Why is some art very expensive and other art cheap? Is there a politic that enters the equation where the gatekeepers decide what is art and what is great art? Is art's worth objective or...

Why is some art very expensive and other art cheap? Is there a politic that enters the equation where the gatekeepers decide what is art and what is great art? Is art's worth objective or subjective?


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kateanswers eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When it comes to art, both beauty and value are in the eye of the beholder! 


The price of a work of art is influenced by a number of factors, but we must also remember that "value" does not always refer to money. The value of a work of art may be based on personal criteria such as emotional attachment and cultural background. One of the reasons it is tricky for artists to assign monetary values to their own works is that the artist comes from a place of bias- they have an emotional attachment to the piece of art and have invested their time and money in creating it. In today's market, in order for the artist's opinion of the piece of work (and the price they may set) to be validated, someone else has to be willing to pay at least the set price for the piece of art. Art dealers or brokers must carefully weigh the artist's labors, the current demand, special characteristics like age and preservation, and how willing customers are to pay before assigning a price to any piece of art.

Some things that can really drive up the price of a work of art are the age of the piece, the material used, the artist and whether this person is dead, and the preservation quality.

Age and preservation really go hand in hand. A painting completed by a talented artist in the 1950's but kept in poor conditions, such as a humid room with fluctuating temperatures, would probably be less valuable than a painting by an "okay" artist in the 1700's and kept in excellent conditions. In general, the older and better preserved a piece of art, the higher the price will be.

Materials used is probably the second biggest factor in establishing price of a work of art. Precious metals and gems are more valuable, monetarily, than wax pastel or ceramic. Preservation of the materials must be taken into account, too, but out of two works of art of the same age and quality of preservation, the one made of more expensive materials will still fetch a higher price. Related to materials is the investment of time involved in creating a piece of art. Someone could use a readily available, low-cost medium such as paper but spend a great deal of time crafting their piece of art. This may result in the piece of art having a higher price than others made with more expensive materials with a lower investment of time.

The artist who created the piece is another large factor in determining the value of a work of art. People really like famous artists, and with good reason! Famous artists become famous for their technique and content as well as what their "special touch" may have been. Artists who started trends or offered some kind of novelty in their medium have become big names. Art by famous creators will always fetch a higher price because of the demand in the market for works by this person. Let's say you had to choose between a scribble Van Gogh made on a scrap of paper and a beautiful oil painting done by your friend's uncle. Even if the price was higher, wouldn't you invest in the Van Gogh? Speaking of Van Gogh- he's a perfect example of one of the factors in driving up the price of art. When an artist dies, the value of their art increases dramatically. This is because the supply has been cut off! When an artist is still alive, we can assume they will continue to create art and possibly create something greater than they already have. But if they are dead, they've already created everything they will ever create, leaving a limited supply.

As you can see, a lot of the price of art has to do with supply and demand. It is very difficult for new artists (throughout history and even today) to fetch a good price for their art because the demand simply isn't there yet. Of course, the value of a work of art is ultimately subjective and has as much to do with the factors above as to how pleasing to the eye it is or how well it follows principles of art and design. Are the colors and shapes pleasant or abrasive? Is it meant to be pleasant or abrasive? And again- is there demand for art that is pleasant or abrasive? To be deemed art, most people generally agree that it must be deemed beautiful, but beauty is an entirely subjective quality. I hope that the above factors I've described help to lend a little bit of objectivity to the process!