Why Are Some Artworks More Valuable Than Others?

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When it comes to the monetary value placed on a piece of art, there’s much more to it than what you can see on the canvas. The fact that two paintings, from the same artist, with the same art medium and pretty much having the same aesthetic value can have a vast price difference puzzles many novice art enthusiasts.

You cannot weigh art on a balance to determine its price. Also, there aren’t any specific instructions to follow when it comes to pricing your art. There’s no doubt in the fact that art is boundless and follows no rules. But at the same time, art is a business and a multi-billion-dollar industry. Like all industries, there are factors that can make particular artworks more valuable than others.

Here’s an elaborate guide on why some artworks are more valuable than others.

Art Prices Have No Specific Rules

It’s not that one painting looks better than the other. Hence, it must cost more. Neither is more elaborate, more detailed art more valuable. Simply, you can never compare the value of two art pieces based on one or two metrics.

Now don’t get the idea that you can paint something and try to sell it for ten million dollars just because there are no rules. Well, maybe you can. It is, after all, your art. But, frankly, that’s not how the art industry works.

Placing a price on art is not a straightforward process, primarily because art is an independent discipline. We can say that a wide range of different aspects contributes to the value of an art piece.

Yes, there are technical features, size, medium, style, age, previous cost, and all that. But other aspects can sometimes outweigh the technical features of a work of art.

An example of the ‘other aspects’ can be the work of art getting a mention in a popular book or movie. It can be a remark of appreciation from a famous art reviewer. It can be the message that the art conveys that makes it so valuable. Or it can simply be that the buyer was able to emotionally connect with the art and was ready to pay a king’s ransom for it.

You might recall the ludicrous news you might’ve heard about a banana duct-taped to a wall. It sold for a massive $120,000! The headline-making art piece, titled “The Comedian” by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan was just a simple banana taped to a wall. The whole art-making process wouldn’t have cost more than ten bucks or more than a few minutes for Maurizio.

While many were left flabbergasted by the huge amount paid for what some regard as “unqualified art,” it was a pure case of the ‘other aspects’ coming to play in determining the price of the art.

What the Art Means to the Artist

The artist’s perception of their art has a substantial effect on its value. An artist doesn’t look at their art as a product to sell for money. Art is a way for them to reflect on themselves in the world, convey a message that words cannot, or simply make a statement.

The primary measure for an artist to value there is not the cost of art material spent on it or the time they have dedicated to it. These do play a role, but only a slight one. A true artist uses their painting to communicate with the world, and the value of their art lies in how their audience is able to connect to it.

This might be able to explain the phenomenon of an artist’s painting that looks likes like it’s been painted by a ten-year-old. Sometimes these paintings sell for more than other, professional-looking works.

In the same way, if an artist talks about a particular work of theirs in a book, in an interview, or on any public platform, it automatically increases its price. The more it is mentioned, the bigger the venue where it was mentioned, the more significant the increase in the price is.

If an artist makes a public statement of a particular artwork being their all-time best or having a special place in their heart, this notches up its value too.

Death Makes Artworks More Valuable

No kidding… the unfortunate demise of an artist makes their paintings more valuable. The simple rules of demand and supply are behind this.

Usually, when the demand for a particular item is high, the supply needs to be increased to meet the demand. If demand increases and the supply fails to match it, the said goods automatically become highly priced.

The same thing happens when the supply of paintings stops from a particular artist. In other words, the artist dies or cannot produce art anymore.

When there are no more similar artworks coming, the paintings already completed by that artists automatically increase in value. It is for the same reason that works from famous dead artists are highly prized possessions, safeguarded as national treasures in vaulted rooms.

Art as an Investment

The rich have come up with an innovative way to store their wealth in the form of art. Artists create art for people to admire, get their message across, and maybe even change the world. Art enthusiasts buy art because they like the way it looks, they feel a connection with it, or simply like collecting paintings.

But there is a specific class of art collectors whose motives to buy art are strictly financial. Buying art is never a sin. Neither should anyone be called out for buying or selling art for whatever purpose they like. The purpose of mentioning this is solely to identify a leading cause behind the rise in prices of some artworks. 

The value of art increases over time. A painting sold today will see a significant rise in its cost if it’s sold 10 years from now. The typical price increase can range from a few thousand to many million dollars.

The Technical Aspects That Make Artworks More Valuable

  • Authenticity: Of course, the real thing costs more than the copy. The real Salvator Mundi costs so much because it’s one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s real works.
  • Condition: If artwork is very old, it won’t cost much unless it is well-preserved. If a painting has visible effects of wear and tear, this is going to drop its price. On the other hand, a well-preserved old painting will cost much more. 
  • Provenance: The provenance of a piece of art is the list and history of all the people it previously belonged to. If artwork has been owned by famous personalities of the past or was featured in a renowned museum or gallery, its price is higher. 
  • The artist: The more popular the artist, the costlier their work is. 
  • Colors: Although the colors used in a painting are not much of a price-determining factor today, they have been an essential part of valuing art in the past. For example, paintings that contain red have always been costlier in the old times. In the same way, blue has always been one of the most expensive colors for painters to use in their work. 
Zainab Waseem
Zainab Waseem

Zainab Waseem is a writer & content creator. Specializing in the realms of art, business, & technology, she has written for various publications over her career. Zainab has a particular affinity with politics, economics, and art and adds value to the Art section at Writer’s Order.