Art is often seen as a mirror of the artist’s feeling and emotions. It is seen as a mirror of the inner workings of an artists mind or as an idea completely independent of an artist. This way of expressing thoughts on a canvas seems to be a very costly affair. So the question remains, what makes one reflection and idea more expensive than the other? What are the market forces that control to make up this humongous 64 billion dollar art market? The monetary value of art has more to do with the surrounding factors of an artwork than the art itself.

The factors responsible for the ascertainment of the value of a painting is the artist, the market and finally the artwork in itself. The situation surrounding a piece of art creates more of an impact on the price tag on a painting.

First and foremost the market understanding and controls of this luxury good are very complex and that’s what makes it a billion-dollar industry. The simple rules of supply and demand greatly affect the cost of the artwork. This is why a deceased artist generates more income than a living artist. With someone living there is always an assumption that they will make more, you can’t say the same with someone dead. The lesser the number of artworks and the more limited the scope of supply the higher the price of demand is.

Another factor that affects these values is the previous owners and their reputation in the art industry. An artwork that is liked and owned previously by a respectable collector or held by a reputable gallery holds a higher value than some other painting. This becomes a very important factor when considering modern art by lesser-known artists. Their representation in the art field by bigger galleries adds to the projected success that might have. When good marketing is added to the mix with reputation of the gallery and the profitability of a painting is generated!


The piece of art as a luxury good is like gold or silver, seen as an investment. The aforementioned factors impact the brand image of an artwork and that in turn impacts the investment value. The future value that a painting could generate makes a painting a more desirable investment. This is due to two main factors, firstly, the full value generated by a secondary sale of the artwork completely goes to the secondary seller of it, so all those crazy numbers in Sotheby’s usually never go to the artist but to the previous owner of the same. Secondly, places like the US provide certain tax benefits when associated with the buying and selling of artwork especially if it is later donated to a museum.

What makes art so expensive? : Decoding the nexus between money and art. 1
The National Gallery is an art museum in Trafalgar Square in the City of Westminster, in Central London. Founded in 1824, it houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900.

The artist plays a huge role in selling the painting. A certain small group of artists like Claude Monet or a Pablo Picasso are universally acknowledged as works of good quality. A majority of the art appreciation industry supports and appreciates the quality of these artworks. This adds to the reputation of an artist which in turn decides the value of the work. Hence, the authenticity of work has more of an impact than the inherent skill of the artist. Original art pieces by artists like Monet or Van Gogh generate a higher selling price than a skilful mimicry of the same. The association of the art to artist brings to light the process behind a painting. The story of the artist and the journey behind the artwork adds to the market value of a painting.

A tragedy of a story like Vincent Van Gogh’s helps bring a new perspective to the artwork that he made. The emotional labour surrounding a painting be it the political surroundings or civil turmoil can influence how the artwork turned out. Minimalist paintings like ‘The black square’ by Kazimir Malevich which were banned by the government are now sold for prices like 60 million dollars due to the political buzz that the artwork and the artist displayed. The historical significance of a piece plays a huge role in deciding its artistic importance.
The typicality factor of artwork brings in the difference between the cost of different works of the same artist. Paintings displaying the cubist movement in Picasso’s work tends to be more expensive than some of his earlier works because of the association of the artist to the art movement.

What makes up a painting also has a reasonable impact on the value of it. The medium of creation of the piece plays a crucial factor because it determines the life of the painting. A painting on a canvas with a better quality of paint helps preserve the work for a longer time. The skill and technique used add to the value of the work.

The ideas that are discussed give this artistic field a very materialistic view this doesn’t mean that the inherent painting has no value. A lot of collectors still collect art that moves them and impacts them. The aesthetic appeal of an artwork and the attention it takes when displayed on a wall are very important for the sale of an artwork. The perception and representation of the idea on a blank canvas and the uniqueness of the same are the most important characteristics of an artwork. Especially in the case of modern art and abstract thought, the relatability quotient comes through the emotions expressed by the artwork. Abstract expressionism means that you can understand the art as anything you want it to be and that feeling you get when you look at a piece of art determines its sellability and value.

What makes art so expensive? : Decoding the nexus between money and art. 2

The colours used in a painting play a huge role in determining how much audience it attracts. It is believed that paintings with red are sold for a higher value than artworks of other colours this is because of the psychological impact the colour has on us and the fact that it draws us in. This affects something called ‘wall power’ which affects the impact the artwork has on the viewer

The romantic notion of art just being art is removed by these market controls. Art is a business and a way of living for some people. But neither the value of the artwork nor the investment into the artwork can remove the emotional impact of art. All artists however big or small have an idea and a creative representation of that is emotional labour and at the end of the day, that unique expression is the most important.

One thought on “What makes art so expensive? : Decoding the nexus between money and art.

Comments are most welcome and appreciated

X