The cost of fine art and why there are no prices on my website

Every now and then I am getting an email from someone who is interest in buying a painting. While I think that’s very nice, I will have to explain a few things since most lay people do not know much about art or the art market.

Purchasing original fine art is not cheap. Most collectors constantly watch for up and coming artists and purchase their work early as it gets higher and higher once an artist is established and working with high end galleries. Original art means there’s only one unique painting and usually no reproductions unless otherwise noted. So why is art expensive?

Great question! The price of art is closely related to the reputation of an artist. The work of a nationally known artist will fetch a higher price than the work of someone in a local art association. Dead people’s work is much higher simply because they no longer produce new art. Unfortunately, the price of art has nothing to do with ‘how good’ the work is. There are artists who are great self marketers and despite being poor painters, they are selling at high prices. Anything can be art. The word ‘art’ is not protected or even well defined, just like the word ‘natural’ in the food industry. But I digress…

I thought it would be a good idea to break down costs so everybody can easily understand why paintings cost what they cost. On a side note, there are artists out there who overestimate their value, but also some that underestimate their worth. It can go both ways.

Anyone who works with galleries (like myself) is not underselling their galleries. That would be very unwise but I know some people do it regardless. What that means is to sell a painting directly for much cheaper than what it would sell in the gallery. If the gallery gets wind of it, they won’t be happy and in all likelihood drop the artist.

Galleries do work for us. They promote us and give us space so we can properly showcase our art. Where else can you go see art? The only other place is a museum or sometimes when an artist has an open studio sale.

Social media or the internet in general is not a good place since you can’t trust what you’re seeing. How would you know what you’re getting unless you are personally familiar with the artists work? I’d be very careful as there are artists who ‘doctor’ their paintings in photoshop software to ‘enhance’ the look of it. Besides, most people would have to see what impact a painting has and that can only be done in real life.

Furthermore, reputable fine art galleries have mailing lists of collectors that many artists can just dream about. Most artists have mailing lists with other artists on them. (who want to paint like them)

The price of a painting has several factors included.

1.The percentage the gallery takes (between 40 and even 70% in San Francisco) Yes, they take that much! Nowadays, 50% is pretty common.

2.The time and years spent on art education, i.e. going to art academy or other schools, taking workshops or whatever other formal training there was where considerable money was spent as a long term investment. (Comparable to what a lawyer charges you just to see you and their rate is much higher)

3.Costs of materials. Not that much but it has to go in

4.Cost of framing. No, the gallery usually does not frame our pictures. We do.

5.Cost of shipping to gallery. Unless we can drop off our work, we have to factor in shipping costs. I work with a gallery in North Carolina and live in California. UPS has just raised their rates again by almost 20% for my type of shipping.

Lastly, at the end of the year we have to pay taxes. Every painting will be taxed with federal tax.

Here’s an example: Let’s say the painting costs $1800 in a gallery (not too high, not too low, pretty average price)

50% for the gallery: $900 = $900
Time spent for education: $100 = $800
Art materials: $40 to $50= $750
Framing costs: $150 to $200= $550
Shipping costs: $50= $500
Tax: $25= $475

So, on a painting priced $1800, the artist might get approx. $475. If the gallery percentage is higher, it’s of course less. (Note: these are approximations, some may be higher or lower)

So, why are there no prices on my website?

The reason I am not putting prices is simple and my personal choice: I don’t want anybody to know who just visits my site. If someone is really interested in buying, they will go through the ‘trouble’ of sending me an email. Some artists come to my blog and website basically just to get information. While there’s nothing wrong with that, I have control over what information about my art should be public and what shouldn’t be. Another good reason is as stated above, the artwork will become more valuable as the reputation of the artist grows. We sell lower when we are first starting out. It’s just like in any other professional field, i.e. musicians, athletes etc.

This should help clear some of the confusion. Many artists offer payment plans. We are well aware that not many people have money piled up at home. Life itself is expensive enough.

