Courses in art history often involve the study of artistic periods, styles, and movements. Most people, unfortunately, find little value in the history of art in general; it’s too abstract. What people love to learn about is the specific history behind individual pieces of art. People want to know not simply who made it and when, but why they made it and how it came to be.
Most any Hollywood film involving an art heist will, at some point, use the word “provenance”- the paper trail of ownership that leads back to the artist. It lends an air of expertise to the characters dealing with the art that’s about to be stolen. The word is used in the real world, as well, by art appraisers. Knowing the provenance of a piece of art can drastically increase its monetary value. More importantly, it also drastically increases its inherent value to the viewer or the owner of the art. Knowing the story, the history, the life of a piece of art can bring it alive in ways that just observing the art alone cannot.
There are examples of the value of real art history all over the internet. There are hundreds of artists promoting their artwork on YouTube. The viewers and potential customers are able to see the art and the artists as well. They can see them, hear them, learn about them, and watch them present their creations.
The buyers, in this case, not only get a piece of art, but also a video of the piece’s provenance. It’s more than just getting a name and a date on the back of a canvas – they get an actual video explaining its background. The same is true for Etsy and similar sites designed for people who sell creative pieces. There’s a reason why those sites provide a place for the sellers to create a personal profile- it gives potential buyers a connection with the creator of the item they’re admiring.
While the art that people see online may have a lot of value in and of itself, it’s not only the quality of the art that appeals to buyers. People are paying for a story, a history, the real life that led up to the creation of the piece of art. They are paying for the hours of the artists’ lives.
Some art tells its own story through the images it portrays, and other times its history must be researched. One can study just the piece itself or the artistic period, style, and movement it comes from.
Either way, the value of art grows proportionately to one’s understanding of its history and backstory.