What is the hidden cost behind art?

...and why it is worth  it.

Reading time: 10 minutes

Various paintings by Thea van Doorn together with sculptures by Lydia Klomp and Marry Buijks.

This is part two of a three part series about how the price of art is calculated. The first part was four basic mathematical methods in calculating the cost of art. Which delved into the countless variables included in pricing a painting. In this article we will be looking at the hidden costs of behind art. Namely, location and education. One measurable and another less so. Both are extremely important as to how well art is recieved by the public. And also drastically impacts the price of a painting.

The prestige of the location and the brand behind the locations impacts how much we are able to value the art. In this article you will further gain insight to common pricing practices in the art world. If you have ever wondered why many galleries or artist do not add prices to their art you will find out when reading this. This will help you understand the pricing practices in the art world when it comes to buying or selling paintings. This article addresses issues related to an artist and art collectors.

To start off with art and the art world is much greater than these three spaces. We have just coupled them in three themes to get an insight into the price of a contemporary painting being sold for the first time. To understand the secondary art market and their price structure, skip over to the heading on auction houses. As for contemporary paintings we will start with accessible platforms and progressing to higher and more exclusive real estate.

Photo by Bruna Cervera with a girl unfocused in the background on her laptop and her dog napping in the foreground.

Photo by Bruna Cervera with a girl unfocused in the background on her laptop and her dog napping in the foreground.


The internet has been the great democratization vehicle of our age. It has allowed people to connect and communicate at a staggering scale. An online webshop is much cheaper than a physical space and allows for a bigger geographic reach.



Artist can use Facebook, Instagram, Etsy and their own websites to harness the power of the internet in finding people who connect to their art. Artist are in charge of their budget on what they spend on adds and their website. Artist can even upload their art to Saatchiart.com to sell their art through the portal of the well known Saatchi marketing firm and art collector, Charles Saatchi. Singualart will ask artist they believe in to sell their art through their platform. Both Saatchi and Singulart work according to a gallery model. Which is to say these platforms take a percentage of the total price the art work sold for. Saatchi allows any and all artist to upload their work. Singulart invites artist to showcase their art on their platform Artist can sell their work at their own prices, using the methods from the previous post. There is no regulatory pricing mechanism, except the free market. So artist can undersell or oversell their art work.



Galleries have also started using the internet as a main gateway to showcase and sell art. And others dabble in it. Galleries can use their won website as well as join Artsper, Artsy and Artnet. Three revered online gallery platforms that only accepts galleries they have reviewed. All three these platforms have monthly fees that add to the costs behind an art work. Galleries with locations have that added costs behind the paintings.



Collectors have been able to find art more easily, but also has a very large pool of artwork to choose from. Collectors can alternately buy prints of paintings or sculptures if they cannot afford or has already been sold.  Or they can hunt around for the best prices as well as research previously sold works prices. Collectors who shop on the different platforms, have the ability to easily find art that suites their budget and their aesthetic. A gallery or an artist can be behind the sale. Prices can range from €50,00 to €20.000,00, depending on the artist and the platform.

Adéle du Plessis in front of her Tempera art work in her 2022 show The Forms of Everyday Life by Art Historian Finizia Taddeo


A showroom is any space that is accessible to the public. This space can be temporarily open, such as an artists studio, or a pop up gallery. Or it can be a fixed space, such as a gallery showroom or even museum.



Artists can either be represented by a gallery for short term or long term. Short term  representation is the norm now. The duration is the length  an exhibition or an art fair or a monthly fee to hang in the gallery. Sometimes the last practice can be predatory and in other cases it is mutually beneficial. Artist can also be exclusively represented by a gallery or even be paid a monthly income by the gallery.  Thus some galleries can cost artist money if their work does not sell. In other cases galleries carry all the financial burden of their overhead.

 Usually once an artist is represented by a gallery, their price will immediately double or triple depending on the agreed partnership. Artist might sell their work through their own platforms for €200,00 but decide to ask €400,00 per painting at a gallery that asks for payment to hang a work. Or that same artwork will cost €400,00 because galleries ask 50% on all sold art work. Artist who receive a monthly salary do not  profit of individually sold work. All their work is exclusively sold through that gallery. Some artist are only attached to the gallery for the duration of the exhibition or art fair and may not sell their art themselves for a period after the fair or exhibition and must refer back to the gallery.



