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Why is art so expensive?


Autorichter, Alex Gibson 2013

We should be able to afford to buy art from our artist friends right? But we can’t – they are too expensive. Ironically our “successful” artist friends are not earning much money – even though their works sell for thousands. Here we are confronted with a bizarre reality. We want art, we want to pay for art – our artist friends want to sell art and get paid (well most of them) – but because of the price, we are unable to come to an arrangement.

 

ONCE UPON A TIME I TRIED TO BUY ART…

Back in the early 2000s, when I was an art school student, I decided I wanted to fill my rental share house with some art. I wanted to buy the art to support my fellow artists and to support the small struggling galleries that represented them. I had a part time job and some scholarship money so I felt confident that I could afford some artworks. I was mistaken.

When I got to the galleries, and read at the price list of the artworks, I was shocked and disappointed. There was nothing on offer for less than $1,000 and most of the works were around $5,000. This included artworks that could easily be reproduced such as photographs, video, printmaking, small simple drawings, art books, etc. I understood why these prices would be reasonable for large drawings, paintings and sculptures, but for works that could easily be sold in larger editions, I felt frustrated. Why can’t the galleries and artists think of a way to make art affordable for someone like me, I wondered.

Since then I have swapped my work with other artists and essentially bartered my way into having an art collection. I have bought works in small artists run initiatives and made small purchases directly with artists – but really what this means is that I have side stepped acquiring art through any kind of sustainable model – which means that I failed to find a way to support my fellow artists and local galleries. Also I know that for people that have not spent 8 years in art school, probably don’t have the networks of artists and tradable artworks to follow in the same way.

 

ART IS TOO EXPENSIVE, SO WHAT?

People like you and me want to buy original, signed works of art for our homes, but we cannot afford the price. A decent entry level work of art is usually priced at around $2000 – $5,000. This makes art extremely exclusive for those that can afford thousands of dollars per work to decorate their homes. This situation is compounded as the exclusivity  further adds to artwork’s value and so these high prices then appreciate (or depreciate) quickly on the secondary art market taking prices into the tens and hundreds of thousands and sometimes (very rarely) to millions of dollars. This situation also compounds the small size of the art market as people like us are excluded (perhaps for the best) from participating in this highly unstable commodity market.

 

THE ART MODEL IS BROKEN

It costs a lot of time and money to produce, exhibit and sell art. Artists and galleries are not profiteering, in fact they are often running on the smell of linseed oil and turpentine soaked rags. The reason why prices are so high is – the art model is broken. The art world is operating on a boutique model designed to service high net worth individuals exclusively, which works fine for a small number of high-end multi-millionaire artists, galleries and collectors, but this situation is disastrous for you and me, as well as for most artists, collectors and galleries. BTW this is also a nightmare for public institutions like museums and state galleries who want to buy art for posterity, education and historical reasons, and are often priced out of the market too. This cost is also felt by everyone as our tax contribution to these institutions becomes less effective and/or more expensive.

 

TWO OPTIONS FOR BUYING ART

1. Become a multi-millionaire so you can afford to spend tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars on art; OR
2. Develop new model for art that dramatically decreases price while better supporting the majority of good artists and galleries with revenues and profits they need to grow and develop.

 

ECONOMIES OF SCALE AND ART

The reason why artworks are priced so high is because they are singular, original works that have zero economies of scale. Economies of scale are “are the cost advantages that enterprises obtain due to size, output, or scale of operation”. Artists and galleries have none of these economies and therefore their costs are very high and therefore, so are their prices. One avenue for changing the art world’s model lies developing economies of scale to create cost advantages.

 

CONNECTION AND ACCESS TO ART

Economic jargon aside – the main reason why bringing price down is a great idea is that it will increase connection and access to art, which will increase the popularity and size of artists, galleries and collectors networks. It is my contention that this will increase interest and participation in the arts across society, which in turn will bring all the benefits of creativity, critique and vision that art has to society.

We live in a time where we are in desperate need of improved creative, critical and visionary voices to respond to the challenges and problems we face as a global village – and a deeper sense of our humanity through the a more connected and more easily accessed art world is one way in which we might bring about change that makes a real difference.

 

ARTBOX ART CLUB

Given the above, we have come up with an experimental solution which we have called “Artbox Art Club”. We have applied a subscription model to selling art. This gives the project a certain budget which we can work from. This certainty helps us plan, drive costs down and give more certainty to artists and collectors. The price for this subscription is only $30 per month. This is affordable by just about anyone at less than $1 per day. This means that people will receive a regular artwork in the mail, commissioned by Artbox – creating an entirely different experience from the one provided in the world of events, opening parties and art fairs. This experience is intimate, connected and easily accessed. Learn more about the Artbox Art Club, click here.

This is just one approach, we are interested in others. How can we bring price down? Do you agree with how we have framed the problem? What do you think about the Artbox Art Club?


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