Art Appraisal or assessing the value of a piece of art is not a precise science but there are methods or protocols which are used by professionals to determine whether to place a high or low value on it.

Although the internet is the logical place to find information, professionals in the field are not overly keen on the use of it as a means of determining the value of an artwork. It is recommended that it is far better, if you are unsure, to get an expert to look at the piece, be they an auction house, museum curator or a scholar rather, than use an unknown internet source or expert. Very often, in this instance, an appraisal is given in an impressive official-looking report, but beware, it can have tax implications. So, in the United States, art appraisers need to be accredited to a major appraisal society such as the AAA, ISA or ASA.

To be an art appraiser definitely requires knowledge and experience, and it is unwise to just dive in as an amateur, because a lot could be riding on your decision. If you are acting as an amateur appraiser for someone else, it is far better to honest if you can’t form a correct judgement. Under those circumstances, it would be best to refer your friend or client to someone else with more experience and expertise. But as a would-be appraiser yourself, approach your appraisal in the following way: examine the work under scrutiny carefully, take notes about its condition, make measurements, and be aware of other physical characteristics and photograph the object. A trick is to look at the back of two-dimensional works to see if you can locate anything written on the back or find stickers possible from a gallery or private collection.

Finding documentation is invaluable, especially about the provenance which will provide useful attributions, purchase information and data about the origins of the piece. Pieces which are assessed from the perspective of the IRS or tax authorities will possibly need more documentation than most.

Then there are insurance considerations, and ‘a fair market value’ is the term used in this context and would tend to be lower than an insurance replacement valuation. To determine whether to go higher or lower here depends on the market for this particular artist or artisan and the purpose of the assessment in the first place. The purpose of the appraisal is really paramount in the way it is considered. For example, is it a valuation seeking tax advantages? In any case, it can’t go higher or lower than the true market indicators. A client may want the appraisal to be lower than it should be for reasons of his own, but this would be tantamount to a misuse of the art appraisal requested.

Mostly it is recommended that professionals are sought out to make art appraisals and one suggestion is to send photographs of the object to well-known auction houses who would be only too glad to advise. However, very often as they know the market, they will give you a lower valuation in order to encourage a sale at auction. Although, the figure suggested still has to be realistic and auctioneers are accountable for deliberately misrepresented valuations. But where reliability is concerned you can't beat the really well-established auction houses. In Britain there are a number of well-known auction houses who will happily look at photographs of a piece of art to appraise its value. Christies and Sotheby's in London are two of the most famous houses. The writer of this article has himself sent in photos of an antique and some art work to Christies; a photo of an Victorian medal and an eighteenth century painting, and felt confident that the appraisals given were realistic. Both auction houses have sister offices overseas and in the USA. However, the caveat here is that normally art has to be antique or if contemporary, can not be the work of rookie artists, unless they have earned the beginnings of a reputation for themselves! The author himself once tested the water by placing one of his own works up for auction in a regional auction house, and the auctioneer only agreed to take it as he was a friend of a friend! It sold! In fact, that 'friend of a friend' frequently sold paintings by the author in her little shop. The point being that dealers are very approachable and they can sometimes suggest someone who can appraise art for you or even do it themselves. This dealer gave me much encouraging advice as an artist.

Understanding conservation is another consideration which shows how time and handling has impacted an object under scrutiny, but once again this appraisal is best made by a credible appraiser. Also bear in mind that the field of art is very broad so seek appraisers with experience in certain specific categories such as the Old Masters or Japanese poster painting.

If you are thinking of becoming an art appraiser yourself there are courses. In the United States the NYU offers certification in art appraisal. It is also advisable to try and network in this capacity using social media and Appraisers Watercooler. However, take care of what you post online as it could potentially damage your credibility. All the other advice regarding having web presence and so forth should be taken if you are seriously thinking of entering this field as a professional.