Gallery overhead, is staff, the mortgage, the marketing and the price of attending art fairs. The age and location of the gallery influences the price paintings will be. Younger galleries (galleries under 10 years) will work with less known artist who may or not have sold their art before and build cultural capital together. Medium sized galleries will work with more well-known artist and can also therefore ask more, as there is an already known market for these paintings. Established galleries work with top tier artist and also ask top tier prices. Before an artist reaches this top gallery, they have usually been selling and exhibiting for more than 10 years with other small and medium sized galleries.

Gallery showrooms can either show prices or not. Online or at the showroom. Because the price of an art work heavily influences how important or ‘good’ an art work is seen. I have heard other gallery managers say, if they tell a billionaire that the painting is €9,000.00 they will no longer think it is good enough and will not buy the work. No matter how they regarded the painting before the price. This article is about things that influences the price of a painting.  buying art should never be about the price, but first why one should want it. However a collector brings a lot of expectations with them when buying.



Which showroom a collector goes to and their background has a lot of influence on the price. Collectors decide what location and platforms they use to search for art and collectors decide what price is acceptable. The  famous Swiss collector Uli Sigg, has given advice to young art collections on what they should pay for art. And the minimum amount is €10.000,00. Everything below that is not art, he said in an interview. Although he also started with buying art for much less.

Galleries and artist that sell their art work for lower than this price, are not taken seriously by dedicated art collectors. Other art collectors are just starting out and find anything over €100,00 ridiculously expensive. And some art lovers will never become collectors. These people are there to experience the exhibition and art work and not there to buy. 

Art Fair Booth of Gallery Sorelle Sciarone at Discovery Art Fair in Frankfurt November 2022.

Art Fair

An art fair is a trade show organised around a theme in art. The theme can be centered around anything, from who the creators are, what country the art is made or even for how much the art will sell. Most art fairs have a committee that decides what art can partake. The comittee can be made up by volunteers, other artist, the organisation, industry leaders or other cultural professionals. It is a great honour to partake in an established art fair as well as an enormous financial investment to partake. This investment is to be made often several months before the fair. For many galleries in artist, this is the best place to showcase their art, but can be financially hard to partake in.


Artist are limited to what type of art fair they can partake in. They can either partake in small village market art fairs, like the one in Voorschoten during the Paardenmarkt. The price of participation in the first is 70 euros and the chance you would sell an art work is very low. There is very little prestige, curation and marketing involved in this type of art fair. It is small art fair artist participate in and is part of a weekend village fete. However, it van be a huge step for an artist to take. On the other end of the spectrum the other end you have the Annual Dutch Art Fair (ADAF), Art Eindhoven and the Unfair Amsterdam. The ADAF curates on bases of quality, and participation costs between €500.00 and €1.000,00. Art Eindhoven is a fair for painters and curation process is based on paintings by Dutch and Belgian artist who have submitted their paintings to for the award: Painting of the year. The cost would be similar to ADAF. The Unfair curates on the basis of whether or not an artist has an art degree from more than ten years ago. Adding more exclusivity to the work on show. 



Galleries can participate in more art fairs than artist themselves. However, they may not participate in artist centred art fairs. Galleries can choose to submit a bid in satellite art fairs or the more prestigious main art fairs. Galleries have to submit their artists several month in advance to multiple fairs, in the hope of being able to partake in a fair. Satellite art fairs include: The Affordable Art Fair (AFF) and Art The Hague . Then there are the main art fairs in The Netherlands, PAN, TEFAF and Art Rotterdam. Where TEFAF in Maastricht is a top tier world renowned artfair on par with Art Basel (Switzerland), Frieze Art Fair (United Kingdom) and The Armory (New York, United States).
There are a lot of different art fairs, with start prices ranging from €3.000,00 to €10.000,00 for participation cost. However, the final costs of bringing art to an art fair is five times that, when you take into account all the costs involved. 

Art Fairs like the TEFAF have a dedicated industry leader commitee vetting art based on quality, but has also started rejecting  galleries who offer art work less than a half a million euro at their art fair. The chance of a fake or young gallery being included in their selection, is next to zero. As participation in top tier fair depends on how much money a gallery has as well as how old a gallery is and the quality of their collection and previous fair participation. Younger galleries, have a better chance at being admitted to satellite fairs and building their fair portfolio. The Affordable Art Fair only allows art for less than €6.000,00 to partake in their show.The type of art fair influences the price of an art work that is allowed to be shown.

