Why is artwork expensive?

What factors drive up the cost of artwork.

When shopping around for a piece of art, you’ll find that it comes at what some perceive to be a high price.

The simple answer to why art is expensive is primarily based on supply and demand. When it comes to demand, no one really needs art. However, there are plenty of people who want beautiful artwork surrounding them. With plenty of demand for art, it must be down to supply. Yes, this will play its part. As artists can only produce so many pieces and this creates scarcity. Many of the most famous artists in history are no longer living making the surviving pieces they painted extremely valuable and outrageously expensive.

It can be more complex than just the supply and demand theory. Let's explore deeper together Why Art is Expensive.


Artists have a unique ability to take what they see in their imagination.  Then transform it into a physical piece for others to see.  Each piece of art is unique! It is highly unlikely that an artist will be able to paint the same piece exactly the same. The brushstrokes would be different, affecting how the light captures the piece. The mixing of the paints would not be the same either.  If there is only one version of the painting and it is popular, then collectors will bid for it raising the price.


It takes lots of time to produce a single piece of artwork. Firstly the artist needs to find inspiration for their painting. Once the idea pops up, there is the preparation.  Finding the right canvas, paints and brushes.  Whilst painting, the artist can be met with creative roadblocks. From inspiration failure to dry paints or not the correct shade when mixing. A single piece can take anywhere from a day to several months to complete. As the process can take a long time, this increases the price. You will need to pay an artist for the number of days they worked on the painting.


This can significantly influence the price. Although a small painting can be more complex, they don't take as much time and use fewer materials. A professional artist will use more pricey paints and even have a larger canvas made especially for them. Some artists will paint on a bigger scale, producing large murals. This might involve scaffolding or cherry pickers to reach the top. So size does matter in this case which means it will affect the price.


In the painting world, the medium is what the artist paints on. This too can affect the price. Canvas is the most expensive and is more traditional. It works well by allowing the artist control of the brushstrokes. The paints apply well to canvas whereas, on paper, they can be absorbed or smeared. Paper is the cheaper medium.


Sometimes the painter isn't the only one who is setting the price of their work. When they are working with an art dealer, this person needs to drum up interest in each piece of art. The more attention, the more demand for the work, which will increase the price. If the art is exhibited, the gallery will take its cut too. The more people involved the higher the price tag.


Art is not just about decorating your house, it is supposed to ask questions and start a conversation. But to art collectors, it is considered a status symbol. The expense of the art will show how wealthy the owner is. When inviting guests around, the painting can be shown off and casually complain about how much it costs to acquire the piece. The fact it carries this status symbol means the market will expect it to be expensive, therefore art is seen as a luxury item.

In conclusion, defining the value of a painting is very difficult unless you can understand the whole process of making it from its humble beginnings to the end piece comfortably displayed on its admirer's wall.  All creation points need to be considered here, from costs to make, time spent and energy used to shape the perfect piece.

Remember the next time you purchase a piece of art you also own imagination, creativity and hard work.

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