I chewed on this question (and the free snacks) while inspecting a pastel landscape of a local hillside that I have hiked hundreds of times with my mother and sisters. Looking at it made me homesick for my childhood. Bushy green trees floated like lollipops above a sloping, grassy meadow.
Idyllic? Yes. Ticks? No.
Then my eyes zeroed in on the price. A la carte it was $1,200. Framed, $1,400.
I poured myself another glass of free wine. I can’t afford it, I said to myself. And besides, isn’t buying art a waste of money?
I could be saving for my retirement or feeding starving children. The return on investment of art is, in this particular case, re-living positive childhood memories and familial relationships. The payoff is emotional, not financial.
The only tangible, i.e. financial, benefit is if I sell the piece. Not a scenario I can count on.
Is a few minutes of emotional pleasure a day worth more than a thousand dollars?
I suppose I should measure the cost over time. Say I enjoy the piece for 10 years, which brings the $1,400 cost to $140 per year, or $.38 cents a day. I spend 4 times that on Internet access every day, 18 times that on car insurance, and 30 times that on food.
The homesick pastel is looking a lot more affordable.
I could also measure the cost – $.38 a day – by looking at what else I could buy with that money. An extra $.38 would get me about 4 miles worth of gas, a homemade cup of coffee, or a small piece of candy. Everyday for 10 years.
And if I saved the money?
If I invested $1,400 off the bat and let it grow for 10 years, a conservative 6 percent rate of return would put $2,507 in my pocket, according to this . So the price of the art is really $2,507.
The painting moves father out of reach.
There is also the effect that buying art has on the community. Buying art increases the quality of life two people. The artist, who gets paid, and the buyer, who enjoys the art. You can throw in the families of those two people and the benefits are still spread very thin.
By contrast, donating the art money to a charity increases my quality of life, via emotional satisfaction, and that of many others, via the care or nourishment they receive.
Which makes buying art not only more expensive than it appears, but selfish.
I hesitate to write off art entirely. I considered a career as a musician, after all. So I turned to my mom.
“Even for all the poverty and hunger in the world, there has to be art and music,” she said, her opinion instant and sound. “You have to reach for something. You can’t always be practical.”
I am very practical. Perhaps too much so because she is right. Enjoying art is valuable and necessary.
But enjoying art – seeing a play, going to a museum – is different than shelling out major cash to hang a pretty picture in my living room.
I cannot justify the latter. Right now in my life there are too many tangible things I need and want to buy and save for to make buying original art a financially savvy decision.
If the artist had a $50 print for sale, on the other hand, I would snap it up immediately.
Is buying art financially savvy for you?
UPDATE: A reader named Maggie had a fantastic answer to this question – so much so that I wanted to share it with you all!
I can’t agree with you on this one; I really can’t put art into a category of bargain hunter. Art is something that makes a house a home…something you look at everyday. I make it a point, anywhere I travel, to buy some sort of art. My home is filled with Mexican & Italian watercolors, Caribbean bowls and picture frames, and of course, my own travel photography, framed. I love looking at the pieces daily and remembering the trips I’ve taken. Don’t they say a picture is worth 1,000 words? You didn’t do the breakdown calculation for that stipulation…
SECOND UPDATE: Reader Keera says some art is so powerful it is more valuable than even shelter.
What is art and what is an investment? As an artist I come to appreciate what I like to make. I also like to go around to fellow artist and see what they love too.
Sure, I too like to think of a piece of artist work as a investment, but I am not like those billionaires that could throw money into the air and don’t care how much it cost.
I have to look at the big picture (no pun there). Do I love this painting or artist so much that I willing to go hungry, not to put gas in my car, or maybe pay my rent late or not at all? Is that painting of a landscape from my distant past worth seeing again? Even if I had a wonderful time at that place and time? Or could I do something better than that piece and still have a roof over my head and food on the table?
What do you think?