What Makes an Art Work Valuable – TIA MARKS

January 4, 2012

Many questions arise as to the valuation of artworks, especially from new collectors.  There are many reasons an artwork may or may not be valuable.  Value must initially be assessed according to other recent market valuations of similar works.  The valuation process by comparison to similar works is most easily observed when the artwork of a particular artist or school of art comes to auction.

We can use a hypothetical model based on market criteria and calculate value with some probability.  These criteria are expressed here in general terms or rules of thumb.  Examples are provided – but knowledge and expert advice are important if you are investing any real money in art for reasons other than personal preference for the work.

1.  What artist created the work?  If the artist is well known more value attributed to the work.  If the work was completed by a group or assistants to an individual artist, then it will probably be of less value.  Artists like Picasso or Matisse will certainly bring a higher price than a contemporary regionalist.

2.  Is the artwork a unique, one of a kind – or is it one of a multiples production.  Many prints and sculptures may be produced in a limited edition of 3, 6, 50 or even in the thousands.  Multiples, or pieces produced several at a time are usually less valuable.  In the case of a multiple on which the artist may have made unique alterations, such as adding different watercolors to each print in a series, or working to make variations in a cast sculpture after is has been produced, can raise the value.  These would be considered as more original on a continuum.  In fact the series itself may make any individual differences more interesting, hence more valuable.  If the changes were made by assistants they will be probably be less valuable.

3.  Strength of composition is also very important in valuation of any individual work of art.  Whether the artist sells in hundreds or millions of dollars, a strong composition will almost always be sought over other considerations.

4.  Better examples of the artist’s mature style will be be more important to most collectors in any market.  If a work of art particularly presents the strongest and most appreciated elements of an artist’s mature style, then it will be worth more.  The only exception to this rule is when a particular individual work by the artist is seen as a flash of genius that stands outside of his known progression of stylistic development.

5.  Involvement, discipline and time spent in producing a work of art is an important factor to many buyers.  If a work is complex but strongly unified, and that a many-phased process shows the artist’s strengths, then the work will draw a much higher valuation than his/her quick sketch.  The only possible exception to this rule is when a virtuoso performance is evident in a work of relative spontaneity.  Some art forms and styles are based on the ability of an artist to convey visual power with spontaneity rather than a more methodic and painstaking presentation.  Spontaneous production of disciplined compositions, including sumi ink can be valuable based on grace of execution.  Some art forms using spontaneous production of a relatively unplanned composition, such as action-painting, can be valuable for the quick but powerful production of composition that is less preconceived and more reflexive.  In these cases the discipline is more in the initial physical act than the reworking of stages of many physical actions to create a composition.  Critics of these more spontaneous art forms speak of accidental creation.  But when an artist can frequently produce fine composition from a spontaneous approach, then examples of that ability are valuable.

6.  Size of work within any artist’s body of work will generally correlate directly to value.  The bigger the work, the more valuable, other factors being equal.

7.  The medium is also very important in valuation.  For flat work, or more two-dimensional composition, oil works are most valuable followed by pastel, acrylic, water color, collage, ink, pencil, prints, and lastly digital works.  For three-dimensional more sculptural works the most valuable for small pieces are bronze, stone, wood, assemblages, found objects.  For large pieces stone may be more valuable than bronze.  If castings are multiples they are of course less valuable than uniques.

8.  The number of available works by a given artist is a big consideration in valuation of the individual works.  If the artist is dead, then of course production has ended and has become a finite pool of available pieces. If the artist turned out fewer works, but they are sought as true masterworks, then they will each be worth more – and raise the prices of even lesser works by that artist.

9.  Who is selling the work?  If the work appears in the catalog of a major auction house you must consider the matter of prestige and the overhead costs of exhibiting the work.  The pricier the surroundings and the sale costs, the pricier the work.

These nine criteria are the most important rules of thumb to be considered in understanding the value of a work of art.  Following these rules you will have a higher probability of determining the relative value of any piece.

- Tia Marks

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