Investing in Art

Sotheby’s auctioneer Adrian Biddell in action. Photo courtesy Financial Times.

“Having bought very little original art and almost always prints… I would love to have more original paintings in my house but feel intimidated by the price tag.
“Does art always appreciate (or do you look at these purchases as an investment)? Do you use that as a factor when purchasing original paintings? Or is my personal appreciation enough and bollocks to the cost? How does one begin?” – E (Austin, TX)

I love this question, E, and as an art appreciator, then collector, then gallery owner, I’ve thought about it a lot.

Don’t Buy Art as a Speculative Investment

First off, if you’re looking for returns on your hard-earned dollars, you’re much better off in the stock market than the art market. There are certainly many cases where the dollar value of a piece of artwork appreciates—even quite significantly—but art isn’t a liquid asset and there are a number of things working against extracting gained value from an artwork. So unless you can afford to buy and hold that incredible Cezanne on the auction block and hold it for 15+ years, I’d discourage you from buying art strictly as a financial investment.

Buy Art You Love

As for “is my personal appreciation enough and bollocks to the cost,” in a way, yes. First and foremost, buy art because you love the work. Cost will always be a factor, but the price paid usually represents how much the buyer values the work. There’s a lot to consider in the pricing of art—how much you love it and why, how big it is, how long you intend to enjoy it (often for a lifetime), and whether or not it’s within your budget.

Original Art Can Be a Great Value

If you consider its lifetime value, art is more affordable than it appears at first. For instance, say you’re in love with a sculpture and it would be perfect in your bedroom nook. It’s priced at $2400. Say you just turned 40, so you hope to enjoy that piece for 40 or more years. So if you break it down, that’s $60/year. Or $5/month. WHAT? That’s basically free! And considering how this piece may improve your life every day—maybe it’s a reminder of something you love, maybe it makes you feel empowered, maybe your mood is lifted by seeing something beautiful—that acquisition starts to really make sense.

Get It While You Can

Switching back to pricing, great artists’ work does generally appreciate in dollar value throughout their career, and this is worth noting for collecting on a budget. The artist you admire and whose work you might be able to afford today might be inaccessible next year. Most collectors (including myself) have experienced this in some form or another, and it can be really frustrating. So if you really love a piece and you can work it into your budget, jump on the opportunity because it likely will not come around again.

I absolutely relate to wanting more originals in my life. They’re very worth it if you can handle the expense; there’s just something special about having the one of a kind.