Aspects of the art world can appear very opaque to those outside of it, with one of the murkiest topics being price. I am frequently asked how to determine the value of art, so it seems appropriate that since this publication encourages you to include art in your home design, inside and out, we address the question of why art can seem expensive. To understand price and value, I’m going to share with you the process in not only creating the work, but in making a living doing it. This will be a two-part series, and I think that by the end you will have an appreciation for what it takes to create and bring art to you.
Well before an artist thinks about selling their art, there is an enormous amount of work to do. Being an artist is comparable to other professions that require a lot of education and practical experience. The two most common paths to learn an art form are a formal education at a university and an apprenticeship with a practicing artist. University study focuses on technical skills, the study of art history, and intellectual investigation of subject matter. Apprenticing or interning with an artist teaches technical skills. An artist spends significant time perfecting their craft, comparable to years of work experience, because to be very good, dedicated time is necessary.
Once the education element is completed, the challenging work begins. There are not artist jobs waiting to be filled. Whether one finds a job in a restaurant, working behind a desk, or teaching, an artist still needs to carve out studio time to create a professional and consistent body of work.
Most artists I know struggle the most with finding the time and space to work. Affordable studios are hard to find in most cities. Some art can be created in your living space—a painting studio in a spare bedroom or corner of the living room. If you work in ceramics, wood, glass, or you are a sculptor, specialized equipment is needed as well as space to house it. That can be very expensive. Artists often share overhead costs by working cooperatively in a studio, dividing the price of equipment, maintenance of that equipment, and utilities. Those costs can still seem daunting when you are not selling much of your artwork.
Pricing artwork is very challenging. Some artists keep track of hours spent on a sculpture or painting, and have an hourly studio rate they use. A studio rate reflects costs, such as rent, equipment, maintenance, electricity, and insurance. They might also add an average cost of materials. Realizing how little one makes per hour can be depressing, so some artists find it better to not contemplate hourly wages. They instead have a track record of previous sales relative to size, and price new work accordingly.
The time put into creating a finished work of art can be deceiving because it does not consider the cost of education and the years spent perfecting one’s craft. It might appear that a talented ceramicist can throw a pot in a quick amount of time or an artist working in glass will dazzle us with their dexterity and speed when doing a glass-blowing demonstration, but both of those skills take many years to master. In addition, the overhead associated with maintaining the studios is substantial. A landscape painter working en plein air might finish a beautiful oil painting by spending a day or two on location, but only through many years of dedicated work are they able to attain this success.
Please keep in mind that while art might seem expensive, an artist’s income is often only a fraction of different professions requiring equivalent education. It’s important to think of the many years of dedicated work that preceded any one finished artwork we might be looking at. We need to make a choice to support artists so that they can devote themselves to their craft. It’s a cultural mission, ensuring that meaningful art is a part of our society.
Theresa Abel is an artist and owner/director of the Artisan Gallery, a fine art and fine craft gallery in Paoli. She studied painting at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the Scuola Lorenzo de’ Medici, Florence Italy, receiving her BFA in 1991. Theresa works in oils and recently has been creating a body of work incorporating silver point drawing.
Photographs by Maureen Janson Heintz.
Abel Contemporary Gallery
6858 Paoli Road
Paoli, WI 53508
Richard Jones–Studio Paran
2051 Winnebago Street
Madison, WI 53704