Would I ever sell directly? Yes, I would but only unframed works and with all the above considerations. For pricing, please email me at eberdotfrankatgmaildotcom

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12 thoughts on “The cost of fine art and why there are no prices on my website

  1. Pam Barker

    Informative article, Frank. There’s many hidden costs that people don’t realize. I understand the importance of galleries, but still the percentage they ask for seems a bit high to me…70% ??
    I love purusing galleries but I’d rather buy art directly from the artist when possible. I prefer that the profits go directly to the artist.

    1. frankeber Post author

      I understand your point. However, without galleries people would not have much opportunity to see art, correct? You are an artist yourself, taking workshops sometimes where you can admire or even purchase original art. Collectors who are not artists, where would they go?
      I heard a gallery owner say during a lecture once that more than 95% of US households have prints in their living rooms. That means almost nobody every buys original art. Interesting, isn’t it?

  2. aHorseForElinor

    I’m so naive. Never would I have thought an artist would doctor with photoshop for a nicer look online of their art. But of course – now that you point it out, of course it exists. Sad.

    1. frankeber Post author

      yep. I know this because I was on the board of a national art association for a few years and we have had cases like that when shipped paintings arrived for the national exhibition.

      1. aHorseForElinor

        Simply so surprising. I’m not sure why I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around it, but I do. Why do it???? They’ve missed out on the whole concept it seems.

      2. frankeber Post author

        Some people spend more time on social media worrying about ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ than actually painting. It is astonishing to what lengths some artists go to get ‘famous’. It’s definitely this culture, social media only exacerbates the problem. I am not sure what the rationale is but it must be the need to be recognized at all cost. Something like that. It reminds me about what a famous talk show host once said ‘we are a nation of six year olds’..

  3. renepleinairblog

    Although I like the posting it’s not completly the truth is it? When being an artist within a certain enviroment you’re more or less obligated to submit to the overriding principle which means willingly or forcefully makeing posts like this one. In other words you’re becoming one of the so called “Gatekeepers”

    A good read about the underlying thought is a PDF file from Hans Abbing:

    http://www.hansabbing.nl/DOCeconomist/SUMMARY.pdf

    1. frankeber Post author

      I still have to read the article. It’s long and from a guy in the Netherlands. Like yourself, as it seems. It may or may not apply to the market in the US, which I am talking about in this blogpost. Every profession happens within the rules of a ‘certain environment’. Why, of course it does! By overriding principle you mean the way art is sold?
      I don’t know. This is all based on my personal experience as a professional artist in this country. In one genre. Is it completely the truth? From my perspective and experience it is but, certainly, that doesn’t mean I like all of it! You are entitled to your own opinion but be careful judging people you know nothing about! Thanks for the visit!

  4. Randolph Nichols

    You can relax Frank. One of these days one of your fans will hit it rich playing the lottery and you’ll be deluged with sales.

    On to another topic. Though admired for your landscapes, I find the above portraits very intriguing. (By the way, I spent a LOT of time wondering how you painted “Uncertainty”!) I love the way you integrate backgrounds, indistinct yet suggestive of place. Perhaps in some future post you could address your thought process for creating this type of painting.

    1. frankeber Post author

      Ha! I hope you’re right, Randolph! Portraits…yes, I used to do a lot of portraits in the nineties, mostly oils and gouache. Just getting back into it a little bit more, whenever I have the time. ‘Uncertainty’ was difficult and did have some happy accidents during the process, but I will try to remember and come up with a post about the portrait ideas.
      I am definitely drawn to emotion and gesture, not so much likeness of anybody in particular.

  5. tmikeporter

    Helpful and well written. You’ve confirmed what I’ve always suspected which has been that the artist gets a lot less than the price we see. I hope to take a watercolor class or workshop from you some day. I live in Portland. I’m sure we could fill a session with you at the Oregon Society of Artists. Thanks again.

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