The question isn’t whether buying art is worth it. It’s more like how to buy art that makes owning art worth it and why this is so important.
Let’s break down the meaning of all of this.
Art buying and collecting is certainly a pastime many take part in for their own reasons. Some folks collect art simply because they love it. Others do it because (1) they love it and (2) they believe the artists they are purchasing work from will one day be worth millions (3) others do it purely to support the artist and the power of art-making (4) some do it for a combination of reasons 1-3 and other reasons unnamed (5) and still others solely purchase art for the ROI.
The short end of the conversation is that collecting is an investment. The long end of buying art is, there are a few pointers worth noting if you want to have a collection worth owning and understand why society needs art.
We’ll be dropping 4 reasons that explain why buying art is more than worth it. Nip some art myths in the bud, and educate you on how to make sure you’re on the right side of these worthy investments.
1. The voice of generations and ancient civilizations
We live in an ironic world. As much as it seems money and power make the world go round, let’s venture to say art has a thing or a million, to do with why the world doesn’t completely stop.
Seems like an exaggeration? Consider this.
Art has been around since the beginning of time, since before society was calling art, well…art. Perhaps, people didn’t view these icons as art but it’s hard to take away their power. From The Pyramids of Giza (the great pyramid and tallest is around 481 ft), hieroglyphics, and The Great Sphinx of Giza we laid eyes are the wonders of art-making. The Sphinx, by the way, according to Tikkanen is actually the most renowned recognizable symbol of the greatest works of sphinx art. It was made of limestone dating back to 2575-c to 2465 BCE.
Sculptures of this stature represented the wealth and power of civilizations. And in the ancient period, Egypt was the richest and most powerful. These status symbols are similar to the way art collections often have their ties to the wealthy today.
Fast forward a bit and you’ll recognize some of these famed paintings, the Mona Lisa painted by Leonardo Di Vinci in 1503, the Sistine Chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo completed in 1512, and later works coined as the first examples of fine art in the 20th century circa the 1900s; The Weeping Woman and Self-Portrait by Pablo Picasso and The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali circa 1931.
So, whether a piece of art turned into a monument respected the world over, the fact of the matter is art told civilizations that came after that aphorism “ We Were Here”.
Art is that symbol of life that we simply cannot escape and quite frankly may not want to. This is the way humanity has always left its signature. Its marks… and often its lessons of what not to do.
Art is worth buying, first because it’s worth creating. It is the voice of civilizations past that reverberates like supreme surround sound into the futures we may not be around to comment on.
Ask yourself, what having a voice means to you.
Now, apply it to art.
“Arts and culture make considerable and necessary contributions to the well-being of communities. Arts and culture are powerful tools with which to engage communities in various levels of change. They are a means to public dialogue, contribute to the development of a community’s creative learning, create healthy communities capable of action, provide a powerful tool for community mobilization and activism, and help build community capacity and leadership.”
– Creative City Network of Canada
2. Buying art encourages artists to keep creating and helps make society healthier and happier
Art has been a source of emotional and mental well-being for children and adults alike. It has been the difference for many between life and death. Suffice it to say, art has quite literally kept people alive or been the rehabilitating factor in the lives of those suffering traumatic injuries, mental health challenges, or those who have been disabled in some way at birth.
Artists have held brushes with their toes and still, others were forced to paint from their beds such as iconic artists like Mattise who was stricken with cancer, Frida Khalo who survived a bus accident, and Tracey Emin who had a long episode of depression.
When the artist heals, the artist heals. Most of us know the adage, hurt people hurt people, well, healed people heal people too. Artists hold up the mirror for the rest of us and reflect the things we don’t so readily see. The heavily criticized sculpture by Emin did this and perhaps broke some depression spells for those who fell in love with the work “My Bed”. Shelley Jones of huck Magazine stated some of the criticism as, “ ‘anyone could display an unmade bed’ to which Emin famously retorted: ‘Well they didn’t did they?’” Her sculpture can be viewed at the Tate Britain.
Just as art helps the artist it also bleeds directly into communities. Whether we make art to emulate the works we adore or ensure our children have access to art programs during or after school, art is how we heal, survive, grieve, celebrate, speak our truth, and reduce stress.
“Participants provided saliva samples to assess cortisol levels before and after 45 minutes of art making. Participants also provided written responses about the experience at the end of the session. Results indicate that art making resulted in statistically significant lowering of cortisol levels.”
–Journal of the American Art Therapy Association
We buy art to keep the artist from starving and to help the art world continue producing. Some may wonder how art can be so expensive or what gives it its value. In the same way, might we wonder why star athletes get million-dollar contracts and sponsorships and fans don’t bat an eye? Are football game tickets worth buying? The same way famed sportsmen and women must keep food on the table, so too must artists.
We buy art because we have to.
3. How art gets its value
Originals vs Mass Produced
The word original implies a certain valuation of a work of art. When the work is original there is a limited release or run. Usually, in this case, the work that has only itself and no duplications will be the most highly valued and also the most sought after.
The artist only made one.
Of course, originals are not only linked to there being one piece like it. But originals are the firsts of their kind, not printed or mass-produced in any way. However, this would look different for a photographer.
