Unraveling the Economic Threads of Art: An Introduction to the Economic History of the Arts

Exploring the Economic History of the Arts reveals the profound interplay between economics and the arts throughout history. This burgeoning field offers valuable insights into the economic factors shaping artistic production, fostering interdisciplinary collaborations that enrich our understanding and appreciation of art and culture.

A recent Special Issue at the European Review of Economic History delves into the Economic History of the Arts and highlights its interdisciplinary nature. Guest edited by Karol J. Borowiecki from the University of Southern Denmark, the issue emphasizes the importance and value of studying the economic aspects of art and culture throughout history. It also coins the term “Economic History of the Arts” as a concise and comprehensive way to describe this field of research.

The Special Issue includes seven articles that showcase some of the breadth and depth of the Economic History of the Arts. The presented studies explore contractual arrangements in the Renaissance art market, the role of market makers in art pricing, the influence of Parisian art markets in the 18th century, the formation of creative clusters in German literature, historical mobility of artists and musicians, and the creative influence of teachers.

Studying the Economic History of the Arts provides unique and valuable insights into creativity and the lives of creatives throughout history. Unlike other professions that perhaps prioritize diligence and discipline, artists have always been required to be creative in their work. Therefore, the discipline offers a unique opportunity to study creativity in the long run, including its drivers, limitations, and the role of policy and institutions.


The Economic History of the Arts lies at the intersection of economic history and cultural economics, and as such it is well positioned to also exploit synergies with the humanities. With the advent of digital humanities, the barriers between economics and art history, music history, and other domains of the humanities have diminished. Scholars from both fields are increasingly interested in quantitative approaches and data analysis, which facilitates a scientific dialogue and closer collaboration.

The Outlook

It is a fast-growing field of research, and as it evolves it offers valuable insights into the economic aspects of art and culture throughout history. By studying the economic factors that influence artistic production, we can gain a deeper understanding of the past and its implications for the present and future. The interdisciplinary nature of this area allows for fruitful collaborations between economics and the humanities, fostering a broader perspective on artistic and cultural phenomena.

As the field develops, it promises to shed light on the intricate relationship between economics and the arts, ultimately enriching our appreciation and understanding of artistic endeavors…and creativity.



The Author:

Karol Jan Borowiecki, Department of Economics, University of Southern Denmark