curious question owl

Why does art cost so much?

A friend once asked me the title question when compared to her textile creations. She sews, knits and crochets, and she was annoyed that artists can make a much better return than craft-artists. Hand-crafted items are often sold for less than they are worth in raw production time alone, never mind adding the cost of skill acquisition, materials and tools. Back then, I had no answer.

As a result, her anger/annoyance seemed more than justified. It still is but now, two and a half years later, I think I finally have some ideas.

Find the Right Audience:

I think that it is crucial to find the right audience for ones’ creations. An artist who asks over $1000 for a painting needs to find the person who is willing to pay that price. But what stops someone selling their hand-crafted blanket at the same price or higher? Nothing, but chances are they won’t find the right person. The fine art market has had centuries as a luxury goods market compared to artisanal crafts. In the modern day where machinery has taken over the production of many items, it is difficult to market traditionally hand-crafted items at even the minimum hourly wage one could earn in any job.

The Right Audience Appreciates You:

I believe that this ties in with a trend (at least in the western societies) of not buying practical things that last. We are used to throwing kitchenware or clothes away. For example, if we just need a blanket, many people will just order one online or visit IKEA. There is no love for the item, just a need, whether imagined or not. I don’t think that this behaviour is sustainable, but it is a factor. In reverse, this means that people are willing to spend more for items that they love.

Love both of and for the craft is often an unrecognised factor in art. If an artist feels that you really love one of their pieces, they are probably willing to part with it. Even if they can see that you can’t afford it. It is a common misconception that the price of a piece of art is set in stone. However. If the artist notices that you can afford the piece, but just want to pay less on principle, then you are unlikely to see a discount.

Art is Rarely Overpriced:

And that brings me to my last point. Most of the time art is not overpriced:

  1. The artist has an education in art and no one would expect someone with a degree in engineering to start at minimum wage. The artist’s paintings often take into account their education and their skill.
  2. The act of painting doesn’t take into account concept creation, sketches or the 100 other paintings that did not make the cut.

The pieces that are considered overpriced are a result of what we generally consider art to be. This leads people to think that all art is too expensive. When a painter is dead the work is no longer just a painting. It has become a historical artefact and is now outside of the normal art market.

These are just a few ideas on why art is “so expensive”. I have hardly scratched the surface on this topic and we’ll see more of it in future posts!

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