What you’re looking at right now is the world’s most expensive painting. It’s called Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci, and it was sold at an auction for $450 million in 2017.
How did they get to that number? I have no idea.
If you’re selling a rice bowl, it’s easy to price your dish because the market will take care of it. There are other rice bowls, and they’re all selling at a similar price range. If your price is too high, you’ll be forced to correct it soon, otherwise, no one will want to buy your rice bowl.
But a work of art can easily be overvalued or undervalued. No one really knows what the value of an art piece is.
The art market is a different market, as explained by Professor Olav Velthuis in this Vox article.
“The art market functions as a big consensus marketing machine,” Velthuis continued. “so what people do is look at quality signals. Those signals can be for instance what an important curator is saying about an artist; if [the artist] has exhibitions in museums; if influential collectors are buying his work. Because everybody is, to some extent at the least, looking at the same signals, at one point they start agreeing [on] who are the most desirable artists.”
How do people price artwork?
According to Dr. Clare McAndrew in this video, there are some factors that determine the price of an artwork, specifically a painting:
- features of the work (size of the artwork, the medium and the production cost, the date of the artwork, the subject matter, recognizability, condition, provenance/history of ownership/authenticity, exhibition history, rarity)
- the artist (who they are, their relative fame, their role in the history of their movement, importance of artistic group)
- the time and the place of the sale
What is happening behind the scenes?
Artists usually work tirelessly on their artwork for months, and then sell it when they’re finished. A book can take years from the first ideation process to when it’s ready to be printed. The artists have no idea what their work would be worth for the audience, and yet they still work on it, because they have something to say with their art.
But all of this hard work, what they’re doing behind the scenes, used to be not as exposed as it is today.
You used to have no idea what your favorite actress is having for lunch. Or whether your favorite painter is having doubts about their work. Everyone, including artists, used to work behind closed doors, minding their own business, and then get out of their caves once in a while when they have produced a body of work.
They’re almost as seen as geniuses who carved beautiful work out of nothing.
But today, the ‘behind the scenes’ are everywhere. Artists, actors, writers, are all sharing their lives on the Internet. And turns out, they’re human just like us!
As a result, we’re more and more interested in the backstory, we want to see how the art forms, how the artist does their ‘magic’.
But, where does that leave us?
Now that we’re able to see these behind-the-scenes, are we seeing them in the same way as we used to see them back before the Internet existed? Are we losing our appreciation of them and their hard work because it seems so doable now that the process is on display? Does it give an illusion that the process is easy or less magical than people used to believe?
More importantly, when people already know the ‘tricks’, will they be willing to pay for the show?
The dilemma of letting your creativity out in public
We haven’t even talked about the effects that the Internet has on these artists. They are, as the people of Twitter say, building in public. It’s originally a method for startup founders to overshare what they’ve been through, how much they’re making, and how they’re doing marketing or coding their application. By sharing these things, they hope to become viral, and that attention will help market their product.
This is similar to what artists are doing on their social media. They’re sharing how their Etsy shop is doing this month, and how they did that one painting. Like how this young artist that I love, Matthew Sorgie, shared how he did a painting for a music video.
Building or being creative in public is awesome, but I recently read this interview with Juvoni Beckford, a pretty well-known Twitter person. He’s grateful that he’s not building in public for years previously:
I think I’m glad I took that approach as opposed to working in public. I think on the long-term. Three, five, ten years is when I’m really letting something cook. And I started from a young age, so I’m still relatively young. I still have a lot more time to reinvest into these things. With working in public, the feedback loop to the external world is so fast that it can change your priorities, because you’re optimizing towards what the audience wants and what the audience resonates with. Because I was in lurk ghost mode for eight to ten years, I was able to do the hard work that was thankless. No validation, just in the dungeon, just doing the work. I have given myself time to incubate those ideas and to develop maturity and discipline. And now I can share some of what I learned with the world.
The same chance for every artist
We are all privileged now that everyone can create something and share it with the world. It’s becoming a more flat world (not to be confused with the flat earth). In fact, we’re getting a looser description of an artist, or someone who has a creative outlet and produce creative work. A creator, I think that’s what the world calls them now.
And that’s great. That actually could solve the problem that the same Vox article mentioned:
Access to art seems to be increasingly concentrated among the superrich. As the rich get richer, collectors are paying increasingly higher prices for works made by a handful of living artists, leaving emerging artists and the galleries that represent them behind. Then there’s the question of who even gets to be an artist. Art school is expensive, and an MFA doesn’t automatically translate to financial success in such a competitive industry.
We’re seeing a lot of young artists getting viral on TikTok, Instagram, Youtube. Devon Rodriguez recently reached 1 million followers on Instagram, from his TikTok video that went viral.
The dream: people make a living from their art
The Salvator Mundi painting is definitely an outlier in the art world. And it didn’t even support the life of the artist, because the artist wasn’t around anymore. Maybe there will be another Salvator Mundi painting in the future, but for now, at least let’s make sure that artists can make a living from their art.
Let technology help distribute profit more evenly for artists around the world.