What is the Value of Art

Kids drawing in front of painting at the Hermitage
  • This lesson explores art as a vital component in the expression of individual, cultural, and human creativity. Students review and evaluate the reasons why people express themselves through art. They scrutinize the difficulty of pinpointing what exactly is important about the role of art (or the arts) in our lives. The lesson also explores the monetary value of art and evaluates it in relation to art’s value as part of cultural heritage.
  • Subject Areas

  • Objectives

    Students will:
    • Understand the importance of works of art as part of cultural and human heritage.
    • Write about their experiences with the arts and explain why those experiences were important.
    • Discuss and debate the monetary value placed on art.
  • Part One

    What Is the Value of Art?
    Divide students into pairs. Have each group generate the top three reasons they think art is important. Share responses with the class.

    Some possible answers and issues for discussion:

    • Art can be valued as a record of human history and achievement.
    • Art can be valued for innovations; it is a record of reflecting changes in how humans perceive and present the world.
    • Art is valued for monetary reasons. In the current art market the most valuable works of art are linked to the major painters of recent history (for example, Pablo Picasso and Gustav Klimt) and even more recent painters such as Mark Rothko. Many old masters fetch high prices as well. The works of some 20th-century artists (for example, Jackson Pollock and Francis Bacon) also have increased in value.
    • Art can be valued for the message it sends or the story it tells.
    • Art can be valued in terms of craftsmanship, how it’s made, and the technical skill of the artist.
    • Art can represent personal, cultural, and political ideas.
    • From the personal standpoint, art is seen as a means of self-expression. Many people get joy from both creating and viewing works of art.

    List and discuss as a class the reasons that student pairs came up with. Then view the following clip.
    • Why Art Matters
    • video goes here
    Compare the class list with Piotrovsky’s comments:

    • Why is art important if it isn’t essential to human survival?
    • What is it that compels people to create art?
    • What do we, the viewers of art, gain by looking at (and interacting with) art?
    • Why do people from virtually all cultures produce art? Do all cultures value art in the same way?
      Do all cultures see art the same way? Why or why not? How do U.S. views of art differ from other cultures? Even within our own society, does everyone agree on what art is? Explain.


    The real value of art is unquantifiable, but it has become a crucial part of human existence. Art objects, as well as other objects of cultural significance, take on value that resonates with humanity. Artworks become important as markers of human achievement. Subjects of art imitate life and therefore provide a mirror in which we can see the similarities of human experience over time.

    Discuss Piotrovsky’s comment that, without art, “We are animals.” Is the ability to create and appreciate art something that distinguishes us from other creatures? Does art hold a central role in the meaning of being “human”?

    What Is Art?
    The arts can be seen as a basic form of communication. Through visual, verbal, aural, and kinesthetic movement, art is a means to express how we as humans live and view the world. It is an impossible task to clearly define what art is, since many people see what we call art in very different ways. Some societies and cultures don’t have a word for art. In other settings, art isn’t seen as a separate enterprise but as something integrated into every aspect of life.

    Have students write a narrative account detailing an important personal experience they have had engaging with the arts (this can include music, dance, drama, or visual art). Each should focus on his or her experience, what was important about the event, and in what way he or she felt changed by it.

    Once students’ narratives are completed, ask for volunteers to share their reflections with the class. After a few have shared, discuss as a group what it is that made these encounters with the arts so important. Were the experiences easy to pin down as to why they were important? Why or why not? How personal were the reactions? What areas of the arts did students most closely associate with?
    • Dr. Malamut Entering Alt Aussee
    • video goes here
    Malamut was a doctor in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was not a Monuments Man.

    There is a startling contradiction between the Nazis’ brutal disregard for life and their emphasis on art and beauty (albeit on their relatively narrow terms). Discuss Malamut’s comment with reference to the ideas explored in this lesson. Draw out additional reactions and discuss. Why did many Nazis seem to value art objects over human lives? What did it mean for them to collect art?

    Malamut says, “All of this accumulated beauty had been stolen by the most murderous thieves that ever existed on the surface of the Earth. How they could retain the nicety of appreciation of great art and be exterminating millions of people nearby in concentration camps, I couldn’t understand then and I can’t understand it today.”
  • Part Two

    Discussing the Monetary Value of Art
    One of the most common questions asked by visitors to museums is “How much is that painting worth?”
    Why are people so fascinated by the monetary values of works of art or other works of artistic value? How does the monetary value of a work of art relate to the value of the work in other ways, such as an object of cultural heritage? What does the dollar value of a work of art tell us about it the work?

    Works of art generally appreciate in value over time. For example, Picasso’s Buste de Femme à la Chemise, 1922 (also referred to as Bust of a Woman), was sold in 1939 at the Fischer Galerie auction in Lucerne, Switzerland, for $1,800. In 2001 the painting sold at auction for $6,500,000.

    As a class, list some reasons that most works of art increase in value over time. Explain that works by famous artists (such as Picasso) generally go for higher prices. After an artist dies, the value of the work (particularly if the artist was famous) goes up. The rarer and more prized the object, usually the more expensive it is.



    Discuss the economics of the art market. Elicit student reactions.
    • To what extent does a higher price increase the importance of a work of art? How does the price of a work change people’s perceptions of the work’s importance?
    • To expand the discussion, explore the commerce of the art market to some other industries. Do athletes earn too much? Film stars? People in the music industry?
    • Draw out students’ reaction and make comparisons to the heavy hitters in the art world. Athletes, film and music stars earn their fees when they are alive. Which artists fetch the highest prices? Are those artists alive? How do students feel about the fact that many artists are honored only after their death? (There’s a reason for the term “starving artist.”)

    Shape a class discussion about the values associated with art from the classroom conversation in the first part of the lesson—and compare those values to the monetary associations.
  • Assessments

    Student assessment will be based on their completion of the written personal narrative and participation in class discussions.
  • Standards

    National Council of the Social Studies
    II. Time, Continuity, and Change
    IV. Individual Development and Identity
    V. Individuals, Groups, and Institutions

    Language Arts more info
    Writing Standard 4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes.
    Level III [Grades 6–8]
    7. Writes narrative accounts, such as short stories Level 4. [Grades 9–12]
    8. Writes compositions about autobiographical incidents
    Level IV [Grades 9–12]
    11. Writes reflective compositions.

    National Standards for Arts Education
    Achievement Standard [Grades 5–8]
    Content Standard 4: Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures
    Students describe the function and explore the meaning of specific art objects within varied cultures, times, and places.
    Achievement Standard [Grades 9–12]
    Content Standard 6

    • Students make connections between visual arts and other disciplines.
    • Advanced: Students synthesize the creative and analytical principles and techniques of the visual arts and selected other arts disciplines, the humanities, or the sciences.
  • The Greatest Theft in History: Lesson Links

Download Resources

Videos