“Why Does Art Cost So Much?” Part 2 – revisited

The continuation of this “classic” series proceeds while I am on hiatus.  Enjoy! – Amy

“Why Does Art Cost So Much?” (Part Two – Materials)

Acrylic paint
Image via Wikipedia

A picture is worth a thousand words “* – but why does art cost so much?  This is part two of a series that attempts to unveil the mystery that surrounds art pricing (to the extent that we can here).

The creation of art involves the purchase of materials, the time to produce the work, and in many cases, framing or other presentation costs.  After the piece  is complete, there is the expense of entering traditional exhibitions, the cost of a professional photographer to shoot images of the work, time spent on marketing, more time on creating non-traditional exhibition opportunities and the general expenses of running a small business.  Last, and certainly not least, is the commission that galleries take when the work sells.  In this installment, we will look at the cost of materials.

If you have ever stepped into an art supply store, you may have noticed the high cost connected to anything having to do with art.    One such example is something called an “Art Bin“.  These are portable plastic boxes, each with one or more trays to hold a variety of supplies.  One in particular reminds me of a standard, inexpensive tackle box.  The only real difference is the word “art” on the side of the Art Bin, and the difference in price.  The Art Bin, essentially the same item as the tackle box, sells for almost twice the price!

While the experienced artist looks for comparable items (like the tackle box) to save money, until a lower-priced item is located, they’ll need to purchase something that works.  That often means buying an item sold for far more money simply because it is targeted toward artists.

Copyright 2010 Amanda J. Mersereau All Rights Reserved. aMERSEREAUdesign.com

There is also a big difference between what a student/hobby artist pays vs. what a  professional pays for the same type of material.  For example, I have paid $20.oo for a 2 oz. tube of professional grade Cobalt Blue acrylic paint, where the equivalent student grade paint costs as little as $1.99.

For the most part, the quality of professional grade supplies is vastly superior to lower grades.  In the long run, that means a far better investment for the collector.  The difference in the quality of materials is  so big,  it justifies the jump in cost for both the professional artist (who is committed to their client’s long-term satisfaction) and savvy collector.

What about photographers, you ask?  Can’t you just get a digital camera for a hundred bucks, take a ton of pictures and print them at WalMart for a few dollars each?  Yes, but again, the quality is much lower than images shot on higher quality equipment and printed by a knowledgeable print shop.  While some photographers use the lower-quality cameras to interesting effect, most all will use a professional printer that is vastly superior to your corner drug store – again for the purpose of durability and overall quality of the image.

Digital SLR. Copyright 2010 Amanda J. Mersereau All Rights Reserved. aMERSEREAUdesign.com

A low end digital SLR (the variety of camera used by most photographers) costs around $1,200.  That doesn’t include the tripod (can cost as much as $2,000), extra lenses (can cost over $1,000 apiece), and the bags to haul gear around (hundreds of dollars more for quality bags).  Add in photo editing software (up to $2400), calibration software (around $300), a higher quality computer and monitor to hold and display all these images, and that is a lot of cash!  This is before the cost of paying a high-quality photographic printer to produce the hard-copies.

It is possible for a photographer to shoot hundreds of pictures in a day’s work.  But the ratio of images that are of high enough quality to be printed is quite small in comparison.  On a photo shoot where I take 260 images, it is unlikely I will find more than five images of high enough quality for me to release.

Most professional photographers keep their fine art images to a limited edition.  I personally am working in editions of five, meaning I only sell five of the same images in any one size.  (That edition size is extremely low, to keep the value of each image high for my collectors.)

I can’t speak to the cost of creating bronze, stone or other traditional forms of sculpture.  I can tell you that  I had the intention of creating a 4 foot by 6 foot hanging sculpture out of Styrofoam – until I found that materials cost – $700 to $900! The project I made in its stead consisted of bubble wrap, cardboard (to stiffen the interior), canvas, molding paste and acrylic paint.  It still cost close to $150 and took four weeks to make.

Now that we’ve nailed down the high cost of materials in a professionally created work of art, we can talk about the price of presentation.

Continued in part three – The Price of Presentation.

* – Napoleon Bonaparte

© 2010 Amy Buchheit All Rights Reserved

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About Amy Buchheit

I am a Signature Member of the International Society of Acrylic Painters and an Ambassador for Artist Trust. I earned my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Marylhurst University and have exhibited on regional, national and international levels since 2000. I am committed to connecting with the viewer through my work - stirring buried emotions to the surface for further inspection and introspection. The inspiration for my art comes from direct observations, research of subjects I am passionate about and personal experiences. For more information about my art, workshops and exhibitions, visit my website at http://www.amybuchheit.com. My blog "Fantastic Voyage" can be found at http://www.amybuchheit.wordpress.com, and I can be found on Facebook under Amy Buchheit Art and on Twitter as @AmyBuchheit.
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One Response to “Why Does Art Cost So Much?” Part 2 – revisited

  1. Amy Buchheit says:

    Sorry for the captions running into the text, everyone. No matter what I have tried, I can’t get the posted blog to reflect that there needs to be a space!

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