What makes art valuable?

This is a difficult question and one which I have been thinking about over the last few days. A few days ago Jeff Koons was crowned the worlds most expensive living artist after his stainless steel 'Rabbit' was sold for $91 million. This got me thinking. The price of art has always depended on the artist, the materials and the person who is buying, however, does a higher economic value increase the quality of the painting.

Just think about this, maybe this 'higher value' is all dependant on taste, but I mean that is how art is judged. Francis Bacon's, Study for a Head, 1952, was sold for altogether $50.4 million, yet is Bacon's art seen to be 'better' than a painting by Pierre Bonnard or Claude Monet? Does the economic value of a piece of art determine how 'good' it is?

I feel as though the most common answer will be no because of individual taste and style shifts. Art styles and movements come in and out of fashion, almost like flared jeans, and some pieces of art which were truly cherished during their time would not be regarded 'priceless' or be admired the way it was, or vice versa. Frida Kahlo has only flourished and taken off in the present as during her time it was her husband Diego Rivera who held all the fame.

Jeff Koons is now the world's most expensive living artist and even though there is controversy behind this statement as many people seem to feel as though his works are completely overpriced and lack in... well they would say lack in purpose. I was thinking of using the word originality but I do not agree with that because after going to Koons' exhibition at the Ashmolean I really felt the connection in which the presentation of this exhibition created between personality, history and environment. Not environment as in conservation, but environment as in surroundings. Nevertheless, Koons' is an influential contemporary artist and maybe he deserved to overtake David Hockney... no comment.

Looking back at the relationship between the economic value of art and the actual value of art there are questions which need to be asked. What makes a piece of art valuable? Where does its value lie? In Koons' case it was through him, the artist, as well as with Francis Bacon and the most expensive painting sold which is by Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi ('Saviour of the World'). Personally, the name does have a massive part in the value of art. Personal value is so different and incomparable to artistic value because everyone will have their different opinions. Some wil be more attracted in Renaissance and Classical art whereas some despise it and only admire modern art. Artistic value is and always has been in connection with the popularity of the artist, I mean, its not everyday that someone can bring their unmade bed into a gallery as Tracey Emin did, or put a shark in a fish tank like Damien Hurst. Your name is more important than your art in terms of economic value. Van Gogh, one of my personal favourites, was extremely poor his whole life and gained no recognition until his death. Now his name is known worldwide and that is what has increased the value of his work. Obviously for it to have become known there would have had to have been something which attracted people to his paintings, but that came over time. If his name was never connected with his works then his art would have no value.

Personal value and economic value entail very different things and I feel as though nowadays, in a world of modernity and liberation of the arts with unlimited boundaries, there is a real inability for one to identify what is or is not 'good' art. Vasari used a progressive view of artistic skill to show how from Cimabue up to Michelangelo, art was improving and its value was rising, but it's not that straightforward anymore. Is Koons' 'Rabbit' actually good or is it just him and his name which has made this piece of art into being worth $91m?


If you disagree, then I would love to hear anyone's opinion on this topic. I have only very briefly touched on it but I will surely write about this again soon because I feel as though its an idea that I would really like to explore.


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