The economics of fine art

The Arts Uncategorized

February 5, 2020



Why do some works of art cost more than others? A gallery owner explains.

by Jerald Melberg

As an art dealer, I am often asked why a work of art costs what it does. It is important to remember that fine art never starts out as just another thing to buy and sell. Its creation is one of the most personal and individual forms of expression known to humankind. But the moment a work of art is completed and leaves the artist’s studio, it becomes subject to many of the same laws of buy and sell — and supply and demand — as do other goods.  

There are many factors that determine how a work of art is priced. One can start with easily quantifiable elements such as uniqueness, medium and size. A unique sculpture will cost more than one reproduced multiple times. A painting on canvas is usually more expensive than a drawing on paper, and larger works have a tendency to cost more than smaller ones.  

However, there are less tangible factors that affect the price of a work of art as well. Is the artist emerging, midcareer or well-established?  Has the artist exhibited in or been collected by museums? Is this artist’s work in demand, and if so, how much is on the market? Perhaps more academic, where does the artist fit in art history?    

All that said, there are in fact no rules. Sellers can set whatever price they want, for whatever reason they want, on whatever art they have for sale. Similarly, anyone can claim to be an artist, and anyone can create anything and call it art. 

What does all this mean? It means that you have to be aware of the unique aspects of the  market when you consider the price of a work of art. It also means working with a reputable dealer is critical. (More on that next time…) 

Explaining the price difference between one painting and another may not be as easy as explaining the price difference between a Rolls Royce and a Hyundai, but the difference can be explained and understood by anyone. So, ask questions. You may or may not agree with some of the more subjective answers, but you will have gained some valuable information and understanding on which to base your decision.  SP   

Jerald Melberg is the owner of Jerald Melberg Gallery at 625 South Sharon Amity Rd.

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