Why Original Art is So Expensive

You’re charging WHAT for that piece?!

Most artists will tell you that pricing their work is one of the hardest things to do when entering the professional art world. The value of art is different for everyone, and so an acceptable price varies depending on the viewer. If you are an artist, you will definitely get incredulous looks if your prices are on the higher end. If you’re a consumer, I’m sure you have seen a price on a piece of art that left you laughing hysterically (like these pieces or the $1.4mil Banksy piece that self destructed). Naturally, as artists become famous, anything goes. This blog post isn’t about that art. If you are just a normal person trying to decorate your home, it’s reasonable you’d want to find something with an affordable price tag, but if you are hoping to have an original piece of art or something custom made for your home you shouldn’t expect to get quality work for a cheap price. I want to go over some numbers with you to explain things a little better.
First we need to make a few assumptions:
  1. You believe art has value.
  2. You believe the work artists put into their art has value.
  3. You believe artists should be able to make a living creating the art you value.
Cool? Cool.

Now Let’s do the math

There is a lot that goes into running a successful business, and a business selling art is no different. The main goals for artists are to provide a product that others will consume, cover their operating expenses, and take home enough money to provide a comfortable living for themselves and possibly their family. Easy, right? How much money does an artist need to accomplish all of this?
Cost of Living
First, let’s look at some estimates for living the single life. I’m going off of the two locations I have lived this year for this example, but you can explore the cost of living across the country using this tool. It’s not unreasonable for an artist to strive to make enough money from their business to live comfortably. We all have different standards of living, but in order to survive we need these basic things: Shelter, food, transportation, health insurance, clothing, utilities (heat, water, electric), internet/phone, and loan payments (If you’re a millennial you’ll almost definitely have student loans.) I’m no stranger to poverty level wages, but let’s try to end the concept of a starving artist and aim for paying artists higher than poverty level. Okay, what else do artists need?
Cost of Operating a Business
Establishing the cost of living is one thing. Now you have to factor in how much it costs to actually make art. Depending on what an artist works with, expenses will vary quite a bit. Here are examples of business expenses and how they change the income needed per month to not only live, but keep the business running. In my business, my expenses vary from month to month, but they can add an additional $1000+ in needed revenue to an artist’s books. If you ever see an artist set up at a well known outdoor art fair, it’s quite possible that event alone will cost $1000+ to prepare for. All of this is factored into the price of the art you are buying.
How much art can an artist art if an artist can art art?
If you are a single artist and live alone in a town like St. Cloud, MN (my home for 8ish years) you would need between $3092- $3792 in gross sales to live a comfortable but modest middle class existence and cover business expenses. How much art does an artist have to make and sell to reach those numbers? Some artists can crank out a crap ton of pieces in one month. Some artists take multiple months just to finish ONE piece. And some artists can’t sell any of those pieces no matter how hard they try.

This is just the baseline for pricing

If an artist needs $4000 a month, but can only make and sell 5 original pieces of art during that time, their average original art sale needs to be $800 or more. If you meet an artist who can only create 2 or less original pieces a month because of the time they put into their work, it’s fair to say those pieces can be priced in the thousands. If you are looking at art in a gallery, that gallery is likely going to take 40%-70% of the artist’s sale so prices will be even higher. If that artist has made a name for themselves and is widely recognized, they can start to charge even more for originals just because of their social status alone. There are many variables that go into the price of a piece of art, but the baseline should always be enough to provide a livable income for the creator. Yay, math! (Artists: read this for another way to price your work).
But I can find cheaper art somewhere else.
Yes. You can find a lot of bargain priced art. Here’s why:
  • An artist doesn’t care if they make a profit (hobbyists, part-timers etc.)
  • An artist is desperate for a sale (because some money is better than no money, right?)
  • An artist doesn’t understand the value of their work.
  • It’s a licensed print in a store. (Big box stores can sell thousands of the same piece and the original artist will get 5%-8% of those sales.)
Just because some artist’s prices are low, doesn’t mean every other artist should price their work that low.

To Potential Art Customers

Bottom line, an artist needs to make a reasonable living. If you love what they do and want them to continue their career, don’t let the price scare you. And please please don’t ask for discounts or tell them their prices are too high, because so-and-so can do it cheaper.
Shift your perspective.
A piece of art isn’t just something to pull a room together. When you buy from an independent creator, you are supporting their livelihood. You are giving them grocery money. You are helping put a roof over their head. And you are helping them build a career. In exchange, you get to look at something that will inspire you every day. You get to adopt a piece of the artist’s story. Supporting a visual artist is just as important as buying books you love, going to the movies, buying your favorite band’s latest album, seeing a comedian perform, watching plays at a theater, enjoying a ballet or orchestra, and so much more. The arts surround you on a daily basis. It would suck if all of these things suddenly didn’t exist, right?
We need the arts.
We need to support those who enrich our lives. So the next time you cringe at the price tag on an original piece of art, ask yourself if that artist has impacted your life in some way. Ask yourself if you want them to keep creating. If you really can’t afford their art, then give them some love on social media. Share their work. Help expand their following. Be a cheerleader for the creations that speak to you. Or, look at it like this: If you own a piece of art for 10+ years, how much would it cost to see that piece every day? A $300 canvas is just $2.50 a month. See, that’s not so bad!
Art is valuable.
Original art is expensive, because an artist’s time is valuable, an artist’s story is valuable, and an artist needs to pay bills and put food on the table. And sometimes, original art is ridiculously expensive because that artist achieved fame and now gets to f*&$ with rich people. (Hats off to those artists, but that’s not the norm.) Art is not expensive because it is “good” art. And art is not cheap because it is “bad” art. There are plenty of expensive pieces of art that I can’t stand looking at, and plenty of amazing works of art that are priced too low to pay anyone’s bills. It’s all about the story of the artist and most of us are just trying to build a career out of our passion.


Thanks so much for reading! I hope this encourages you to see the price of original art in a different light. There is a misconception that full time artists just live with their heads in the clouds and have the best life ever, but this profession is has ups and downs just like any career. Buy original art. Support your local starving artist. Support all things creative. Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every week (kind of). And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider becoming a Patron of mine! -Kelly @messyeverafter P.S. You probably know by now that I am here to help artists with these posts. If you need help with your online branding, Instagram account, or just want a creative accountability coach, then check out my consulting services. You can easily add a session to my online calendar now.
Further Reading: 
Nobody wants your art, but it’s not because it’s bad
How to Price Your Art with an Easy Formula

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