The term “starving artist” is one I often hear when I tell people my goal is to be a painter. On the flip side, keeping up with auction prices at places such as Christie’s reveals that paintings are sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, all the time. So how do we assign a value to art?
The answer lies in the connection between the viewer and the painting, rather than the appearance. A viewer’s reaction to a piece assigns the work its value. If they see a beautifully rendered portrait of your sister, they may admire the skill, but they probably won’t buy it.
They don’t want a portrait of your sister. They want a portrait that could be their sister or daughter or friend or mother, because now they find the work meaningful on a personal level.
The difference is ambiguity. There is an element in the artwork that allows the viewer’s imagination to tell some of the story; The picture provides only a starting point. The more people feel connected to your work, the more valuable it becomes.
If you still believe that the value of art is based solely on appearance, consider this: Artists who forge the work of masters create replica pieces that are difficult to distinguish from the originals. Large amounts of money can be earned selling the fake works and fooling buyers, museums, and often art historians.
However, the minute the painting is proven to be fake, it is worthless. And yet, it looks the same as it had the day before…
The value is in the connection.