What Makes (Minimalist) Art Valuable?

In the art world, high prices are often a hotly debated topic, preoccupying collectors and critics alike. The unimaginable sums achieved at auctions and sales may be difficult for outsiders to comprehend. What makes art so special that so many people willing to spend so much money on it? What makes it so valuable? Is it the story of the artist? Or the subjective aesthetic of the artwork? And how does minimalist art fit into this picture? What is its value in a society that is constantly evolving and looking for new stimuli?

For hundreds of thousands of years, people have expressed their thoughts and experiences through art. Until 500 years ago, art served mainly to represent people, everyday moments, and the divine order, financed by churches, nobles, and kings. In recent centuries, however, art has moved further and further away from its former function and has increasingly become a reflection of human feelings and ideas. Today, it has acquired a more subjective and personal dimension and, in most cases, an aesthetic function.

Minimalist art challenges us to redefine our notions of beauty by abandoning figurative representations. It invites the viewer to immerse themselves in the work and explore their own sensations and thoughts. This makes it valuable to many people.

The difference between market value and intangible value

The market value of art is what first comes to mind for most people when they think about the value of art. It refers to the price someone is willing to pay for it. This can be determined by various factors, such as the reputation of the artist, the originality and authenticity of the work, the quality of the material, or the historical and socio-cultural relevance of the artwork.

The art market is divided into two areas: First, we have the primary market, which focuses on the first sale of a work of art from the artist to the first buyer. Here, prices are largely set by the artists themselves and the galleries. On the other hand, there is the secondary market, which deals with all further sales of an artwork. Here, the price is based on the principle of supply and demand. Auction houses and art dealers are considered the most important intermediaries here. Abstract works of art have been particularly popular for years. The sculpture “Homme qui marche I” by Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti sold for $104.3 million in February 2010! Regardless of this, however, the market value is not always a reliable indicator of the (subjective) value of a work of art.

This is because the intangible value of art, that elusive, highly subjective value, always refers to the emotional, aesthetic, or symbolic value that a work of art has for the viewer. It is much more difficult to quantify than market value. Each work of art has its own story and is unique in its creation and impact. So it is the personal relationship we have with a work of art that makes it valuable to us – and that is completely independent of market value.

The value of art is in the observer.

Agnes Martin

So what makes (minimalist) art valuable? The answer to this question is very complex and multi-layered and would certainly go beyond the scope of this essay. In summary, however, we can state that the value of art is always a combination of market value and intangible value. Art is valued for its ability to evoke emotion, tell stories, convey cultural identities, and make us think and reflect.

Art is valuable because it creates a unique connection between the artist and the viewer and allows us to see the world from a different perspective. But ultimately, the true value of art depends on the meaning we attach to it.

Further Reading


Aesence is an independent art and design publication dedicated to minimalist aesthetics. Founded out of a deep appreciation and fascination, Aesence aims to promote awareness and appreciation of minimalism in art and design.