A lot of people wonder why art is so expensive. Well, this is a complex question that depends on a lot of factors. To make this easier I won't be discussing historical art pieces or famous artists that have passed away, but I will focus on artists working and selling their work today.
There are five different factors that most artists today think about when they want to sell their artwork. Below I have listed these factors and explained what they mean.
For a painter, raw materials can include a frame, canvas, and paint. For a photographer it could include camera, lenses, printers, paper, ink, computers and editing software. Artists often buy professional, high quality grade materials that are meant to last, and the cost of these materials is significant! On a base level an artist needs to cover the costs of the materials they use.
Just like any other profession, people typically want to get paid for the time it takes to create the works of art. Like the saying goes, time is money. Don't think of this like an hourly paid job, but the amount of money the artist COULD make doing something else, this is called opportunity cost.
Many artists use a studio to work on their art. This brings in costs such as rent, electricity, heating (or AC). Even if the artist works from home they still have to cover the costs of supplies, tools, and even accountants, lawyers and taxes.
Marketing and Distribution
Many people don't think about this, but artists need to spend money on marketing and distribution. If an artist expects to sell their work, they need to get it out there in an efficient way. This may mean gallery representation, which is an industry standard. An artist may get accepted into a gallery, but the gallery will take a percentage of profit from the work of art sold (typically 50% commission).
If an artist doesn't use a gallery for representation, they often use personal websites, social media marketing, and other means of marketing that not only cost money but are time intensive.
At the end of the day an artist not only needs to cover the costs of all that I listed above, but also make a profit. Artists need to be able to bring home money at the end of the day in order to pay their own personal bills or afford food or...well anything else you might want to spend money on.
For some reason people seem to think that art should be cheap, but cheap art creates starving artists. An artists is (usually) an expert in their field and is able to create something unique that no one has created before. There is no reason why we should need to justify the cost of art any more than we justify the standard rate of a lawyer.