Why Are Paintings So Expensive?
This is a tricky question because there is no set price to artwork. Every artist has their own pricing method - be that sentimental value, past sales record, sense of entitlement, mathematical algorithm, or any number of other methods for attaching a monetary value to an aesthetic work. Honestly, I find a lot of artists dramatically overprice their work, especially novice painters.
So how do I price my own paintings?
I have developed a price per square inch algorithm developed based on my expenses, time, and past sales record, while taking into consideration that I want fine art to be affordable to everybody. For example, all of my 8" x 10" acrylic paintings cost $50. It doesn't matter what colors I've used, how long that particular one took me to finish, or how much I like or dislike it in comparison to others. 8" x 10" acrylic paintings are $50.
Does that seem expensive? Let me explain.
Materials are expensive. Canvas, paint, gold leafing, and gesso all get used up. Brushes wear out and need to be replaced. I do my own reference photography - which means driving to interesting places, paying entrance fees, trying to get good photographs, looking through the photos at home and printing out the best ones, doing sketches, reworking the design, doing practice paintings, and then the final painting of course. And I've got two little kids which means sometimes I have to pay for babysitting in order to work in my studio.
In the most simple of terms, I generally "make" up to $15 per hour. Assuming I sell all the paintings I make. I do sell most of my paintings, but not 100%. Which means that while I can say around $15 per hour, I'm not actually getting paid for all of the hours I work.
And that's just the gamble of being an artist. You put in a 40 hour work week at most jobs and you get paid for 40 hours of work. An artist puts in 40 hours of work and then people decide if they want to pay for any of those hours or not. Maybe nobody likes any of the paintings you spent your 40 hours on and so you don't get paid - even though you put out all the capital it takes to make those paintings. So you're in the negative. Or maybe you get paid for half of those hours. You're probably going to break even in terms of materials, but at least you have merchandise to continue trying to sell. Artists know this gamble and accept it. Maybe that's another influence on pricing.
But wait! That brings us to another aspect of pricing. So far, I've just been talking about my hourly wage just getting to the final painting. I haven't even considered the time I put in to advertising and trying to make the final sales.
Let's use the show I'm putting on in June for an example. I will have put in around fifteen hours preparing for the show (that's because I've been doing these for five years so I don't have to put in as much time anymore). I will spend 17 hours "open for business." I will hire and beg some babysitting for my kids. Assuming I can sell all of my paintings at this show...
I'm making just under $7 an hour for my acrylic paintings.
So maybe we've shifted from "You're so expensive." to "You make less than a teenager flipping burgers!"