15 Bytes | Personal Essay | Visual Arts

Reality Check: The Cost of Art

(this summer we’re going back through some of our archived material, cleaning it up and making sure it is all on this site; we came across this article, published in the May 2003 edition of 15 Bytes; it’s fairly simplistic and would need to be updated for 2016, but the point of the article is still fairly striking)

Screen shot 2016-06-29 at 4.29.06 PM

“Why is art so damn expensive?!”

Apart from the obvious answer — that artists are the most important tier of society, providing the community the lens with which to look upon their souls, and should be appropriately compensated for their all-important work — we decided to examine this proverbial question and see if we couldn’t find an answer or two.

WHAT AN ARTIST MAKES
We’ve tried to create a scenario to describe an average Utah artist attempting to make a modest living, selling at conservative prices.  With what they ask for their work, are they really starving?

Let’s assume that our artist — let’s name him Pablo Kinkade — has the aim of making a net income, before taxes, of $35,000 a year.  Livable, but by no means extravagant.

Pablo works full time producing his work, which means he sells through a gallery rather than self-promotion. The gallery takes a 50% commission on his work. They sell his work at the rate of $1,000 for a 24″ x 30″ oil on canvas (a price we think you’ll find about average for a local artist).

For each 24″ x 30″ painting, Pablo earns $500.

Our question: At this rate, how many paintings must Pablo produce and sell in a year to be able to earn $35,000 before taxes?

Pablo works at least 40 hours a week for an average of 11 months, taking into consideration vacation and sick time. He is principally a studio artist, and thus does not have great costs for travel. He produces original artwork only. He buys standard rather than expensive materials. He does not frame his artwork.

Pablo’s costs:

Studio rent/expenses
$300/month $3600/year
Frederix gallerywrap canvas 24″ x 30
$18.00/each x 100 = $1,800
Lukas studio oil colors
200 ml tubes
$12 x 20  = $240
Brushes
$100
Linseed oil, varnish turpenoid, etc
$95
Sketch pad, pencils, charcoal, etc
$65
Private Health Insurance
$300/month $3600/year
Misc expenses
$500
Total costs:
$10,000


To net $35,000 before taxes, Pablo must make $45,000 in sales from art work.

Pablo receives $50

The founder of Artists of Utah and editor of its online magazine, 15 Bytes, Shawn Rossiter has undergraduate degrees in English, French and Italian Literature and studied Comparative Literature in graduate school before pursuing a career in art.

3 replies »

  1. I love art and love to collect it. I don’t believe that artist make as much money as they should. Every piece of art I purchase I believe is a masterpiece; I don’t do it for investment. Chances are that I will NEVER be able to sell it for what I pay for it (that’s a fact). I also know what I can pay. To BLAME the collector as the problem is NOT GOOD!

    fyi, TO SAY “conservative estimates” is insane. I think you are only looking at a small portion of what YOU define as art. MOST you may want to read some of the articles published on art net concerning the true VALUE of art and the concerns of INVESTING in art!

    The value of art is its esthetic value and the enjoyment I get from it. Not its investment! True I pay WAY too little, BUT I pay what I can afford and unfortunately that means price is a factor.

    It seams your argument is saying that only the wealthy should be honored to posses a artwork because they are the only once that can truly appreciate it and pay the price for “GOOD ART”. The rest of use should not…. this article is elitist and dos not belong in a democratic mag like 15 bytes!

  2. Even at 2003 prices…Where are the expenses for living in this? Double that income for house rent/mortgage and utilities, food. I guess Pablo lives with his parents?

  3. At the risk of defending something that was written over a decade ago, and even then rather quickly . . .

    The thrust of the article was to answer the question, included at the beginning, “Why is art so expensive?” Or, so “damn” expensive, implying that a painting at $1,000 is overpriced. The point being that at $1,000 per painting an artist would barely be able to make an annual income of $36,000, which comes to $18.75/hour. In other words, that it is not overpriced. I don’t think the implication is that only the wealthy should have art (wealthy people complain about the price of art too). But, rather, to get people to think about what an artist needs to charge in order to make a living.

    And generally in a business plan the expenses for living are not considered operating expenses. One pays for ones living expenses with what one nets in earnings. In this case $36,000. Which, indeed, might mean Pablo is living in his parents’ basement.