Photographers may choose to develop a limited run of a rare photo. They could choose to only print 50 or 150 prints of that photo. These could also be signed editions. They are no less original than the photo that was taken but can have accessories like signatures that make it original and limited. And definitely more original than a print that does not contain the real, original signature. The value increases with the decrease in available prints or copies. Between originals and mass production, less is more.
When a piece is mass-produced and thousands or hundreds of thousands of the image or painting can be found anywhere, from your local flea market or thrift shop to the poster rack of a vintage record store those generally aren’t worth much.
Mass production has just gotten easier to do and doesn’t have any roots in scarcity the way an original painting would, without any mass production behind it. Your original can sell for millions while your mass-produced print before long might find itself in a Good Will bin.
Mass production has its upsides though. For the avid art collector that just wants to share in the joys of ownership of highly regarded works without the cost, mass production makes art collecting realistic and budget-friendly. The flipside of mass-producing art is akin to a rolled-up mattress that doesn’t require white glove delivery. Something gets cut somewhere.
When art is reproduced in the cheapest formats there is less texture and richness. Other reproduction methods can capture that texture and translate every stroke of the original painting into reproductions making them more costly but not necessarily as valuable as originals.
Then the question may become, what makes an original, original?
What pleases the art world to say, now this original has more value than that original? Perhaps it’s the Clement Greenberg explanation that “All profoundly original artwork looks ugly at first.”
Some of the most praised works of art by iconic artists today, was frowned upon and snorted at. The art world turned up its nose at works that sell for millions today.
It seems the scoff at the original eventually turns into praise which then doubles down on scarcity. With the determination that there will never be another one like it and it was not reproduced or duplicated by the artist in any way, its one-of-one nature garners it the right to expense.
Now, the best way to get in on an original work that could potentially appreciate in value over the years is to follow a new artist (that you love). When you enjoy their work and have a few hundred dollars of disposable income (or less), it does no harm to support that artist. So, the next time you happen at an art walk and find an interesting artist vending works that have not and will not be duplicated, support; as Renda Writer said, “Support the scene or there will be no scene to support.”
While you begin supporting original works from artists you love you absolutely want to mind the way your store work.
The materials artists use helps to facilitate this process. Premium materials are engineered for staying power and artists who intend to be around for some time will know to invest in the best quality materials. This usually means that the materials, all of them, have some acid-free qualities.
Acid-free materials selections even cycle down to the framing of the work. If you are using any frames they must be acid-free. Stay away from plastic as well as it can later breed humidity which woud then breed mold. The acid-free nature of the materials used in the making of any paintings or mixed media works helps increase the longevity. It also makes keeps bleeding low or nonexistent and allows for the inks or paints to remain in the original positions they were placed.
However, once you are the proud owner of the work it’s up to you to store it properly. The first thing a novice collector may want to do is display the work. This is the fun part but if done incorrectly it could actually damage the work. If you want to be incredibly careful you can purchase a print alongside the original if possible. You can keep the original stored and the print displayed.
When storing your paintings they should be in climate-controlled areas. Damp or humid spaces are not helpful to the life of your painting nor direct sunlight. You want to avoid color fading or distortion. Humidity will kill your artwork. This means absolutely no attics or basements.
A novel idea though could be to treat an extra closet as a storage room instead of expanding your wardrobe. The room has to be fully contained and be devoid of windows or its own vents. Direct sunlight, air, humidity, or dust can damage your collection. It is also necessary to take photos of your work to protect against theft or damage.
According to Artwork Archive keeping a inventory in photo format along with a report of each paintings condition is essential to maintaining your collection. It is customary that whenever the work is opened or examined and or in some way removed from its storage compartments or set up the pieces are always given a look over. In this re-examination the work is again dated and a condition of its current state is written down.
At this time you would be looking for any new changes in the work. Also, it is recommended to note if the location of the storage of the work has changed, this includes and damage to the painting upon receipt of the original. So, for instance say you are choosing a home storage option but you purchased a new home you need to ensure you don’t just throw the paintings in the new home without making sure their location and or address is updated a long with the date and even times that they were moved and restored.
And back to the subject of humidity during storage. The best temperature for collections storage is between 70-75. So, if you live in humid tropical areas like South Florida you want to make sure your homes insulation is ideal. You don’t want any sneaky holes where humidity can get in and dampen the areas your works are being stored. A helpful tool could be damprid or other humidifier removal materials that can be purchased at any local big box store. Dehumidifiers with a humidifier option are good as well as you don’t want the work to be stored in too dry of an area of too wet of an area.
If the area is too dry paint can crack or other kinds of warping can occur. The goal is to maintain climate as much as possible with a balance considering the issues really arise when the changes in temperate are too fast. So, perhaps suddenly your air conditioner goes out on you and you’re out on family vacation for a week or two. This could spell huge issues for your collection if the issue is not corrected in a respectable time frame.
Ground storage is also frowned upon. Keep artwork on racks or somewhere that keeps them elevate. According to Artwork Archive it’s better to hang your work or simply treat them the same way you would your book collection or record collection and shelve them but allow for separation between pieces so they don’t damage one another inadvertently. Hanging the work also works with a hook system.
And of course larger nonpainted pieces like sculptures and other mixed media work such as Zach Kudson’s stye of work, will require their own brand of storage and protection. This will be especially necessary if you do not intend to display it, although all of the storage defeats the purpose of an art collection.