BETWEEN Damien’s pickled sheep and Tracey’s tent it is easy to laugh at the world of contemporary art. But there is serious money floating around this sector, as a new BBC4 documentary, The Price of Everything, makes clear.

Director Nathaniel Khan speaks to artists, collectors, auctioneers and other keen observers of Planet Art, where a balloon dog can be yours for a mere $52 million, as long as it has the name Jeff Koons attached.

“Art and money have always gone hand in hand,” says auctioneer and collector Simon de Pury. “It is very important for good art to be expensive. You only protect things that are valuable.”

The hook for the film is a forthcoming auction at Sotheby’s in New York featuring many landmark works of the last and current centuries. The job of bringing the auction together, and trying to explain to Khan and the viewer what makes great art, falls to Sotheby’s Amy Cappellazzo, a zingy New Yorker and one of several excellent value talking heads in the film.

Everything about Khan’s documentary, from the way it is shot to the quality of the contributors, is top drawer. It is one of those programmes that makes you feel cool just by watching it, even as you sit there in your home with Habitat prints on the wall.

Oh to live within the walls of collector Stefan Edlis’s fabulous New York home, stuffed as it is with some of the pieces he has bought over the years. Edlis and his wife acquired a Koons’ steel Rabbit in 1991 for $945,000. Today, you would not get much change out of $65 million.

Not everything Edlis buys turns to gold, though. Take one of Damien Hirst’s black sheep, for example. Bought for $5 million, but not worth that now. “Damien’s prices have gone down,” says Edlis silkily.

But who decides what is in and what is not, which artist to buy and which to avoid? The artists interviewed, from Koons to Larry Poons, have their own thoughts about artistic value, with Poons an illuminating study of fame’s fickle ways.

Poons and his “dot” pictures were once as hot as Koons, but he did not want to keep doing the same thing and so fell out of favour. Now, because his new work, being unknown, does not command such a high price as his old stuff, dealers regard it as worth investing in. Buy low, sell high: the law of the market applies to art as much as it does coffee or widgets.

The same law leads to what seem like crazy prices. Gerhard Richter, whose paintings sell for between $20-30 million each, says: “It is not good if this [one of his works] is the value of a house. It is not fair.” Like other artists he would prefer his work to be bought by a museum where many people can see it, instead of it vanishing into a private collection or storage. Not that many of the artists see much of the big money. In some cases they have to watch as a work that initially fetched a relatively small sum soars in value as one dealer after another buys and sells it.

The Sotheby’s sale, when it arrives, is a swish, frenetic affair, all international phone lines, waving paddles and an auctioneer conducting the giddy whirl like it is an orchestra. As you watch, mouth agape, at the money sloshing around, you cannot help but wonder, alongside some of the more beady-eyed observers, how long the market can keep growing at this pace.

To some, the bubble came close to bursting with Maurizio Cattelan’s gold toilet, a piece titled “America”.

“The reckoning has begun,” says one observer. “This is the end of empire.”

Anyone watching this and thinking they might try their hand at abstract art or sculpture and become rich overnight should heed the warning of one commentator: “99.999% of artists don’t have money.”

Now, Westminster is doing it, Holyrood, BBC Question Time, and Have I Got News for You too. We’re even doing it here on The Herald magazine, every Monday at 12 (boy, I could tell you some tales). Next week BBC Scotland’s Debate Night will get into the video conferencing business.

With studio audiences not possible under social distancing rules, the new series of the politics Q&A programme, will see questioners dial in from their homes to a panel of politicians and public figures.

The first show, hosted as usual by Stephen Jardine, will be open to callers from across Scotland, then the programme will go on a virtual tour, taking questions from viewers in Glasgow (May 6), Orkney and Shetland (May 13), Aberdeenshire (May 20), Perth (May 27), Dumfries and Galloway (June 3), Western Highlands and Islands (June 10), finishing with Edinburgh and the Lothians (June 17).

The Price of Everything, BBC4, Monday, 9pm; Debate Night, BBC Scotland, Wednesday, 10.30pm.