What Determines the Value of Art?

A common question in the art world is “what determines the value of an artists work?” While the obvious answer is that art, like anything, is worth what a willing seller will sell it for an a willing buyer will buy it for, a closer look into the value of art are a lot more complex than that.

Fine art may be the most subjective commodity of all which means the value of art is also totally subjective.  In the end it all comes down to perspective.  Accordingly, there are a lot of factors that go into creating value in an artist’s work beyond the cost of materials and the time it took to create it and they all center directly on creating and influencing the perception of value in the eyes of the collector.

One thing is certain, it’s a lot more than simple talent or ability.  Let’s examine the factors that influence the value of an artist’s work of art.


In the past, art critics played a major part in determining whose art was hot and whose was not. There are still plenty of art magazines and writers writing about art but, with the advent of the internet and the social networks, gone are the days when an art critic could make… or break an artists career with a single article. There is no doubt that in today’s economy the fact that art magazines are supported primarily by art galleries purchasing advertising from them creates an unavoidable conflict of interest. Who wouldn’t think twice before publishing an unflattering opinion about an artist who is represented by one of your valued advertisers?

Factor in the internet and the ability of today’s art collector and fan of fine art to view an almost limitless variety of art from artists throughout the world and it’s easy to understand why the art critics power has diminished over the past two decades. Interestingly, this vast new electronic medium has allowed for the growth of a new force within the art world… the social network. Today, there are more opportunities and strategies than ever before for an aspiring artist to be promoted to the art world and collectors.


Gallerists and art dealers are still the primary marketing force within the art world. It takes a particular skill to be able to convert such a subjective commodity as art into significant amounts of cash. Being a successful gallerist takes more than using pure selling skills to sell art to their list of wealthy clients. As important is knowing nurturing an artist to the top of the market is about reputation building. That entails placing their artists works in the proper collections, the appropriate group shows, and the right museums. The challenge for the emerging artist is to gain the attention of the most highly respected gallerists and then convince them that they are worthy of their attention and their efforts. While talent is a critical component, a premier gallerist is also going to consider how marketable the artists work and the artist himself/herself is.

Here, how well the artist has been received and promoted already can have a significant impact on a gallerists decision and can separate one artist from the crowd vying for attention. The challenge is to figure out how to sell the consummate sales pro. The key is effective promotion. After all, even the most arrogant gallerist is subject to the effect of peer actions. In short, if you build a bandwagon and get a lot of smaller players to climb aboard, it’s far more likely that a top gallerist may be inclined to want to take the leadership roll and run with it. Self styled leaders in any industry are only satisfied when they are leading the parade and are often more inclined to try to get in front of a parade that appears to have already started than to choose to try to form a brand new parade.

Collectors are the single most important force in the art world. Without collectors, gallerists wouldn’t exist and artists would be working in graphic design studios or craft fairs. Still collectors are less visible than the other major forces within the art economy.

Collectors are the economic engine that fuels the entire art world… and it’s what they’re prepared to pay that sets the limit for what an artist can earn. So, how do they decide what to buy and how much to pay? To a large degree, they are influenced by the gallerists they have come to trust. Art dealers naturally take great pains to keep their client lists confidential and many collectors are passive investors, taking advice from dealers as often as acting on their own personal taste.

Yet when collectors become personalities, their choices become public statements of their interests. After all, money is power, and collectors who choose to exercise that power independent of the influence of dealers can have a significant influence on an artist’s value in the market. The more artists can keep themselves in front of art collectors the more likely they are to develop the kind of following that can propel them into the limelight and the value of their art upward exponentially.


With the explosion of the media and the social network over the past couple of decades, we have witnessed the birth of a new phenomenon… that of the celebrity artist. Instead of living a creative life solitude in their studio…free from the trappings of modern society, celebrity artists now hang with pop stars, fashion designers and various media types. With the art market continuing to show strength celebrity artists who make it to the top now command sometimes unbelievable prices for their work. Once an artist gains celebrity status this new power means they can dominate the exhibition circuit and will be courted by museums and institutions.

Still this kind of power can be fleeting, particularly if an artist gets carried away by the arrogance of their own success. The truly influential artists today are those who set their sights beyond the advancement of their own careers and use their status to extend their network within the upper crust of the art world’s institutions. Whether it’s giving back by advising on the boards of galleries, or serving on charitable fund raising committees, or judging art contests, truly great modern artists use their reputation and their connection to other power players to get worthwhile things done.

As we witness the global expansion of more newly built public museums and art centers along with the continuing expansion of the international biennials, curators are the veritable gatekeepers to the highest level of visibility and critical prestige. As such, they represent the ultimate in art world fixers. Unlike the established curators of the worlds major museums these new curators are mobile, fast acting and very much “hands-on” about which artists’ works gets presented.

With biennials cropping up around the world… from Sao Paolo to Sidney and Sharjah, these new curators takes a key role in converting a knowledge of local art-scenes onto the international stage, selecting, mixing and remixing shows from the ranks of artists.

Still, these new curators are more self serving and aren’t only about selecting work and boosting artists’ careers. Today’s new curators also see themselves as creative agents in their own right and work to produce shows that emphasize their personal instrumental role in how art communicates. Considering how completely a curator can affect an exhibition, it’s not an exaggeration that the acknowledgment “curated by” can be as important if not more important at times than the list of artists names that goes below it. In fact, curators are, in a sense, “artists” in their own right as they are truly the authors of exhibitions, and not just their facilitators. By combining their intellectual ambition with their entrepreneurial and institutional flair, today’s new curators have become a major influening factor within contemporary art.


When all is said and done, it really comes down to one primary driving force…how effectively the artist is promoted to all aspects of the art world. The gallerists and the artists themselves are the primary promoters. The more effectively they promote their art to the critics, the curators and the collectors, the greater the demand will be for their work and the higher the prices their art will command. A great example of this theory is Thomas Kinkade. In the opinion of most art professionals, Kinkade wasn’t a great artist but as a promoter, he was second to none. It’s reported that Kinkade was grossing around $100 million a year selling originals and reproductions and that as he grew he even hired artists to create his paintings for him.

While I wouldn’t offer even an original Kinkade on this site for sale, one has to tip one’s hat at his ability as a self promoter.

Until an artist can catch the eye and the interest of a leading gallerist to team up with them to promote their art at the highest levels of the art world, they need to shoulder that responsibility and accept the roll both as artist and marketing manager or engage people who can support that effort and that’s where we come in. We build the bandwagons and help start the buzz that gets an artist the recognition he/she deserves.


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