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