The Business of Art

Four You Gallery
August 27, 2021| Christine

“Art that cannot shape society and therefore also cannot penetrate the heart questions of society, and in the end influence the question of capital, is no art.”
Joseph Beuys

It’s no surprise that if you’re looking to purchase a piece of art, it’s going to cost you a pretty penny. Avid art enthusiasts will be the first to tell you that a “good” and “well-made” piece of art is at least worth a few thousand dollars. This begs the question, why? What makes a collection of raw materials be so worthy that people are willing to spend thousands, hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars on them? What is it about the works of Picasso, Van Gogh and other huge artists that makes buyers so adamant on getting their hands on them? There are two viewpoints from which to answer the above questions: that of the buyer and that of the artist.

Vincent Van Gogh, Blossoming Almond Tree, 1890, Oil on canvas

When considering the buyer’s standpoint, there’s a handful of reasons that an art devotee is willing to spend copious amounts of money on a single piece of (magnificent!) artwork. The biggest reason comes down to Economics 101: supply and demand. Every piece of art is unique – even the artist themselves would have difficulty reproducing the same artwork with every minute detail, and this creates scarcity! Couple that with the people’s psychological need for exclusivity, and you have a winning combination! The less the supply, the more the demand ergo the higher the prices. This is especially true after the artist dies; they can no longer produce any pieces of art so whatever pieces they have created during their lifetime becomes priceless and goes to the highest bidder. It comes down to the value the buyer places on that singular piece of art.

Pablo Picasso, The Old Guitarist, 1903, Oil on canvas

Now, let’s take a look at the artists’ perspective. If we’re looking to answer the above questions from the artists’ angle, the most basic reason is their livelihood – this is how they make a living and fund their lives (for full-time artists). Add to that their costs of business operations i.e., the cost of materials, depending on what they create with, artists have hefty bills to pay at the end of the month! Adding even more to that, artists’ production levels vary – some can produce 10 pieces a month and others take 2 or 3 months to finish one piece. What’s more, if an artist’s piece were to be sold via a gallery or auction house, the artist needs to factor in the commission into the price. At the end of the day, it’s about sustainability for them.

Uzo Njoku-Apple of My Eye, 2021-Acrylic and oil on canvas-122 x 91 cm

Whether you’re a seasoned art collector, a fan of a certain artist or a novice in the industry, it’s important to know what really goes into the business of art. It’s easy to say “if you think art is too expensive, just don’t buy it”; a notion a lot of people have adopted. But there’s a balance in everything and in this case it’s those who choose to invest not just their money, but also their energy and time, into one-of-a-kind pieces of art who restore that balance.

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