The value and worth of art – it seems to so many people that this question is unheard of, you can’t put a price on art right? It is true, value is subjective, but the reality is people put a price to art and they trade art as a commodity, and so we have to deal with it. Now whether good art has become synonymous to expensive art is a different question. In any case this article will try to shed light on the different factors that comprise the monetary value of a work of art as seen in an art auction. Some we will see are more measurable than others.
Imagine we have a copy of a Rembrandt and an actual Rembrandt- which one is more valuable and why? You like the image, the emotion, the message the painting has so why is it so important that it’s actually Rembrandt who painted it? Is his going to really have that special aura that is so different? Are you going to understand it better? In the art market it can be a difference of a couple million dollars- so yes.
Authenticity Certification and proof of an artwork makes a huge difference.
Provenance (previous owners) also can make for big disparities in monetary value. Imagine a painting has been at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is now for sale. It’s most likely that the painting would go for a lot more simply because of the reputed exhibition history than if it had been on view in your local small time gallery. Who owned it can create price value. Remember the last time a celebrity like Jackie Onassis sold her personal items? Why did that same item your grandfather probably owned go for sale at Sotheby’s?
Then there’s the size and medium of the work of art . Size does matter. People get confused when a large painting goes for less than a smaller one. Equally, people expect an oil painting to be more costly than a drawing. Whether this is right or not is a different question, but observed behavior shows this is what people expect and so the prices for oil paintings go for more than small drawings. The same goes for subject matter. People sell more than animals so the prices tend to be higher.
Social pressures and interactions also play a huge role as irrational as it may seem. Imagine you’re an important businessman with a huge ego and your business rival is in the same auction room as you and bidding on the same artwork. You want to win, it becomes a question of ego, and the prices will skyrocket in this fantastic setup, and will drive the price of that artwork up as well. Moreover, if the room is filled with people compared to an empty room, this can have an effect on how successful a sale will be.
Then there are other minor contributions to the price of art such as where it was bought (evening vs. day sale at Sotheby’s or Christie’s) or the location-was it in New York City or in London or in Dubai? Some get more media attention than others.
Then there’s the brand recognition of the artist. Seems like Damien Hirst’s splatter paintings are getting a lot of demand from all over the world, and is a favorite ‘beginner’s pick’ among art collectors. He’s recognized so people will pay more for him than say an art student’s work fresh from graduate school.
Finally there’s the amount of advertisement and promotion for an auction sale, and an artist will have to attract all interested buyers. If nobody knows a sale is happening, I doubt the artworks will reach high prices.
All of the above can be measured using the appropriate tools, however, there still remain non-measurable factors such as intrinsic emotional or aesthetic value of an artwork or its art historical importance, which largely contribute to the value of art . Whether these are rational factors is debatable, but they do affect the price of art .