Does Original Art Seem Expensive?

*Blog post submitted by Christopher Terrill, photos provided by Brandi Pfleider.

As an appreciator and collector of art, but one with no artistic abilities and thus no reason to have been previously exposed to the business side of the art world, I was stunned to discover the harsh financial realities of trying to make an actual living as an artist.  Sure, I was familiar with the cliché “the starving artist” but had no understanding of the nuts and bolts of the business side of visual art.

It Costs HOW Much?!?

Compared to the cost of purchasing John Grisham’s latest legal thriller or Adele’s latest CD, the cost of acquiring an original piece of art may sound high.  However, both literary and performing artists live in a world dramatically different from that of a visual artist. Imagine if John Grisham could sell only one copy of his books, or Adele a singular CD of her latest work.   While each book or each CD cost an insignificant amount of money to the individual consumer, the author and performing artist collectively earn a true windfall. Additionally, performing artists earn unworldly money when they go on tour.  Such artists receive residual income for years afterwards every time their songs are played on the radio. Legendary bands like The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac still derive income today from Hotel California and Rumours, classic albums released back in the 1970s!

Visual Art is a Different Beast

cave of hands art
“Cave of Hands” by Brandi Pfleider

Now imagine the life of the visual artist.  That artist gets one opportunity to be compensated for their work – when the original sale occurs.  Any appreciation in the value of the work over the years as the artist grows in recognition and stature is solely enjoyed by the original and any subsequent purchasers.   There is zero residual income to the artist. It is truly a “one and done” economic benefit for the visual artist.

Behind the Scenes Cost of Doing Business

In addition to the obvious, like actual materials needed to produce the art in the first place, the visual artist incurs significant costs in getting their work in front of the viewing, and only potentially buying, public.  The majority of art shows charge an entry fee, but that is a misnomer. A more accurate description would be a non-refundable application fee, as the artist is typically submitting digital images of their work for a cursory glance by the show’s judge, who then decides whether or not a particular piece actually gets accepted for showing.  Paying an “entry fee” hardly equates to being accepted, and even experienced artists oftentimes face rejection. Over the course of a year, these application fees can be substantial.

art award
2017 California State Fair Award of Merit for “Call Me Maybe?” by Brandi Pfleider

Most artists are grateful and honored when their work is selected for a show.  So is the gallery or exhibit site, as they stand to gain a commission of anywhere between 20% to 60% as their cut for advertising and providing the space for the artists to show their work.

Mining for Gold

By the time the artist recoups out of pocket costs for materials and application fees and pays the gallery its commission, the profit on a modestly priced piece of original art is far less than one might imagine.  So, the next time you are admiring and contemplating purchasing that original piece of art that caught your eye, yet think it’s a little too expensive, keep some of the above facts in mind. Besides providing aesthetic beauty and enjoyment for years to come, remember that you alone stand to gain from any appreciation in the art’s value.  Much like investing in growth stocks or taking a chance on a start-up company, you just never know when you may have discovered the next “big thing” in the art world!

Christopher Terrill




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