How to value art? An artists perspective

How to value art? An artists perspective

How does one attach a monetary value to art?

How to value art? This is something I struggle with as an artist, both in regards to my own art as much as the price tags that other artists and galleries apply to theirs. The art world is crazy in terms of what makes an art piece valuable (and in many cases ludicrously expensive) and conversely what devalues artwork to make it worthless (or should I say priceless?).

I think there are a number of things that influence the price of a given art piece, I’m not saying this is what I agree with, I’m saying these are things that I have noted during my career as an artist, if you think I am wrong or want to add something to the discussion I welcome you to comment below. I will come back to revise this article in the future and my resolve will be strengthened through discussion…

These are the main factors which i believe influence the value of art…

>> Fame

Simply speaking the more famous and recognized the artist is the more valuable the art work. The common anecdote; no artist’s work is valuable until the artist is famous, no artist is famous until the artist is dead, and there is a lot of truth in that supposition but it’s certainly not an accurate way of determining the value of art work. Although it’s stands to reason an artist with a large following who dies cannot create any more art, therefore increasing the cost of all previous art pieces created by said artist.

>> Mass Appeal?

This brings me on the next topic. Is the artwork of multiple editions? Stencil art and art prints are easily reproduced. Something painted on canvas is usually a one-of and therefore by design a much rarer and exotic object to own. However I have seen time and time again struggling and unrecognized artists having to sell their canvas art for far less than most established artists sell an art print for. But the rule does still apply, the smaller the number of limited editions the higher the value of the editions. So there is something about the rule of rarity that does apply.

>> Exhibition Context

Some of the most brilliant art in terms of artisan skill I have seen has been painted on street. Graffiti, stencils, whatever technique it is, large scale street art painting is one of the most talented forms of art there is. When you think about the level of detail in the art and then relate it to how many things were going against the artist during the creation (lack of light, cold, cops, hanging upside down? Death!) – it is remarkable the graffiti piece exists in the first instance! Mostly this artwork is worthless (or better put ‘priceless’) because it simply cannot be sold!

Conversely some of the basic, primitive and crudely constructed art seen in high society art galleries is sold for crazy amounts of money. Before you think I’m spouting under educated or anarchist sentiments, please argue me how much artisan effort went into taking a shit in a can and then having the big gallery players such as the Tate purchase it for exhibition? This proves the point that the value of art is somewhat dependent on its end display context and purpose. Art that relies less on artisan skill and saves face through a torrent of intellectual masking and high-brow dogma tends to sell for a lot, conversely some high skilled art created with no explanation doesn’t reach quite as high a price tag.

One most also note that any art piece sold through an art gallery context is normally considerably more expensive than what the artist would otherwise demand for the art. Most art galleries take a commission for sale of art, most artist aren’t happy with getting any less than what they think it’s worth, so usually a large sum is added onto the price the artist initially had in mind. Having said that there are many successful artists who exist despite not having any gallery representation or agent.

>> Construction & Materials:

Unless your canvas or sculpture piece relies heavily on the aforementioned dogmas and explanations it is highly unlikely to be worth much unless it’s solidly constructed. Usually when something is designed to last a certain amount of time (eg an exhibition) it usually gets termed “installation art” rather than sculpture, here the rules differ. The art is arguably poorly constructed but amazingly this doesn’t diminish the value, quite the contrary! Tracey Emin wouldn’t have had the problem of people wrecking her bed installation art piece if it was made solidly and Damien Hirst wouldn’t have had his art trashed by a cleaner… This are not perhaps the best examples to give as I realise the art work relies partially on the materials used to make it to give the context and meaning of the art.

The cost of materials used is usually a strong indicator of what the eventual value or the art will be. It’s practically a given that an art piece will not be sold for a value less than the cost of the raw materials of the art. However with every artist having stock piles of unsold art in their studios sometimes cutting losses and selling art for something rather than nothing does happen.

Conversely some art created which uses raw materials which are cheap or even free are sold for millions, many of you will know about a certain pile of bricks exhibited in the Tate that was sold for way more than value of materials, less attention to details was applied to the art piece itself than a bricklayer building a wall! So, material cost is not something to completely base the determined cost of the given art piece.

>> Ingenuity / Freshness / Uniqueness

How unique is the artists produce? How easily can it be produced by someone else?

>> Collectability

Is the art part of a series? Is the artist’s work highly collectible? Some artists make installation art which may be temporary or created for purposes of exhibitions, not collectible. Other artists create prints and multiple editions, there work tends to be more easily accessible to private art collectors.

>> Condition

This doesn’t apply to canvas art as much as it would to say installation or sculptural art work, but basically if the canvas has (unintentional) holes, tears, scratches, unwanted markings, rot etc… It’s general seen as being heavily devalued. However some art is designed in a way that incorporates these ‘defects’

>> Authenticity – A bit of a no brainer, but for the people whose purchases are inspired by brand value ( in this case talking about the ‘brand’ namely the artist) the art work is not going to be seen at all valuable or worth much if it nothing more than a knock off fake posing as genuine artist’s work.

How to value art – a conclusion

In closing I will say, there have been times where it’s taken me months of deliberation and planning even before doing any actual painting on a canvas, some art take weeks or even months to finish. In some cases the art doesn’t get finished at all and might get relegated to artist’s studio stock pile only to be completed many years down the line or perhaps just painted over with new layers.

Conversely some art I create seems to pour out of me onto the canvases, some canvas pieces get started with no intention of finishing them, but somehow regardless, are completed a mere few hours later. One piece in particular is a canvas piece I entitled aliens invade which literally took around 2-3 hours to complete! You can read about the process here For more canvas pieces I’ve created click here or check my featured portfolio pieces here

Does the art work only become valuable once it leaves the studio or point of creation? Certainly I cannot buy it from myself… well I suppose I could, but I’m not conceptual enough to pull it of ;).

