As tastes in art are incredibly subjective, the value of any particular piece can seem like it has been decided upon on a whim. But while this may even be true for many a piece of art being sold today, there are many factors that can be defined and influence the value and as such, the price of our art.
The main factor is obviously politics; when the first mega-agent Joseph Duveen was at the height of his career, selling European art to wealthy American collectors, the mere fact that a piece was sold by Duveen himself made it more valuable — they even called such work a “Duveen”.
If a work of art has been in the possession of any wealthy or powerful individual, or was talked about fondly by any acclaimed art critic, its price tends to increase quite a lot. But as politics are convoluted enough to be an art form by themselves — prices of works can go up even if a horrible critique was published and it’s incredibly hard to have any influence on the market without a strong network of powerful people— I would like to focus more on the factors that are absolutely under control.
The big one is quality; the mere material quality of our art and the aesthetic quality that we can deliver. As we are now talking about the non-fine art market, where beauty and other aesthetic experiences actually do count (a lot), having work that creates a captivating experience is extremely important.
But I don’t believe we necessarily need to make our art look good, because even under normal, every-day circumstances, people are guided by subjective tendencies when acquiring art. What is important is to know exactly what and who our products are for.
There are roughly 9 emotional states, through which people make buying decision: 1) instant gratification 2) fear and/or guilt, 3) trust, 4) belonging, 5) external validation, 6) helping others, 7) competition, 8) status and 9) purpose.
Obviously instant gratification doesn’t quite fall into the artistic product category, as we make art not Twinkies, and fear is more a playground for insurance companies than artists. Unless your next Facebook ad will be titled: “Empty wall space causes cancer and impotency, researchers find” I think no art should ever be sold or produced to incite fear or guilt for that matter. That’s just not what it’s for anymore.
Trust on the other hand is extremely important, because if your collectors can’t trust you (especially if you have no representation to act as the intermediary), it’s close to impossible to ever get more than one sale across, and as such impossible to have a real career — long-term supporters and collectors are invaluable, because the longest part of any business relationship is building trust; sales and figures really don’t matter as much.
If we come to a place where we have the trust of a few people, the main goal is to actually have our art aligned with their wants; some like to belong to a greater cause, a big group. You could provide the best environment for all of your fans and collectors to really connect with each other and provide a strong link between all of them, like a special club that brings value to its members.
Some need external validation, be it in the form of an object or art piece or via a human being that they care for. You could aim at finding a personal narrative that speaks to such a need and create art about it (obviously anything we do should also be inline with our own perspectives); provide an experience for people who need something to help them express their abilities and value to others by providing them with something that can help them get such a message across.
The same goes for helping others; we could focus on making incredibly positive art, that could be used as a gift to cheer someone up or lighten-up someones home, or we could really focus and produce art around memento mori, and aim only at those that feel that bittersweet love for martyrdom or understand pain as a positive reinforcer of character.
We can focus on competition and status and create art that feels and looks like a brand new Ferrari, but is more in-tune with people who like to hang the embodied extensions of their privates on their walls.
And then, there is purpose. The highest and truest (in my opinion at least) function of art. We can make our work express purpose, we can make it radiate the sublime and stand as a pillar that holds open the crevice connecting this world with the world of pure aspiration and fulfilment.
As we move up the reasons for purchasing art, we also should move up in value and consequently in price. The reality is beauty is cheap and easy to find nowadays, but purpose — people would give everything if they could really find their purpose in life.