In third grade art class, you are taught about the life and artwork of extremely famous artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, but these artists often barely made a living off of their artwork when they were alive. Why, after their death, do they become more famous and their artwork can be sold for millions, as one of Van Gogh’s sold for $111 million in 2017? This is blamed on the ‘death effect,’ the idea that an artist’s work will increase in value after their death.
One reason for the death effect is that after an artist dies, they stop producing work and the competition for what work is left increases. This is the case especially for art investors who buy artwork before an artist dies and intentionally sell it after their death because they know the value of the work will increase. “The death effect is very true because artists are no longer making work, so there are fewer works, and anything that becomes rarer goes up in value. So, it makes sense in a monetary way with supply and demand,” art teacher Malinda Pierce said.
Another reason for the death effect is due to buyers and sellers who use the artist’s death as a way to sell the work for more money. This implies that an artist’s death does not make their work more valuable, but the dealers manipulate the idea of the death effect for their own profit. “This is an idea often used by art dealers in order to convince their clients to invest in art, regardless of its perceived quality, based on the fact that the artist is going to die soon – at which point the work will instantaneously become more valuable,” according to The Oxford Student.
The death effect does not happen overnight. It can take centuries after an artist’s death for their work to become more valuable. After Van Gogh died, his artwork remained undiscovered. “It took more than a decade for [Van Gogh’s] works to begin circulating around Europe… From this point, the increase in the value of his art began to accelerate and his paintings are now amongst the most expensive ever sold at auction,” according to The Oxford Student.
The death effect is typically associated with old painters and sculptors, but it is still present in all art forms. Current artists who die, especially young, are often discussed in the news and their popularity then grows. “Following the death of Mac Miller… on-demand streams of his music in the U.S. climbed by 970 percent,” according to Billboard.com.