Why Is Art Expensive?


Have You Ever Wondered...

  • Why is art expensive?
  • What role does scarcity play in the price of art?
  • How much can famous paintings sell for at auction?

Do you like to draw pictures for your friends and family members? Many kids like to grab their colored pencils and a notebook when they're getting ready to go for a long ride in the car. Creating original works of art is a great way to pass the time in the car.

Not all works of art turn out exactly like you intended them to, though. Perhaps you wanted to draw a picture of your dad wearing his new tennis shoes. You draw an oval for the head and then you add the shoes. Something doesn't look quite right, though. Oops! You forgot to draw the neck, chest, arms, and legs.

Your picture of Dad in his new tennis shoes ends up looking like a potato getting ready to go for a jog. But don't worry! We're sure your dad will love it anyway. "Jogging Potato" will probably earn a prominent spot on the front of the refrigerator alongside your other priceless works of art.

The works of art you create for friends and family members are very valuable to them because of the meaning behind them. One day when you're all grown up, your friends and family members will treasure these mementos of your youth.

But what about those paintings that sell for huge prices at art auctions? What makes them so valuable? What is it about the works of Picasso, Monet, Kahlo, da Vinci, and O'Keeffe that make them worth millions of dollars?

Economists would tell you that the price of art, like the price of most commodities, is largely based upon supply and demand. When it comes to demand, no one really needs art. However, there are plenty of people who want beautiful artworks.

With plenty of demand for artwork, it is the supply side of the equation that often leads to outrageously expensive prices for art. Scarcity plays a huge role. Many of the most famous artists in history are no longer living. Picasso and Monet aren't painting any more pictures. That makes the surviving pieces they did paint extremely valuable.

But what about living artists? There are plenty of current pieces by living artists that are selling for extremely high prices. What drives up the price of these works? Supply and demand still play a role. Demand still exists and, even though the artist is still alive, he or she can only produce so much art. It often takes lots of time to produce a single piece of artwork.

This leads to another factor that affects the price of art: each piece of art is unique. Even if an artist is still living, he or she is highly unlikely to create multiple copies of the same piece of artwork. To the extent that a particular piece is in high demand, there is only one available. This tends to drive the price up.

Art professionals also play a role in pricing. Artists, dealers, gallery owners, and museum curators help to create demand for artworks by promoting artists and their works. These professionals help to determine which art is good and which artists might be the next Picasso or Monet. In this way, they help to set the values of artworks expected to appreciate in value over time.

So exactly how much can paintings sell for? It depends on the artist and the artwork. Prices can vary from hundreds to over a hundred million dollars! In a private sale, Picasso's Le Rêve sold for approximately $150 million. At an art auction, The Scream, a famous painting by Edvard Munch, sold for about $120 million.



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