Make work of art valuable

Make work of art valuable

As can be seen in recent decades, some works of art or valuables reach dizzying prices through speculation. But who decides and assesses the value? The profession or the market? And what value are we talking about? Who assigns it? Experts, critics, curators, the public…?

Who sold what to whom and for how much calls for a thorough reflection on how works of art are valued. But…who decides the value of a work of art?

The attribution of these different values most often depends on the circles of persons or entities that determine the recognition of the work in its temporality. From colleagues in a particular field to the general public, via specialists in the public and private sectors. As for market value, it is, as with any good, a matter of the law of supply and demand.

Multiplicity: there is no “one” value.

The market value of a work, summarized by a price, is far from being the only factor in the evaluation of art. There are many other values such as authenticity, originality, fame, beauty, rarity, spirituality, technique and virtuosity.

The value of an object can be attributed in 3 ways: by rating (numerical measurement), by evaluation (research, opinion) and by attachment (inheritance, collection).

Before we can answer the question of what makes a work valuable, we must ask ourselves what value we are talking about. For example:

  • Sentimental value: the importance that a person gives to an object (inheritance, donation).
  • The artistic or technical value: according to notions of specific fields of art, the work will be staged in a more or less recognized way.
  • The value of authenticity: the existence of an effective link between a creation and a creator: “is authentic what is truly of the author to whom it is attributed”. We speak of degrees of attribution as “work of…”, “attributed to…”. (strong presumption) or “workshop of…”.

Recognition: who can attribute value to a work?

There are generally 4 groups of people or entities that can contribute to the definition of the value of a work of art or an object of value :

The circle of the artists themselves: their opinion is fundamental, all the more so if the artist is innovative and escapes the usual and traditional criteria of judgment.

  • The specialists: a multitude of entities can contribute such as experts, critics, curators and exhibition curators.
  • Dealers and collectors: their influence is extremely important, especially in private transactions.
  • The general public: insiders or novices who with the digital and internet transformation have a much greater influence than before.

Temporality: from short-term to time-driven value

In a field where subjectivity is very present with artistic currents in perpetual movement, how can we be sure that what is worth today will still be considered tomorrow?

Whether for emotional reasons or even without it being pure speculation, the notion of temporality is a key factor. One can rely on the verbal evaluations of an expert in a field, but the plurality of temporalities is sometimes fundamental.

For example, we know artists such as Van Gogh where time played a spectacular role with works worth a few hundred francs during his lifetime and estimated at tens of millions today, even priceless. Indeed, the painter lived in destitution all his life, and among the 2,000 or so paintings and drawings that he produced and which today sell for a high price, he sold only one painting during his lifetime: The Red Vine (source: Wikipedia).

A century later and after multiple auctions they have been patrimonized (acquired on behalf of a museum) with sometimes inalienable values. One can thus speak only of attachment value for museums.

The state of preservation: an essential factor in defining the price

The works of art are more or less well preserved in the homes of their owners or in Museums that restore the works over the years. Regularly objects have come to the public in a thousand pieces; for example, Greek vases. In the case of an ephemeral work of art, there are two possibilities: either the museum or the institution constantly regenerates it, or it is made to disappear. Jeff Koons’ “Puppy” at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is maintained by gardeners. The dog is constantly growing and its maintenance (size, water, etc.) is comparable to that of a real dog.

When a work enters a museum, its value is usually guaranteed. Works of art in museums enrich the history of art and are part of the cultural heritage of mankind.


However, when they are in the hands of private individuals, such as in their homes (or attics!), they must be restored in order to repair the damage caused by time and to enhance their value. Serious restorers such as Baumgartner Fine Art Restoration, who tells the story of each restored work on their Facebook page, or Atelier Blanc in Switzerland know what they are talking about. And they do so with techniques and ethics that allow them to respect and safeguard the original work of art. For example, in case of important damage such as a tear, the repair will always be reversible in case of error or dissatisfaction.