Is Art an Investment?

Starting in the ’80s, some movers and shakers with money decided that art, like everything else that wasn’t nailed down, should constitute a market — to be bought and sold like stocks.  For them, art became not something to appreciate for its intrinsic value but for its market value.

One investor had in his collection 800 Warhols.  Whether one appreciates Warhol or not, I can’t imagine anyone having 800 works of art in their home that they appreciate and enjoy every day.  The bulk of such a large collection has to be stored or rotated out through auction houses.

The damage created by this “market” was manifold.  What bothers me most is that it completely skewed the value of most hardworking, passionate artists’ work — basically “The 99%” of artists.  If their work (or merely their name) was not on these buyers’ and sellers’ radar, they got priced out of a respectable living.

Art patrons who were not in the “club” began to fear that investment in the art “market” was the only rationale for buying.  Many stopped buying art that they loved, that spoke to them, for fear they would not get a return.  They forgot why people are supposed to own art.

As it has turned out, art as a market investment was yet another bubble, following the NASDAQ and housing bubbles, among others.  In many cases, this “high-end” art is much like derivatives, whose value is questionable at best.  We haven’t seen the end of it yet, but it is breathing its last.

Thank goodness.

Because art IS an investment.  It’s an investment in the lifeblood of your hearth and home.  It’s an investment in the meaningfulness of your daily life.  It’s also an investment in the artist and, if local, an investment in your local art community and culture.  Art is an investment in Life.  It’s an investment in the heart & soul of Humanity.  Like a well-loved and oft-read book, what does it matter if you can’t get more than you paid for it in 20 years?

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