Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Life If Possible, Art At Any Cost

My age is a closely guarded secret, but I can tell you that when one begins to approach my age, one begins to have an inexplicable craving for original art. It sneaks up on you. One day you’re fine with tattered Who and Clash posters and a map of the Smallish State tacked to the wall-- the next, you are in galleries looking at 60 x 46” canvases with four-digit price tags thinking, hmm, that seems reasonable.

But really, why is art so expensive? I mean, I understand why art by well-known artists is expensive, but there seems to be little available between “I painted it myself” and “I paid three thousand dollars for this.”

A couple years ago in my neighborhood a young man set up a studio in his living room. I think he had just graduated from the local art school. I admired his paintings through the windows, and dropped by one day he had an “open gallery”. I later emailed him about one of the paintings. It was a local scene, and I thought, “This will be great-- I can support this local artist in his struggling days, and have a nice painting of a local scene in my home, and because he is in his struggling days and selling out of his living room without a middle-man it will surely be affordable to me even though I chose psychiatry instead of neurosurgery.”

As it turned out, though, his price for the piece was $5,000. It did not find its way to my house.

I’m not saying that artists should be starving. I’m just wondering, seriously, why, with so many talented people out there, artwork is so unaffordable? I don’t care if it isn’t collectible, doesn’t appreciate, and no one but me has ever heard of the artist. I don’t want it for prestige or to show off. I just want attractive, original, discussion-worthy things on the wall. If I can patronize someone who needs a boost, so much the better.


Anonymous Michael J. said...

I don't have any data, but that's never stopped me from speculating. Imagine that a mid-range artist sells six works a year at $5,000, grossing $30,000. Taxes are 30%, supplies and materials and overhead are 30%, so they live on $900 - $1,200 a month.

Because they can't commoditize their work, each being an original, there's no easy means of production that would, say, triple the output for one-third the cost. Thus the supply/demand curve never moves much, and art stays expensive and most of us don't own it.


6/5/07, 8:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know the craving you speak of. Many moons ago my parents bought me my first piece and I still remember the wonder of it. It was part of a series where the background was a limited edition print and then the artist painted in certain features by hand. It was not astronomically expensive but still, it was original art, the only one like it. And it was mine. It has hung on the wall of every place I've lived since I moved out of Mom & Dads and I still smile every time I see it. (I try not to whisper my precious too often.)

Original art is by definition rare and I think that's part of the rationale behind the cost. I wonder if original art was cheaper if we'd value it less?

6/6/07, 6:09 PM  
Blogger hilllady said...

Don't forget the Cheap Art Manifesto, à la Bread and Puppet: http://www.aisling.net/pix/cheapartmanifesto2.gif

(Not that artists don't deserve to make a living...!)

6/7/07, 4:06 PM  
Anonymous Doug said...

Most of the venues for selling art have a substantial markup. Undercutting those prices when selling from your home can seem like a bad idea. Who is going to want to represent you if they know people can look at your works in a gallery, then go to your home to purchase?

I'm not saying it's a good thing, but that may be part of what is happening.

6/11/07, 11:29 AM  

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