Do not reveal the key to the artworks and the various auction values in advance.

1. Begin by projecting the six images as a whole class. Ask students quickly to write the letters A to G on a slip of paper and then estimate the value that each of the artworks would make at auction. They should do this individually.

2. Next, arrange students in groups of four and provide copies of the 6 artworks. Ask them to repeat the task from Duchamp's fountain and Cage's 4'33'' After several minutes of sharing perspectives, ask the groups to rank the artworks in two different ways:

A. Esthetic beauty

B. Skillful manipulation of the chosen medium in the making process

3. Challenge students to reveal their own estimates and then to reach consensus for auction value of each of the artworks. Then rank them according to:

C. Marketplace value

4. Only at this stage provide copies of the key to the artworks and the various auction values. Allow some cathartic discussion in groups then address the Knowledge Questions below as an entire class.

Printable pdf. of the artworks and the Knowledge Questions.
Printable pdf. of the key to the artworks and auction values. 


A. Peter Paul Rubens (1611–12) Massacre of the Innocents.
This large oil painting on a biblical theme was attributed to a pupil in the 18th century and was only rediscovered in 2002. It sold for $76.7 million. At the time it that the third highest price ever for a painting and the highest auction price ever for an old master. It now hangs in the Art Gallery of Ontario.

B.  Paul Gauguin (1892) Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?) 
Until 2015 the oil painting was at the Fondation Beyeler in Riehen, Switzerland. It was sold to a museum in Quatar for $300 million. This was the highest price paid for any painting!

C. Koko the Gorilla, Bird
A Limited Edition of 3000 prints of this painting are available on the Gorilla Foundation website for $350. Each comes with a certificate Authentication signed by Dr. Patterson. We met Koko in Gorilla language and personhood in Ethics as a Way of Knowing.

D.  Jean-Michel Basquiat (1982) Untitled.  
The painting was sold for $110.5 million on May 2017 to a Japanese billionaire.  This was the highest price ever paid for a work by an American artist and the sixth most expensive ever sold at auction. 

E. Cindy Sherman (1981) Untitled #96 
In 2011, a print of this photograph, which is part of the artist's Centerfold series, sold for $3.89 million, At that time, it was the most expensive photograph ever sold. 

F. Fossil knuckle bone.
This is a natural object found on a beach and has never been presented in a gallery or any other art context. It was used at the beginning of the TOK course in Explore mystery objects by touch alone.

G. Adolf Hitler (1919) Watercolor.
In 2015 the Weidler Auction House in Nuremberg sold 14 signed Hitler artworks for $450,000.


  • To what extent does the marketplace value of an artwork correlate with its quality?

  • Who decides and what factors determine what artists are the most highly valued at any given time?

  • Is it always an advantage to know biographical details of the artist and historical context in order to evaluate an artwork?

  • Can we dismiss the work of an artist or author just because we detest their politics?