Thunderbird Foundation for the Arts

3 Keys for Determining Artwork's Value

3 Keys for Determining Artwork's Value

The art world is a fickle place; while you can pretty well count on certain works continuing to appreciate in value (think Picasso, Monet, Bacon, etc.), everyone else is left to speculation. The fact is that the true value of artwork is based as much on perception as on any quantifiable factors; an artist with a media rich reputation is likely to command higher prices than an equally talented but less acclaimed counterpart. But even this isn’t an assurance of future monetary worth. 


There are many possible scenarios that can affect the price point of an artist’s body of work; take for example the experience of a fairly well-know artist who decided to stop painting at a high point in his career. For several years, he produced very little work, despite his large following. When he decided to re-join his previously burgeoning career, his work was unpracticed and lacked the creativity it once had. Although he’s once again re-established himself as an artist, his work has lost much of its previous value due to the negative impact his quick departure had on the market for his work.


This is why, when deciding to purchase a piece of art, above all else the most important factor to consider is whether the artwork speaks to you on a personal level. While investment can be a key in the decision making process, it shouldn’t be the overriding factor. A piece of artwork is typically kept for at least 10 years before its appreciation will mean anything for you (and potentially longer if the artist is emerging), so if you aren’t going to be happy living with the piece and it doesn’t add value to your day to day life, then frankly the investment wasn’t a worthwhile one.


Having said that, in this blog post, we’ll be talking about three things to look for in a piece of artwork that are clues to its ultimate market value. While there’s no guarantee that a particular piece of artwork or an individual artist will continue to appreciate, there are three factors that will give you a good idea of likely value trajectory. 


If the artwork you’re considering is offered through a reputable gallery or auction house, the piece and the artist have already been appraised, taking into account the artist’s reputation, the artwork’s provenance, etc., so it’s very likely that you can rest assured that the current asking price is accurate; but how do you know where the piece will stand in the market in the years to come? Here are a few things to consider:


  1. Name: When valuing art, name means everything. 


One of the biggest factors in determining the long term value of a piece of artwork is the name of the artist; the more well known an artist is, the more valuable his/her work will be long term. If the work was completed by an artist’s assistant, it will negatively affect the overall value of the art. 


For example, in terms of American artists, a piece by Maynard Dixon will naturally command a higher price than an emerging artist, but that doesn’t mean the emerging artist’s work won’t eventually appreciate significantly; this is why it’s particularly important that the artwork appeals to you personally first and foremost.



  1. Scarcity: Numbers speak volumes. 


The entire number of pieces available from a particular artist is a crucial factor when considering the value of artwork; if an artist is no longer living, it means there’s a finite inventory of his work, which dramatically affects pricing, since he won’t be creating any more.


In the case of living artists, factors to consider are reputation: has the artist been covered in media such as magazines; has he/she been placed into museums or collections; is he/she represented by a gallery. These factors can all help you to ‘hedge your bets.’



  1. Medium & Size: What it’s made of counts. 


The medium used and size can help determine a piece’s overall long term value; typically the larger the artwork, the more valuable it is.


In terms of two dimensional artwork, oil paintings are the most valuable; pastel is the next most valuable, followed by acrylic, watercolor, ink, graphite, prints and then digital art.


Three dimensional works see sculpture as the most valuable, followed by bronze, stone and wood.


There are many other factors that go into determining a particular piece of artwork’s overall value, but these are the three that will play the most pivotal role and assessing them can help you feel assured that your piece will continue to appreciate. 

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