Methods to Assessing Contemporary Art

Contemporary Art comes in many different forms. In fact, some may question what does and does not qualify as contemporary art, but technically speaking, it is art produced currently, beginning in the late 20th century. Knowing that this covers an immense range of works, how can one truly ASSESS such a diverse group? There are different approaches to assessing contemporary art, some of which are embraced by different art “experts”, hence the need for art appraisers. Other than the information you gain under the guidance of a professional art advisor—one of the best ways to truly become educated about art—you can learn to understand the signs of good contemporary art. Let’s look at the two major attitudes surrounding the assessment (determination of value) of contemporary art:

Assessment based on Technical (Dare we say “Official”?) Approach

When assessing contemporary art, there are some “standards” by which you can judge, and determine value of, the piece. Some of the considerations include:


  • Technical execution. Does the artist execute the medium well, with no obvious “mistakes” evident in the work? Does it stand out above other works in the genre or of the subject? Does the piece have strong composition, maximizing the space within the piece (as in a painting, drawing or photograph) or utilize the medium (as in sculpture) as much as possible?
  • Appropriateness. Is the work something which is “current” or a fad, which is easily copied by other artists, or does it have characteristics which would be appreciated in the future? If it is too representative of the past (in content or method), it may seem decorative and not carry as much value.
  • Creative. There is a balance between utilizing tools and mediums common at the time of creation, while finding innovative uses for these elements. Does the artist offer a new vision within current practices?
  • Personal Story. Without being autobiographical, does the artist provide a story (whether their own or that of the subject matter) within the work? Does the viewer feel “invited” into the image, and are feelings invoked by the audience, even discovering their own interpretation of the subject matter? It is important for an artist to find a balance in the experience, as if it is too personal, the viewer will feel like an outsider, and not be drawn to the art.

State of artist’s career: Is the artist just beginning his/her career? Their first exhibitions are often group shows, and they often don’t have enough works to warrant an exclusive show. Mid-career artists have often achieved some recognition, with several pieces already sold and a few solo exhibitions under their belt. Established artists are those with stable careers, having sold works regularly over many years, and often have international notoriety.

Gallery exhibitions: Does the artist have works in a gallery—how many pieces and are they selling regularly? Do you see prices of the artist’s work rising? How popular or well-respected is the gallery? Just being IN a gallery, although an achievement, doesn’t necessarily equate to a guarantee that the artist will be successful.

Assessing Contemporary Art based on Subjective Approach

The creative nature of art also lends itself to differing views of assessing contemporary art. When you approach the task of determining value (significance, worth, impact, etc.), using less quantitative, more emotive means. Artists, art students, and art enthusiasts provide different input when it comes to determining the artistic value (rather than monetary) of a work of contemporary art.

  • Does the art invoke feelings in the audience or cause a strong reaction? Does it challenge their views on the subject matter?
  • Does the piece cause the viewer to ponder deep feelings within themselves of a time, an experience, a relationship they had which is represented in the art?
  • Many artists will explain that their best work comes under duress, either from a political or economic standpoint, experiencing a traumatic situation, or while challenged to create something when inputs or concepts are scarce.
  • Does the artist find inspiration and beauty hidden in everyday experiences or items? It is common for contemporary artists to discover art in spaces overlooked by mankind.
  • Is the artist articulating a theme which cannot be explained with words, either due to complexity, divisiveness, or a general fear to explain it?
  • The audience wants to connect with the subject matter. Does the viewer fully understand the content, or is it left open to interpretation and personal experience?
  • Is there true context in the work, especially when it is a public installation, large sculpture, or otherwise shocking in subject, material, or color?

Choosing Your Style of Assessing Contemporary Art

In general, there likely needs to be balance of these two factions when considering assessing contemporary art. Due to the investment potential of art, there will always be a financial valuation to works which collectors will take into consideration when choosing pieces. There will be those who are driven to collect based on this aspect, while others select pieces based on personal taste and the more subjective approach. Finally, there is the collector who attempts a balance at both. This is truly where having an art advisor can be beneficial; helping new collectors select pieces which appeal to them and provide an attractive investment.

For those who want to maintain that balance, Sybaris Collection offers advisory services. Our network of art professionals can help you with the journey of collecting art, from determining your taste, finding and selecting pieces, having them appraised, and choosing the ideal display location. Let Sybaris find a piece that speaks to you, provides a story you can connect to, and fits your taste and budget.