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Art Appraiser

What They Do

Insider Info

When you explore a museum, keep in mind that all the paintings and sculptures are appraised. This is in case anything is stolen, but also so the public knows how much a museum's collection is worth.

An art appraiser who does their research correctly pleases sellers and buyers of fine art. They will then receive and pay the right amount of money. The worth of art is based on whether the artist is known and what that artist's work has sold for in the past.

However, appraiser Kimball Sterling says there is a value that can't be researched -- beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What one person may not see the worth in, another person is willing to pay a sum of money for. That is why, he says, it is not uncommon for three different appraisers to value a piece at three different prices.

A work is appraised if art is being donated or a purchase is being considered. Also, if a company is being liquidated or a couple is divorcing, certain personal objects may require an appraisal. Appraisals are done when banks need collateral for a loan or when an insurance company wants to settle on a stolen item.

"Appraisers witness and evaluate," says Michigan appraiser Gerri Samples, who owns her own business. "This actually means observing, measuring, analyzing, researching and comparing -- all skills shared by the sciences and arts."

"You need the skills that are closely attuned to detective work, sleuthing for details and the truth about what items really sell for," says appraiser Kathryn Minard.

Many appraisers will find themselves in court as an expert witness, primarily in divorce cases, says Sterling. These are the most dangerous situations for appraisers because, he says, they are in the middle of a bitter quarrel.

Two well-known auction houses where appraisers can learn of values placed on art are Sotheby's and Christie's. Internet auction sites are another way of determining the market value of an art object. Perhaps the best known site is eBay.com.

Sterling, who owns an appraisal and auction business, believes that 70 percent of appraisers are in business for themselves. The best way to learn the industry, he says, is to apprentice with someone who knows the ropes.

Samples says she wishes she had learned more about running a business before becoming an appraiser. Art appraisers can also work for museums, large insurance companies or auction houses.

Because you often work for yourself, wages are set by your ability to market yourself and the demand for your skills, says Samples. "This is a job you would be advised to go into part time until you have developed a clientele and following," she says.

To excel in the field, Samples recommends a good eye, strong curiosity, analytical skills and a love of reading. Minard tells those interested to develop a background in art history, learn the fundamentals of personal property valuations and network within the art market.

At a Glance

Determine how much a piece of art is worth

  • Art appraisers carefully document and support their findings
  • Many appraisers will find themselves in court as an expert witness
  • You'll need to know all about art and its markets