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Art Collecting

Many art collectors are influenced by three of these motivating factors. Determining their relative importance to you is the first step you should take before becoming serious about buying art. The basic motivations behind collecting art are:

  • Aesthetics - If you begin collecting because you like beautiful things, continue heeding the oft-repeated maxim in the art world: buy what you love. Let your own tastes dictate what you buy. Do not buy something that you dislike in order to impress others. Judge pieces solely on their merits. Give only secondary consideration to the name of the artist, and to whether or not that person is famous or in demand.
  • Investment - In recent years, it has become increasingly common for financial advisors to suggest buying art as an investment. While this strategy can pay off handsomely if you choose wisely, it nonetheless is far from a sure bet. Predicting which artists and which works will command lofty prices years, perhaps decades, hence is a difficult, if not impossible, proposition. Moreover, art is a highly illiquid market. It may be difficult both to sell a work reasonably quickly and also to realize its fair value. Determining “fair value” is a highly subjective and inexact process in itself. Finding a buyer who is willing to pay this theoretic “fair value” to you is an added challenge. Accordingly, only relatively wealthy individuals should consider holding a significant proportion of their assets in the form of art.
  • Impressing others - For people whose buying of art is motivated by this impulse, what they collect will be determined by whom they are trying to impress. For example, if you are trying to look chic, avant-garde, or cutting edge, that will dictate radically different buying choices than if you want to appear traditional and understated. If your pockets are deep enough, one time-honored method for impressing people is buying works by “big name” artists, with the genre being an entirely secondary consideration.

A semi-retired art dealer told us about a client who compiled a long list of famous artists and set out to acquire one work by each. To do this cheaply, the client sought their worst available works. The result was an extensive and costly collection, filled with big names, but unimpressive nonetheless. By going for quantity rather than quality, the supposedly thrifty collector actually wasted much of his money. The lesson: it usually is wiser to spend more on one fine piece than to spend the same amount on several lesser works.

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