This is an important question to ask. Some people would say there’s a qualitative difference between different levels of artwork. For example, a painting made by Picasso is more valuable than a painting made by someone just starting in their career.
But what determines the value of work? In the case of art, it can be tough to measure their worth because they’re meant to be liked and not understood—we don’t know what someone else will think about them. So the value of art is subjective. But what can we say about artworks? What makes them valuable?
When it comes to fine art, there’s a difference between some particular genres of art: for example, the sculpture is seen as a more valued form than painting because sculptures are tangible objects. That impacts their value because they’re not just things that will be sold in auction houses—people will want to buy them.
So there are some things about them which you can measure and quantify, for example, the material it’s been made from. But what about artworks like paintings? In this case, one of the best ways to measure their value is to look at past sales trends by auction houses. So we’re saying that their value is not fixed – it changes; their value is subjective. Indeed, auction houses will often hold exhibitions to showcase their work, and they’re making it known that specific artworks have been valued so highly by previous clients who’ve bought them.
But what do art experts say? Well, they’ll be the ones prominent collectors will hire to advise them about which pieces of art will be the most valuable. They can make an educated guess as to their value—but it’ll all come down to their opinion.
We’re saying that, in the art world, it’s all about supply and demand, so as soon as there’s a surge in popularity for a specific artist or a particular kind of artwork, there will be a massive spike in its value. But what happens if there’s a sudden drop in demand? Then the prices will decrease too. This happened recently with Damien Hirst—his exhibition at London’s Tate Modern was closed down after protests from insect rights activists.
So we can see that artwork’s value is not set in stone. It’s not a commodity; it’s not a physical object which can be traded—it’s subjective.