Art Valuation: Factors That Influence the Price

The phrase, “I don’t know art, but I know what I like,” is commonly heard when people are asked about how they personally value art. Art valuation attempts to put the “knowing” into the act of valuing art. While value for most material objects is often influenced by supply and demand, the art world has different standards.What is trying to harm my art?

Condition, provenance (sales and acquisition history), comparables (how similar art is valued), rarity, and the X factor, emotional appeal1. Many art galleries do not even display prices. As one director stated: “Prices aren’t openly displayed because we want the work discussed in critical terms and historical context2.”

As time goes by

There is a misconception that no artist is recognized in their own lifetime. In some cases, of course, this is true. For instance, the work of Van Gogh and Gauguin was not widely respected or valued until well after their deaths. The death of any artist often does increase the value of their art, because the art becomes a finite; there is no potential for more or greater art from that particular artist.

On the other hand, for every artist who was successful after death, there is someone like David Roberts. Roberts was a Scottish painter who died in 1864. One critic commented “In the heyday of mid-Victorian romantic taste, the water colors of David Roberts were the delight of kings.” But 70 years after his death, one of his paintings sold for just 10 guineas; a small some, even by today’s standards.3

Interesting examples of art valuation through the ages

Past — The Impressionist movement demonstrated that dealers and supporters of avant-garde artwork could enjoy significant profits. This movement began a time where the standards of determining which art had value had changed. This attitude was reinforced in the early 1960s with the advent of the Pop Art movement in America.4

Present — The “New York” standard that American artists used to be held to, the opinion that an artist is not collectable or “posh” enough unless they have exhibited in a New York gallery is coming to an end. With the ever-increasing popularity of searchable online galleries and personal artist webpages, art work has never been more accessible to the average person, which influences both the availability and price of art.

Future — A study conducted by online art marketplace Invaluable claims it’s the first time more U.S. consumers are seeing art on social media rather than in museums. In fact, 22.7 percent of U.S. consumers on aggregate cite image-driven platforms as their primary method of finding new work. Only 20 percent of adults come across new art through museums, and an even smaller 15.6 percent do so through galleries.

According to the company’s survey — which included over 4,500 participants — 44 percent of millennials discover art on Instagram and Pinterest. It’s a demographic that reportedly spends more than 30 hours a month on social media sites.5

Finding the balance in valuing art

Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime.
Jeff Koons is a living artist whose latest work sold for $58.4 million.

Most artists fall somewhere in-between. Many artists pour their heart and soul into their creations, only to find that they are not valued in the manner in which the artist feels they deserve to be valued. This is why an artist’s best friend is the gallery owner who appreciates his/her work, the collector who gathers it to themselves and the casual observer or buyer who finds something moving or inspirational in the work. This is one of the reasons an objective art valuation is needed.

Remember: Good artists don’t necessarily sell paintings, and all of the paintings that sell — even for high prices — are not necessarily good. It is important to consider many factors when evaluating a piece of arts value.

Looking for some guidance on how to value your art?

Handling an artist’s works or an inherited collection can be a big task. Each collection is different and benefits from good guidance, proper care, and expert valuation. POBA makes it as easy as possible. Contact a POBA Concierge representative if you need help with valuing and promoting an artist’s work or legacy.

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2 Augusto Arbizo, director and partner at New York’s 11R gallery