So what else can influence the price and value of art? In addition to the above let me know if you can think of others! Leave your comments bellow.

Vinni Kiniki 2014

2 Comments

  1. Ahmed
    June 11, 2015

    Big topic. Nicely handled. Very recently I’ve had the pleasure of being re-involved in the art world in a gallery capacity. Price has always bugged me too. There are a few things I’ve learned that might help expand, or even re-approach your perspective.

    (1) Antiques road show:
    Lovely bit of UK tv. People bring antiques (old things from the loft or back of the cupboard) to be valued. One gentleman had with him a series of sketches and small ceramic horse sculptures. These were made by an artists – his great aunt. They were exquisite – really lovely detail, lovely tones and colours – almost watercolour touches to the sculptures – really high quality craftsmanship. She even has work in the V&A and has a name that is known in certain circles.

    The appraiser went on to say that because she was doing these herself, she would not have been able to mass produce anything and runs must’ve been limited. The interesting thing here is that because of that they were valued LESS than horse sculptures that would’ve been mass produced around that time. Why?

    This is because the value cannot be determined by limited capacity. The fact that she worked small scale meant that she had less chance in permeating public awareness. At the time of her production the mass produced horses were taking up more shelf spaces in more homes than she was doing. More people were aware of the mass produced work than her own, so down the line, the mass produced horses were more valuable because they were connected to that time in a stronger, more popular, way.

    She may have sold her horse, at that time, for more money that the mass produced one, but over time her work has devalued, whilst the mass produced cheaper one has more value later in life.

    (2) Death & collectors.
    Death won’t increase the value of your work if during your life you were not popular. Again, sad but true. there are many artists who paint pictures – hundreds, thousands of painters and paintings – that hang on walls of homes. Lots who are dead, but that sadly won’t increase their value because if people don’t care enough when they’re alive, why should they care otherwise?

    People who can attribute value to work are the people who buy it. In this case collectors. There are a small breed of people who collect art. These people may come across an artist they like and champion their work by buying some of it. Once the collector amasses enough work, then they put on an exhibition of their collected works and BOOM, the artists involved value goes up. Why? Because someone else is saying “hey, look at this work, i think it’s worth something. I spent my own money to elevate it from the rest of the work out there.”

    And re-prints… same thing. By nature of it being re-printed someone is saying “hey, this deserves to be reprinted, this deserves to be put everywhere”. This also increases the value of the artists work, initially that piece that is re-printed, and then the rest by proxy.

    Same with galleries. If a gallery decides to represent you (not the same as showing your work) the it is making a statement of “hey, I believe in this artist, this person is going somewhere someday.”

    All of those points to say that value gets added – before of after death – by the virtue of other peoples interest and championing.

    (3) Cost.
    I was recently told by a collector that a good rule of thumb for valuing your own work is:

    (material cost x 2) + cost of labour (hours worked) = Artwork price

    How much you charge per hour is at your own discretion. You can demand more for this when you become more popular and time becomes a factor in your own life because of that (or as much as the ego allows).

    (4) Fashion and street art.
    Largely popularity is a socially constructed response to a need. If you look at trends throughout history, lots of them came in on a wave of social change at that time. When we change as people, we look for things to define that change. We want to shed the past and look for something that we can use to define our future selves.

    Look at the 60’s and the post-war era in the UK. For the first time in a long time teenagers were not soldiers anymore. Instead of being told to work or join the army, people were now given freedom. On the wave of that change, a lot of magical stuff happened and lots of varied cultures started to sprout. There was a gap in how to define these new days – what to wear, what to listen to, what to look at, and every idea was thrown out there. Lots of experimentation, lots of new ways of doing things. And anything that is big or famous now, was simply what responded most to, and resonated most with, that social need.

    Lots of scenes change and develop as they grow (and the people grow) and that’s why there are waves of everything. Trance and dance built an empire on the wave of ecstacy and other drugs, but as that need dies down, so does the scene.

    With regards to art, if it responds to that need, it is more valuable because of that. Take a gallery I know in a well-to-do area of London. The social clientele in that area have money so (a) People can afford to drop £2000 on an abstract painting if it matches or compliments the colour of their walls – you would not believe how many sales can be made on how it fits with current decor alone! But that area also has a park nearby so the locals are fond of things that support that image. Therefore sculptures of foxes, or rabbits, horses, deer, pairings of landscapes, etc. are often more popular and yes, can be sold for more money.

    As sad as it is, if you make work for yourself, the only people who while buy are likely people like you, and then you ask yourself, how much ‘can’ I spend on art, and you have a rough idea of how much you should be pricing your work. On the other hand, make at for other people… cha-ching! (if only it were that easy).

    These are just a few thoughts. Because there are rules, there are always cases that exist outside them. The world values things erratically, but what never changes is the fact that it is the WORLD that values it. Do exhibitions, be prolific, do commissions, do collaborations, have fun and sell it for what you can. And remember, you can price differently (not dramatically) depending on your audience.

    Really digging the blog 🙂

    Ahmed

    ————————–
    Are you troubled by mistakes in English? Look no further. Ahmed will help discombobulate all those things for you, so you can re-jackulate your speaking into better better england-er-ish-esque mouth noises.

    Reply
    • Vinni
      June 17, 2015

      Hi Ahmed,

      Those are some very interesting perspectives and examples you have put forward, it definately gives me some more food for thought. Really enjoyed reading your comment.

      Thank you
      Vinni

      Reply

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