Why Does Art Cost So Much? (Part Five – Getting the Work Seen)

This is part five of a six part series entitled, “Why Does Art Cost So Much?”.  You can read Part One (Intro), Part Two (Materials), Part Three (The Price of Presentation) and Part Four (Time is Money) by checking out the archives or clicking the hyperlinks in this paragraph.

In part one through four of this series we discussed many ways artists invest time and money.  Yet to be mentioned is perhaps the most important – getting the work on public view.

Decent reproduction, not even close to the impact of the original. "Dr. Gachet" by Vincent Van Gogh

There is a huge difference between a reproduction of an artwork and the work itself.   Like a child’s game of Telephone, with reproductions, the message often gets distorted along the way.  Technical issues can cause colors to be skewed.  When printed in different sizes, the impact or perceived intention of the piece can be altered.   A glossy piece may be reproduced on matte paper, or a work on an intentionally dull or aged surface can be made to look shiny and new.

Something is lost when the rich smell of linseed oil, delicious quality of thickly laid texture or the thrill of connecting to the artist by being in the presence of their handmade creation is replaced with a reasonable facsimile*.  For these reasons, it is in the artist’s best interest that their work be presented directly to a live audience.

There are a variety of ways this can be accomplished.  The most common actions taken by established professionals are participating in juried exhibitions, creating and implementing their own shows and obtaining gallery representation.

An artist may choose to enter juried shows throughout their career to expose their work to new audiences, art world professionals, and perhaps obtain a coveted prize.  Exhibiting in high-quality exhibitions with excellent jurors shows gallery owners and potential customers your work has been approved by professionals who know their stuff.

There is fierce competition and no guarantee of getting into these exhibitions.  Each show takes between 30 minutes and 4 hours to enter.  Entry fees range between $30 and $90 for the privilege of being considered.  With an average acceptance rate of one out of every five shows, getting into one exhibition can cost up to $450 in entry fees and as many as 20 hours of work.  If the exhibition is out-of-town, there is the additional cost of shipping and travel expenses.

Artist created and implemented SHINE Exhibition at the RISE Gallery, Seattle Design Center

Sometimes, it makes sense for artists to create and implement their own exhibitions.   Since I have blogged about my recent experience**, I won’t go into detail here.  I will say there is a tremendous amount of time involved in planning, hanging, staffing and marketing an exhibition like this.  There can be a large expense for the combined cost of renting a space, promoting the exhibition and holding any events in conjunction with the show.  For example, had we paid full price, the cost to rent the space in the image to the left would have been $75,000 for six months.  (Thankfully our exhibitions benefited charity and the space was donated.)

For a majority of professional artists, obtaining (and keeping) good gallery representation is considered the ultimate goal.  It can also be one of our biggest expenses.  On average, commercial galleries take a 50% commission^^ on the sale of art works.  That commission puts a major pinch on how much profit an artist makes.  An artist may also be required to share the cost and time of marketing their exhibitions.  And that 20% “good customer” discount you got at the gallery?  The artist may well have had to cough up half of that, deducted *before* the commission.  With all of these expenses and fees, a $5000 painting may net the artist as little as 10 cents an hour for their time.  What other educated professional do you know making less than a quarter an hour for their time and expertise?

Stay tuned for part six, the conclusion of “Why Does Art Cost So Much?”

*  Have you ever looked at a Van Gogh online with mild interest, then stood in awe, tears flowing, in the presence of the original?

** You can read about my recent experiences in the blog entries  Preparing to RISE , Ever Wondered What it Takes to Hang a Big Exhibition? (RISE) and Open House SHINEs!.  To read about the events we planned in conjunction with the exhibitions to make them more inviting, read Great Upcoming Events – Save the Dates! and All is Active on the Western Front.

^^In New York City, the new standard is 60% to the gallery, 40% to the artists!

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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5 Responses to Why Does Art Cost So Much? (Part Five – Getting the Work Seen)

  1. Patrick Ross says:

    Amy, I’ve been learning so much about the business and craft of art through this series. As you know, I’m always looking for parallels across creative pursuits, but every pursuit has its own norms and requirements, and I’m learning them for painting.

    Love the reference to the game of telephone!

    • Amy Buchheit says:

      Hi Patrick! Thank you for letting me know how this series is making a difference. It is getting ready to conclude next week … any other brilliant topic ideas? 😉 (Kidding, I have some – and a guest blogger or two – lined up.)

      That reference to Telephone was an inspired moment. Given I don’t have any small children in my life I have no idea where it came from … and I’ll take it! 🙂 That was one of two lines that was not going *anywhere* during the editing process.

  2. Hey Amy, this is great! I look forward to reading the series, and maybe I could include an excerpt with a link on my blog sometime soon ~ this is very valuable info.
    Katie m. Berggren

    • Amy Buchheit says:

      Hi Katie, welcome! Of course you can use some excerpts. If you could point people directly to the blog somewhere in the process, that would be great! 🙂

      My writing skills have improved since the beginning of the series. While the first parts may have some good information, the writing might be a little more choppy. If you would like to use info from there and would like me to, perhaps I could do a re-write for you.

      BTW, would you mind if I included your blog on my “links” page? (I know, silly question, and I thought I would ask 😉 )


  3. Pingback: Why Does Art Cost So Much? (Part Four – Time is Money) | Fantastic Voyage

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