At the same time the prices being shown at art fairs might not the same as a gallery would ask in house. Galleries might be forced to change their price of a painting depending on the fair they partake in. Together with the industry standard of usually ask more for art at an art fair than it is at the opening of an exhibition. Why, because the environment influences the price people are willing to pay for a work. Also a fair is one of the most expensive real estate for sale, rivaling the galleries mortgage or yearly rent. Art Fairs result in the most overhead, but also the chances of art finding a home  



Collectors at art fairs are either buying art, but many are there only to have a look around. The art fair a person decides to visit has already cut the price market into segments. Collectors going to The Affordable Art Fair have a different budget than those going to the PAN or the TEFAF. The price segment of these art fairs are well known before the actual visit. Collectors have already segmented the price of paintings they want to see.

Again the type of collector that visits the art fair, brings their own idea of what art should cost when they visit an art fair. Having a budget for how much you want to spend on art yearly or just one time, helps collectors navigate the spaces that they want to buy art in.

Close up photo of a gavel by Bill Oxford

Close up photo of a gavel by Bill Oxford

Auction Houses

Art can always be sold at auction houses, the market for an artist work is either still being formed or has already been formed. Depending on where the artist sits in the scale of his fame depends on what auction house will accept taking the art work as a lot for sale. All auction houses expect a minimum sale price and if they believe that will not be reached, they will reject a painting or artist.


The sale price at an art fair is much more public than any other spce art is bought and sold. Which has a huge influence the market of an artist or the integrity of the auction house. The price here is always dependant on the market for an artist. The most well-known auction houses are obviously Sotheby’s and Christie’s, but this is for blue chip art sales. Well known artist that have already made a name and comes from a private collection. These paintings have been in a private collection or was bought at top tier galleries at top tier art fairs. So their market value has been verified by the other spaces they have been in as well as the collectors who have bought it.



The whole art market is cut up into price tiers. And each tier is another marker of trust in the validoty of the artist and artwork. Going up a tier is a harsh vetting process, and not a absolute marker of quality.
Each tier is a valid space to buy art.

At the ground level of the artist, there is only the artist and maybe a small fanbase consisting of family or other artist. With some marketing this fanbase can grow. The next level is an art gallery investing in an artist and their art. Depending on that success or continuous practice, an artist can rise with the gallery or from one gallery to the next, and from one gallery price bracket to the other. A gallery or multiple galleries are now backing the artist and their work. Museums and other cultural institutions start picking up artist and their work halfway through the gallery tiers. Not for the sale of art, but for the cultural capital of the art work.

Art work is taken to fairs to show it to a large group of people who specifically came to see art. Artist and galleries have different art fair opportunities. All of which try to ensure the best type of art is being represented. The amount of paintings an artist has sold and the amount of time that has been spent by galleries and artist to showcase their art usually has a direct correlation with the price.

Artist do not sell at auctions sites for €100.000.000,00, because rich people are crazy and don’t understand money. Artist work sells because a whole army of people have been dedicated to showing this artist work to as many people as possible. An artist work has been validated and admired by critics, other artists, gallery owners, fair committees, collectors and museum professionals.


Over time  a market and cultural investment in each of the art work and artist is created. It does not happen overnight, but how it happens is not clear cut. Some artist will rise and fall in their prices, some artist work will keep on rising long after their death and other artist art work will cost the same year after year, their whole career. And finally some artist will never partake in the whole market cycle of their art. The more visible an artist, the more their art costs. Even if they are only visible in their select niche. The less visible an artist, the harder it is to find them, which results in lower prices for their work. This can be due to shyness, personal inter-connectedness and does not always have to do with the quality of their work. Or it can be due to a society not valuing art made by marginalised artist.


Instagram post by OMGtheMet

Notes on Marginalisation

Female artist, artist with disabilities, artist of colour, queer artists and non-traditional western art, has been marginalised for a very long time. There has been a lot of steps to incorporate this type of art into the current art machine. Al lot of work is being done, but we are far from the finishing line. The price of an art work or painting has very little to do with the quality. It has a lot to do with who is willing to invest in the artist and their work. And galleries, museums and artist invest a lot of time, expertise and money into an artist. Especially young galleries invest in artist and forms a basis for their career. So that people can recognize an artist’s work and feel comfortable with owning or enjoying the work. It is a very convoluted and organic marketing mechanism. The more educated and comfortable people become in their own aesthetical choices, the less of this giant marketing machine will be necessary and art can stay affordable.


Next week, in part three, you can read about cultivating your own aesthetic and making art accessible to everyone. Or in other words, learn how to see art as a bona fide art historian as opposed to the outdated connoisseur trope.


Tascha Sciarone

The Art Historian and Anthropologist

Writing about what I know

Tascha Sciarone in her little home office during the quarentine

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