Female artist wearing a beret and holding a canvas in one hand and cash in the other. Female artist wearing a beret and holding a canvas in one hand and cash in the other.

17 Reasons Why Paintings Are So Expensive (Art Market Pricing)

In general, paintings tend to be expensive because they are unique items that take a lot of time and craftsmanship to produce. Let’s take a closer look at 17 reasons why paintings are so expensive.

Why are paintings so expensive? It is not uncommon for works to sell for millions of dollars in the art world. Pablo Picasso’s oil painting from 1932, Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse), sold for $103.4 million at a Christie’s New York auction. But what contributes to the high value of paintings?

There are many practical factors, like the high costs of running an art business, and others subjective, like a painting’s historical significance. But in general, paintings tend to be expensive because they are unique items that take a lot of time and craftsmanship to produce.

Let’s take a closer look at 17 reasons why paintings are so expensive.

Female artist wearing a beret and holding a canvas in one hand and cash in the other.

1. Art is an Investment

Well, art is a physical embodiment of culture and history. As such, it carries a certain amount of weight and meaning with it. Over time, this meaning will only increase as the art becomes more and more valuable. This qualifies art to be seen as a long-term investment worth a lot of money.

Art is more resilient than other types of investments during turbulent market crises, to add a cherry on top.

As first reported by Masha Golovina, according to MeiMoses, the leading art index at the time, from 2007 to 2009, art auction prices fell by roughly 27.2%. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 fell 57%. The difference is stark, and it’s one of the reasons why art is often seen as a resilient and safe investment.

Wealthy people have long understood the value of investing in art and have been doing so for centuries.

Of course, there is no guarantee that art will always appreciate. However, suppose one undertakes good research and invests in quality art. In that case, they stand a good chance of seeing a healthy return on their investment.

2. Setting a Value of a Painting is Difficult

Can artwork be overpriced? Artists are often in the dark about how to price their artwork. This can lead them to price their artwork too high.

There are several reasons for this. Firstly, art is unique, and there is no real way to compare one piece to another. This makes it hard to determine an objective value for the art. Secondly, artists often lack commercial awareness and are unaware of how much their art is worth.

As a result, it is not uncommon for paintings to carry an unjustified hefty price tag.

3. The Science of Market Supply and Demand: How it Affects Painting Prices

The law of supply and demand is one of the most basic principles of economics. It states that when there is more demand for a product than the available supply, its price will increase. The reverse is also true – when there is more supply than demand, the price will go down.

This simple concept has a significant impact on the art world. Why? Because there is a very limited supply of paintings by certain artists, there is often high demand for those paintings. As a result, the prices of these paintings can be extremely high.

For example, let’s take a look at the work of Vincent van Gogh. Van Gogh is one of the most renowned artists in history, and his paintings are highly sought-after by collectors. However, there are only a limited number of van Gogh paintings. This limited supply, combined with high demand, has resulted in Gogh’s paintings selling for tens of millions of dollars at auction.

In contrast, there is a much larger supply of paintings by lesser-known artists. But because there is less demand for these paintings, they typically sell for much less money. This explains why 75% of artists must do something besides art production to make a living, and why 63% of sales in art galleries are mostly by their top three artists.

So, how do market supply and demand affect painting prices? It all comes down to the simple law of supply and demand – when there is more demand for a piece of art than there is available supply, the price of the painting will go up. And as we’ve seen, this can result in some works selling for tens of millions of dollars.

Female artist explaining to male with glasses why her painting is valuable.

4. The Artist’s Perception of Their Work

EXPENSIVE paintings? Here’s how the artist’s perception can make all the difference.

An artist may believe that their painting is worth a certain amount of money because of the time, effort, and passion that they put into creating it. This is often the case with famous or well-established artists who have a high opinion of their work.

However, sometimes a painting may be expensive simply because the artist is inexperienced and does not have a good understanding of the art market. In these cases, the painter may mistakenly believe that their work is worth more than it actually is.

5. Cost of Running an Art Business

Several factors determine art prices, but one of the most important is the cost of running an art business.

Many artists must pay for their materials, studio space, and other business expenses, which can add up quickly. In addition, galleries and dealers often take a percentage of the final sale price, so artists must also account for that.

There are ways to save money on artwork, such as buying directly from the artist or looking for sales and discounts. With a bit of research, you can find affordable art that you love.

6. Time and Training

To create a true masterpiece, an artist needs to have a wealth of knowledge and skills at their disposal. Michelangelo took 10 years, Leonardo da Vinci learned in 15, Rembrandt in 6, and Frida Kahlo in 10. And Pablo Picasso spent 8 hours a day painting and drawing from an early age and eventually became one of the most influential painters of the 20th century.

It takes time to become a master painter, and the schooling or professional training required is often costly. For example, in the United States, the annual tuition for an art school can range from $20,000 to $40,000 per year. And that’s not even counting the cost of materials!

The hefty price tag of a painting is not just a reflection of the canvas and the paint. It also takes into account the years of training and experience that the artist has put into becoming a master of their craft.

7. Length of Time to Create a Piece

Another factor contributing to the high cost of paintings is the length of time it takes to create a single piece.

For example, Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel took him 4 years to complete. Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” took him 4 years to paint. And Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” took him over a year to finish.

When you factor in the cost of materials and the artist’s time, it’s no wonder that paintings can be so expensive!

8. Practicing Art Becomes Expensive

Paintings can be expensive because of the supplies needed to create them. High-quality canvas, paints, brushes, and other materials can add up quickly.

