When we talk about art appreciation, we are not talking about how art rises or depreciates in value, but how we assess its merits in general, using our senses and knowledge.

Art appreciation in this respect sets out to recognise and uncover the unique qualities of an item of craftsmanship, done either by an artist or artisan, whether it be traditional art or sculpture, decorative furniture or whatever, and calls upon a certain degree of knowledge of the subject under scrutiny. It also helps to be interested in the genre of artwork we are focussed on.

Then there are also other factors such as one’s personal preferences, gut feelings, likes and dislikes which could easily colour a point of view. But to be objective, these have to be kept in balance. For example, a passion for sculpture may skew the observer away from the relative value of a piece of ceramic under observation. By this I mean that it's all too easy to look at a piece and not realise the value of it because our interest lies with other forms of media.

So it is important to be open minded. But probably it is a good overall plan to specialise and concentrate on the kind of art you really personally like. Is it painting? If it is, then what subdivision are you naturally attracted to – Expressionism, Surrealism, contemporary art movements or art trends in general etc?

For the ordinary man or women usually a personal preference can blind one to the merits of a piece of art in another category. You may love landscapes but can’t stand ‘Art Brut’ and might miss an investment opportunity without realising it. Appreciating art definitely requires discernment and broadmindedness, and that can only come from experience and doing much observation; studying pieces in catalogues or those that are actually to hand. You also have to be very forgiving of the liberties that artists take with their muse.

Then there is the ability to sift the obvious from the more obscure. There are commonalities which crop up time and time again and it is worth making a note of them. This requires an ability to spot them and appreciate other subtleties, which will greatly hone your judgement of artwork in general and help you see the sometimes almost invisible finer points of a piece. This involves developing your sensibilities and being mindful of well-established facts in relation to the genre of art you are interested in.

It’s hard to form an independent opinion especially if critics have already formed a consensual view which is generally accepted. But a point of view which is widely accepted usually becomes cast in stone and goes on to influence the popularity of an artist or artisan and affect the prices of work being sold. This is a pattern which you would be sensible to adhere to, even if you hate the pieces themselves. For example, it would have definitely been worth buying early Basquiet’s, even they weren't to your taste and I'm speaking personally here! The writer of this article is not keen on Basquiets but loves their ability to grow as investments!

However, if I had encountered Basquiet before he became famous, would I have instinctively purchased anything he was painting? I think not, which is why it is important to look into the background of the artist concerned, especially if he is an unknown entity. I would try to ascertain if the artist was serious about his art – this is key because it suggests there will be some forward career momentum. A part-time artist who is not ambitious or is ambivalent about their work is likely not to make much of an impression on the market. In Basquiet’s case, he had a passion and a drive. These would have been clues to his future recognition. So it is essential that your subjective appreciation must be separated from your objective one to make the best call.

Sometimes , as in the above example, your feelings towards a piece can be hostile or completely neutral, in which case you may again have to look into the personal background or history of the artist or artisan himself. Generally, it is unlikely that you would be able to speak to the artist concerned and so you will have to try and do some research. If you discover that the artist have or have had an obvious passion or obsession for a certain styling or subject matter, this might increase the value of the piece under scrutiny. An artist who specialises tends to have a unique style or approach which is something the market take cognisance of.

But if you are still flummoxed, it is probably best to move on, but research is always important to developing a fuller assessment of what you are looking at. It has long been this writers view that the personality of an artist or artisan is probably more influential in the marketplace than the art itself. Was Picasso really a great artist or was he just a great personality. I think the answer is yes to both questions, but I think his dynamic persona had much to do with his success.

Art is something which we ‘feel’ more than we ‘intellectualise’ about initially, although this aspect comes later. But understanding the elements of art will sharpen your ability to spot what is worthwhile. To that effect, learning about art is easy. Getting books on the subject and obtaining auctioneer’s catalogues will help familiarise yourself with the type of art you are interested in and can go a long way in helping you make out the finer aspects of it. With more knowledge comes the ability to drill down into your subject with greater confidence.

Art as a subject is vast as there are so many different types of art as we know, but getting to know the broad streams is useful and can be done in an afternoon! The opinions of critics, especially those who review a show can be enlightening and will introduce you to the elements that critics pay attention to. Get hold of magazines which contain such reviews or deal with the art world generally. Art Appreciation is a skill which can be acquired in a couple of years by steadily and daily acquainting yourself with the field of art in all its multifarious forms. If you set out to read an article a day on this subject and acquire some art books and get to know the main ‘actors’, movers and shakers, innovators and prestigious galleries and what they stock, then you’ll become more expert. You will also hone your instincts and be drawn to sounder investments.