Why Art is so Expensive



A failed attempt at a painting with fast changing light.  One of the reasons for paintings costing so much money…. blame the light!

I felt compelled to write this article as I wiped off another failed painting while thinking about how most people don’t get to see this side of an artists life.  There are a number of reasons why artwork costs so much money, I will try and cover them all but if someone has something to add, please do!

#1:  Galleries take 50%

That’s right, you heard me correctly.  If an artist is really lucky they can find a gallery that will take only 40% but in most cases the cost to sell in a gallery is 50% of what you are asking.  And so you might say, “Well i’ll just buy straight from the artist then and only pay 50% of what they are asking for in galleries”… oh how I wish it were this easy.  The problem is that as an artist if you sell paintings for lesser amounts outside of galleries you get a really bad reputation for “cutting the gallery out” of a sale.  Therefore, the price must stay consistent if you ever want to be represented by a gallery.  And don’t get me wrong, most galleries deserve that 50% commission… I sure don’t want to do all my own marketing!

#2:  “How long did it take you?”

I often get asked this question and mostly just after I tell someone how much a painting costs.  The fact of the matter is, there is a lot more that goes into a painting than just the time spent with brush to canvas.  I often spend hours searching for a scene.  Time and money spent driving to different locations.  Time spent hiking and searching for a good composition to paint.  And even then, after spending all this time and then painting for anywhere from 1 to 3 hours I only get a successful painting that I feel comfortable selling about 1 in 4 times.  That means that even if a particular painting only technically took 2 hours to paint, it is actually the time spent on all the other paintings and all the time spent searching that gets added into the cost of a painting.

#3:  Cost of materials

Oil paint can be expensive and your support that you paint on can be even more expensive.  Depending of quality of the canvas you are painting on and how many paintings you are making a month the cost of primed linen can be $500+ a month.  Even if you go a cheaper route and prime your own boards, which many artists do, it takes a lot of time and the primer + board can end up being quite expensive as well.  Paint, support, mineral spirits, paper towels, brushes, palette knives… this doesn’t even take into consideration that the artist is responsible for framing all their paintings which can cost loads of money considering that in order to show in a nice gallery the paintings must be put in a very nice frame.

#4:  Its not all sunshine and rainbows

Many people think that being an artist means you are just lovin’ life and having a blast all the time.  While this is true some of the time, painting is one of the hardest, most frustrating things that I have ever done.  In order to get good at painting you have to struggle for a looooong time and then once you get good, you have to struggle more to get better.  It is never ending.  Gaining the skills to create high quality work is taxing and it takes years and years to develop skills.  When you pay a doctor to perform an hour procedure you are not paying for that hour, you are paying for the time it took that doctor to gain the skills that they have developed.  When you buy a piece of art you are not paying for the time spent on the painting, you are paying for the years and years that the artist has spent developing their skills.


So, take one of my 9×12 paintings that I sell for $650, subtract 50% for the gallery = $325.  Take away materials spent on this painting and all the other failed paintings I had to go through in order to make a good one and you have to subtract about another $60 or so off of that price = $265.  Oops, plus the frame = $200.  Then add up all the hours spent cutting and priming panels, searching for locations, and the actual painting of the piece… probably about 15 or so hours.   200/15 = $13.  Yep, $13 an hour.  Seems like a pretty normal hourly wage to me.

I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this and please feel free to add anything to this list.  I just felt a need to inform people of where the high prices are coming from. I wish I could charge less for my work so that more people could enjoy them but it simply isn’t possible for me to paint full time and ask for less.



2 thoughts on “Why Art is so Expensive

  1. And $650 is not an expensive painting either.
    Yes, I agree with all of this plus, you are on a never ending learning curve as an artist.

    • Very true, I should have meantioned that in the post. Many people think my paintings are expensive but actually they are on the low end of the asking price for a professional. And it makes sense, I have only been full time for about a year so the $13 usd an hour is about right. If you have been painting for years and years you should be able to ask for a higher hourly.

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