Another expense when it comes to practicing art is space. Since most painters work onsite in a studio, renting or leasing space can be costly. In addition, paintings can take up a lot of space. Hence, museums and collectors need to dedicate significant square footage to storing them.

9. Size and Medium of The Piece

Generally speaking, larger paintings are more expensive than smaller ones because they take up more space and thus require more material and labor to create.

Another factor that can affect the price of a painting is the medium used. For example, oil paintings are typically more expensive than watercolor or acrylic paintings because they take longer to dry and require special materials like turpentine.

In addition, certain painting techniques, like encaustic or pointillism, can also add to the cost of a piece.

Couple in art gallery listening to audio guide.

10. Cost of Exhibition or Online Sales

A significant factor that influences the cost of art is the cost of the exhibition. For example, displaying a painting in a well-known art gallery will be significantly more costly than displaying it in a local coffee shop or arts fair. This is because galleries need to cover their costs, such as rent and salaries, and they also need to make a profit.

Another factor is the cost of online sales. While selling paintings online is more cost-effective than marketing them through a gallery, there is still a need for markup to pay for the exposure that the painting will receive.

As a result, the final price of a painting reflects the cost of the materials used to create it and the costs associated with exhibiting and selling it.

11. Belonging To a Group of Art Enthusiasts

There are many types of art enthusiasts, but they all have one thing in common: they are willing to pay a lot of money for paintings.

These people are interested in art so much that they tend to be willing to pay more for it, and they are also more likely to have the disposable income to do so.

Often, to them, paintings are status symbols. Owning a painting by a renowned artist can be a way to show off one’s wealth and sophistication.

Art enthusiasts are also more likely to be interested in investing in paintings, which can drive up the prices even further.

12. Unconventional Technique or Art Style

Some painting techniques are more time-consuming and labor-intensive than others. They often result in more beautiful and finely detailed paintings. As a result, these types of paintings can be quite expensive.

An example is a technique called “pointillism.” This is where tiny dots of paint are used to create a picture, and the viewer’s eye blends these dots together to form an image. Georges Seurat pioneered this technique, and his paintings often sell for millions of dollars today.

Some popular techniques used to make paintings:

  • Creating paintings with oils
  • Using gold or other precious metals in the painting
  • Adding gems or other precious materials to the painting
  • Painting with a limited range of color
  • Using delicate brushstrokes or creating intricate details

In addition, if you find you are interested in art styles considered “unconventional” or “avant-garde,” you’ll discover that these usually cost more traditional styles. These paintings are less common and therefore more coveted by collectors and the upper echelons of society.

For example, some paintings by Jackson Pollock are incredibly expensive because his drip paintings were so radically new and different at the time. His technique was unheard of, and no one had ever seen anything like it before. So, his paintings were in high demand, and people were willing to pay a lot for them.

13. Scarcity and Artist Notoriety

A painting is a unique object. Once it is sold, it is doubtful that the buyer will ever have the opportunity to purchase another one. This scarcity drives up prices, as buyers are willing to pay a premium for something that they know is rare.

In addition, paintings by well-known or contemporary artists tend to be more expensive than those by lesser-known names. This is because buyers are willing to pay a premium for works by artists who have established themselves as masters of their craft.

As a result, paintings can be extremely costly, but the price is worth it for many buyers.

Vincent van Gogh's "Starry Night" hanging in the MoMA in NYC.

14. Deceased Painters

Some painters are no longer alive, so their work is rare. When the demand for a painting is higher than the supply, the price of the painting goes up. Also, well-known painters were often very skilled at communicating their emotions and ideas through their art.

Some of the most famous paintings in the world are by deceased painters, such as Leonardo da Vinci and Vincent van Gogh. Their work is highly sought-after and very valuable.

15. Masterpiece Historical Significance

Historical paintings often depict momentous events or influential people, so they carry a great deal of significance. As a result, they can be extremely valuable both monetarily and culturally.

For example, paintings like Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night” are worth a fortune and have immense cultural value. They are considered masterpieces because of their beautiful execution and the crucial roles they play in art history.

16. Condition of The Work

A painting in excellent condition is more likely to sell for a higher price than one in poor condition. The condition of a painting can be affected by its age, how it has been stored, and whether it has been restored.

Many paintings are hundreds of years old and have been carefully preserved, so they have more value and cost more.

On the other hand, paintings that have been restored can also be less valuable than those that are in their original condition. While restoration can sometimes improve the appearance of a painting, it can also damage the work and make it less desirable to collectors.

17. Association With a Famous Gallery or Venue

An artist may want to exhibit their work at a famous museum or art gallery. To do so, they must first secure a contract with the gallery. The agreement terms will likely include a percentage of the proceeds from any art sales made during the exhibition.

This arrangement benefits the artist by exposing them to a wider audience, but it also comes at a price. As a result, paintings by established artists tend to be more expensive than those by lesser-known names.

Art For Everyday Collectors

While a painting like the “Mona Lisa” may be out of reach for most people, there are plenty of other options for those who want to start collecting art.

One way to find affordable paintings is to look for works by local artists. These artists may not be as well-known as some masters, but their work can still be of excellent quality.

Another option is to purchase prints of famous paintings. These are usually less expensive than the originals and can be a great way to start building a collection.

Finally, many museums and art galleries offer affordable membership programs. This can be a great way to access discounted or free tickets for exhibitions.

No matter your budget, there are plenty of ways to enjoy and collect art.