ART – An Investment or Not?

Yesterday I received an e-mail from someone who wanted to know if I’d be prepared to go to their home to give them some idea of what their collection of paintings was worth. I wrote back that I did not do that nor did I have the skill or training to be an appraiser but if he sent me a list of the artists he had collected I may be able to advise him on what course he could pursue.


I duly received the list and then was sorry that I had asked for it because I knew I had to disappoint this person who had loved his acquisitions and had somehow thought that through the years his paintings would appreciate and at some point he could cash in and add some comfort to old age or leave the works of art or a cash equivalent to his children.


I recognised most of the names on the list as local amateur painters or people who had self-marketed their work. Most had departed this place for that studio in the sky and they had been forgotten almost as soon as they had passed on.


As I sat here in front of the computer wondering what I should say to this gentleman I pondered on reasons why people so often bought art without education or enlightening themselves in any way. The best thing always is to buy stuff you really like and payment will be the enjoyment you get from sharing your home with those acquisitions. However in so many cases people seem to automatically believe that paintings or sculptures they keep for a long time will become valuable in time. Why do they believe that? Are they told that by an ‘expert’ or third party? Do they question this persons credentials? A dealer or a gallery owner will obviously like to sell the work they stock. Many will without a blush regale the prospective buyer with stories of how sought after the artists they represent are and that they are without doubt investment art and collectors pieces. All terms that are used liberally and have little or no substance whatsoever.


Two or three years ago I was at a party and a friend introduced me to one of his friends and golf partner saying that he wanted us to meet as being an artist I could advise the friend on how he should go about cashing in his vast collection of art. It was thought that it would be most advisable if I went to his house but I declined. Even though I objected robustly to going around to assess the collection I eventually received  the dreaded call  and the friend of a friend asked if he could bring his collection over for me ’to have a look at’ and he was so enthusiastic I eventually suggest that he bring a few over to ‘get an idea’. Fifteen minutes later my studio was awash with the most awful work I had seen in a long time. In all honesty it was not worth the cost of the canvas. Scores of badly painted, poorly framed daubs. I thought of nice ways of letting him down but in truth someone had offloaded on this poor fellow a pile of rubbish.  It was even harder when he told me he had worked really hard all his life and when he retired he took a great amount of that hard-earned cash and ‘invested’ it in art after he had read an article saying art was a good long term investment. How he found the person who advised and directed him in his acquisitions I do not know and really do not want to know, but he was either really stupid or an unmitigated crook.


The only thing I could do was suggest that he live with the work if he liked it or alternatively send it to an auction and see what he could get but not to expect too much. He was shattered –he really believed that he was sitting on a goldmine. What a disappointment for him.


Why is it that so many people set themselves up or believe they are experts when it comes to art and why are others so very gullible. Why are people not happy with buying something and enjoying it for what it is? Why is there this belief or desire for it to be something of great value because it is a painting?


Art experts cannot even agree on what is or what will become an investment, so how can a shop-hand or layman make that appraisal. For some reason when it comes to art everyone sees themselves as an expert and one only has to look at Facebook postings to see this. An essentially unskilled and inexperienced hobby-painter posts one of their creations onto Facebook and immediately two or three dozen completely unabashed assessments appear e.g. ‘This is a masterwork’. “You are a genius!’ “You have been blessed by a divine hand!’ etc. etc.  At times those comments come from local gallery owners. There can be surprise then that people are confused and have little idea about who to consult when it comes to buying  art , the options and the reasons.


My rather crude advice to prospective buyers would be to make sure in your own mind why you want to buy an artwork. Unless you really want to do some research and enlighten yourself forget the investment idea. Buy art that pleases you.


Written: September / November 2012

1 Comment

  • John Smith

    Thank you very much for your kind words – very much appreciated.
    You can also find me on Facebook ‘John Smiths Art World’ and on where you can also find most of the articles I have written.
    Best wishes

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