Why is art so expensive? (and why you, as an artist, shouldn’t sell yourself cheap)

posted in: art business | 5
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I eventually receive inquiries from people with a tight budget but genuinely interested in buying my art. They want to barter. They want to bargain. Not rare I feel compelled to accept the proposals since I feel so much love in them. It is a tough decision. I have collectors and people who have paid the listed price for my pieces, and I feel like it is not fair to them. A lot of people really appreciate art and would like to become collectors, however, collecting art is a pricey game. Everywhere people ask why a piece of art is so expensive. I don’t have a lot of time in the business but I think I can answer a few questions, at least only superficially. Also, don’t forget to check my friend Tammy Mae Moon’s post about the same subject, in which she covers some other costly details about artwork prices.

An artist is a professional like any other and needs to earn a living. Because creative activities are so associated to fun and “childlike” things, there’s a general mentality that artists are not really “working”. (First, it is necessary to get rid of this mentality that “work” has to be associated to sacrifice. Anybody could, and should, have pleasure in what they do, but this is another story.) Paying for a work of art is also paying for the artist’s time to produce that piece — which is not likely to be leisure time. I, for instance, evaluate my time at $40 dollars a hour. To make a living, I need to work an estimate of  X hours a month. Anything below that, means less items in my grocery cart, or problems to pay for my health insurance. I am a professional artist, so I make art. I am not hobbying. So, if you want my art, it will cost you money, just like your dentist’s, or your plumber’s time. Is that simple. The time I spend working in a certain piece will determine its minimum price. If I spend 4 hours in a certain painting, it cannot be sold at less than $160 (notice that only very small and simple pieces take such a short time to be completed.) Some additional actions and elements will also add to this price. Most paintings need research. You need reference images, you need to study your palette, you need preliminary studies of composition and other details. Good art supplies cost a lot of money. And wait, there’s also an electricity bill to be paid for, you need a lot of light to paint, don’t you? The artist’s experience and skill are also a plus, for they take an awful long time to be acquired. I would say a lifetime.


Do you see a “made in China” label here? A piece of art is a one-of-a-kind product. When you buy one, you are buying something that only you, among billions of people, will possess. It will never be any other like that, never, even if the same artist struggle to produce something similar. Differently from a mass produced object, it is something embed in emotion. It is a bit of that artist’s soul, something that deeply reflects their moment and spirit at the time when that piece were produced.

Think that talent is free? Think again. When you buy a work of art, you are buying the product of years of training, observation, and not rare, a lot of emotional ups-and-downs. If you went to an art school or had some formal training, you probably spent lots in tuitions, books and other educational materials. If you are a self taught artist, and has nobody to show you the pathway of rocks, you have spent long years into solitary study and training. Talent is not a precious gift from heaven. It is cultivated. It is not like pressing a button and the artist starts creating like a crazy robot. Art IS hard work. There’s no other way. And hard work costs money.

Painting is an investment. Lots of people buy art as an investment.The art market fluctuates a lot, but when an emerging artist keeps producing and growing, the tendency is that they will sooner or later gain popularity and their value in the market will increase. If a collector buys one of your pieces that costs $500 today, within a few years or even less it can value a lot more. So, when you are buying art from an active and promising artist, you are also applying your money in something that has been considered an attractive investment for centuries.

Image credits: Money Family, Photo manipulation. www.freakingnews.com

5 Responses

  1. Haha….we are totally on the same wavelength today. You said it much more precisely than me, I think I was just having a quick rant :). I am going to have to share this one, good write up Patty!

  2. I’m with you on this. Lawyers get away with charging £200 an hour to write a letter… come on let’s get artists recognised for the years of hard work and dedication that has gone into being who you are.

    How on earth can we educate buyers that they just have to pay the price, like they would the plumber?

  3. AMEN to this blog post!

  4. “First, it is necessary to get rid of this mentality that “work” has to be associated to sacrifice. Anybody could, and should, have pleasure in what they do, but this is another story…”

    Oh YES! That’s it exactly! Thank you Patricia – I really struggle with this and you have just made it very very clear for me:)

    xoxox
    Marg

  5. I have some friends who sell art at every possible venue and do okay. They sell copies/prints and that is smart. I strongly believe originals should be paid dearly for. many of my pieces have been labored over for years and they are large pieces. If someone ones something with a Jerry Sowles signature(AKA Rhinovangogh) they will have to pay. Because, I do value my time and my work. Cheers,J

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