How to Calculate Whether a Work of Art is Collectible
For an artwork to be collectible, it means that it’s desired. What fuels this desire however, can be elusive. Spanning cultural, economic and most strikingly, personal factors, the collectibility of a work of art is under constant evolution.
To give you a sense of these factors, here’s our guide to calculating collectibility. From performance on the market, to the differences between old and new art, and the work’s physicality, here are our insights. Just remember however, this is not an exact science - it’s art.
Since the collectability of a work of art is contextual, considering how others have valued it can be a good starting point. One expedient way to do this, is by looking to how the work (or comparable examples) have performed on the market. Generally, consistency is a good sign - as is accumulating value.
But just remember, the market is its own world with its own inexact ways. Touched by the economy, trends and how rare a work feels, don’t think of it as an all mighty Oz.
In terms of older art, the question to ponder is whether the artist is in the ‘canon’. Essentially, to be in the canon is to be a part of art history. This history is told most often via public collections, art historical literature or retrospective exhibitions.
Ethel Spowers's 'Durham Cathedral' for example, is not only valuable for its physical presence, but also because of the history it tells. It speaks to a moment in the life of Spowers and of Australian art. Informed by Japanese printing techniques, as well as a traveller's reverential eye (Spowers was abroad at the time), 'Durham Cathedral' has a rich history.
But heed this - sometimes, for reasons unjust certain artists are omitted from the history of art. An example is the legion of women artists who propelled modernism while their male counterparts went to war. With this in mind, your position as a collector can be vital. By championing work by underrepresented artists you can help expand the story of art.
When considering who has been left out of the canon, Anne Marie Hall (above) is a bountiful rabbit hole to fall into. She was part of the Heide crew, as well as the wife of John Perceval. Beyond this however, Hall's work is also striking. It provides a unique and critical insight into what it was like to be a woman in late-modern Australia.
If you’re after a shortcut, ask yourself how well known an artist is. Someone like Brett Whiteley for example, has transcended art world notoriety to become a household name. Just look at his major motion picture.
In terms of contemporary art - which may be too fresh to hold historical significance - it’s worth still adopting a historical perspective. Try for example, to imagine how desirable a work may be one hundred years from now. Does it illuminate or contribute to our understanding of life today?
For more tangible insights, take note of the artist’s momentum. Are they being recognised by art prizes, curators and art critics? Are they followed on Instagram, exhibited and reviewed?
Remember however, that there will always be artworld mavericks. Despite not starting out in the traditional gallery, street artists for example have produced some of the world’s most valuable imagery.
Looking at the Work Itself
There are some factors that no matter the artist, affect collectibility. These relate to the work itself, when it was made, where it comes from and what it depicts.
First off, consider the work of art’s condition. Understandably, a work kept pristine will hold more value than something weathered. While in principle this is straight-forward, noticing an artefact’s wear and tear takes a trained eye. That’s why we recommend asking your fine art expert for a condition report prior to purchase, especially if it’s an old or fragile object.
Next, ask how well the work represents the artist’s strengths. Is it from a significant period of their career, an iconic subject or especially rare? Charles Blackman’s 'Cat's Claws' (below) for example, testifies to the artist's lifelong and celebrated adoration for felines. Size can also matter, but not always.
Another pertinent perspective is provenance, meaning the work’s history of ownership. Whether it has been cared for, exhibited or published can, in some cases, boost its collectibility. This is another reason why custodianship is so critical.
Patricia Piccinini - 'Stem Cell' (Sculpture)
The collectibility of an artwork may not be a science, but it's also not random. By paying attention to how culture recognises, receives and shares an artist, alongside their performance on the market, you can get a reasonable sense of their collectibility.
As always however, don’t let your head stifle your heart. If you love a work but can’t pinpoint its collectibility, embrace the personal value it promises you. Trust your head, heart and gut.
Discover collectible works of art here.