Art Investing

Why Invest In Original Artwork

A great way to add your personality to a room is by decorating the walls with artwork.  Big box stores offer a lot of cheap options with prints, posters, and other mass produced options.  But, they lose their value immediately and rarely earn more than a few bucks years later in a garage sale.  So, if you're trying to freshen up a tired space, redecorating, or a new home-owner, you may want to consider investing in original artwork.

There's a lot of uncertainty in the world.  And you want to invest your hard earned money somewhere that's safe and has a good return.  According to Bloomberg, sales of post war and contemporary artwork have exploded from $260 million in 1995 to $7.8 billion in 2016.  And the value of art isn't as prone to erratic and irrational fluctuations as the stock and bond markets.  Even more impressive, your investment can add beauty and colors to your walls.  So, what are some things to consider when investing in artwork?

Can you tell me what "original art" is?  "Original art" is an unique one of a kind piece, like Vincent van Gogh's The Starry Night painting hanging in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City.  A "reproduction" is a photographic copy of the painting that has it's image placed on posters, mouse pads, coffee mugs, t-shirts, and anything else you can imagine.  Somewhere between the two are "limited edition" prints made by photographers, screen printers, etchers, and other graphic artists that promise to limit the quantity of their copies usually to less than 200 replications.

Isn't original art expensive?  It can be.  The Scream by Edvard Munch did sell for $120 million in 2012.  But, there are more affordable options from artists that are established, mid-career, or just emerging.  But, let's review the three reasons original art is more expensive than reproductions: 1) Quality, 2) Scarcity, and 3) Production.

Quality - A painter will take a canvas, paint it with primer, and then design a subject using various colors, materials, and imagination.  Usually, this creates a texture and a vividness.  It is hand crafted by the artist.  A reproduction is a photographic copy that has difficulty capturing and holding that quality depending on the resolution, printing, and quality of paper.
Anyone using a copy machine knows the quality of the image declines the further away from the original the print comes from.  

Scarcity - There's only one original.  And the more well-known and talented the artist is, the most valuable the piece will become.  This severely limited supply of one compared to the potentially unlimited demand of art consumers and increase prices very rapidly.  Mass produced posters remain cheap because if they sellout, they can always just print more.

Production - To create a piece, an artist may spend anywhere between a few minutes to several years creating a piece.  It can vary depending on size, subject, materials, complexity, etc.  Genius and inspiration is impossible to schedule and mass produce.  All of these factors come together to determine the artist earnings for a piece.  With reproductions, all the creative process costs are eliminated.  A machine can mindlessly make copy after copy without end.

What are the benefits of buying original art?  There are countless benefits to owning original artwork.  Generally, most reasons fall into one of the categories of Style, Originality, Texture/Depth, History, Emotional, Investment and Fun.

Style - What kind of person are you?  Do you follow trends or do you take your own path?  If you're trendy, then it's a matter of trying to stay ahead of the curve.  Look for pieces that have the colors and subjects that are popular.  Let's say purple bears are becoming hot.  You can purchase and commission a few pieces with purple bears.  You could build a collection (2+ pieces), which can boost the value of the pieces as collectors may want everything you've curated.  Once you've sold your pieces at the peak of their popularity, you can move on to building a collection of unicorn paintings or whatever else you think will be the next big thing.

But, if you're a value investor, you could make a good investment by purchasing art that isn't in style.  Just like fashion, an artists popularity will rise and fall cyclically.  All artists works come off the wall and are put into closets.  And those pieces hidden in closets are what you want to collect.  Why?  At some point, those pieces will come back into vogue.  And when they do, you can resell the pieces for a considerable markup.

Originality -  How many times have you walked up to a car in the grocery lot parking lot only to discover that someone else has the same exact car as you?  Do you remember a time visiting a friend's house and seeing the same big box store artwork and furniture that you have in your home?  A one of a kind artwork will make your space uniquely you.  Even better, commission an artist to make a piece specifically for you that will compliment your decor.  An original piece of art greatly increases the status and charm of a living space.

Texture/Depth - Artwork are physical objects that fill space.  A sculpture has volume on a table.  A painting on a canvas and framed extend from the wall.  Even the paint has thickness depending on the use of impasto.  A poster is only as thick as the piece of paper it's printed on.

History - What is the provenience or the history of the piece?  Was it hanging in a mansion of a prominent family for the last hundred years?  Was it a gift to the artist's spouse before they passed away?  These can add to the value of the piece.  But, what about making your own history?  You don't have to go to a major auction house to build a collection.  Emerging artists can be a very affordable option that can have unlimited growth potential?  To do this, look for artist who is creating artwork as their profession, not as a hobby.  The reason is you want someone who is building a portfolio of work and a market for their pieces.  As the artist career advances from Etsy, to cafe shows, small gallery exhibit, high-end galleries, and museum, the value of your pieces advance too.  If you're fascinated by venture capitalist, this may be for you.  While many of the artists may fail to be recognized, finding that one piece or artist could be life changing. 

Emotional - What does the piece remind you of?  Did you meet the artist and become connected when you heard the story behind the piece?  Perhaps you were on vacation with you family and saw a painting of your favorite spot?  Perhaps your family has had a piece on their walls that always reminded you of home?  Your artwork should be made up of only the best pieces that attract and connect to you.


Investment - Original artwork can appreciate in value.  As I mentioned before, an artist's popularity is rises and falls cyclically.  If this is important to you, take that risk into consideration.  What kind of risks should you consider?  Pablo Picasso isn't alive and making any new paintings.  His work is very popular and expensive.  Will that scarcity cause his pieces to continue to rise in value or has it peaked?  An established artist has some very reasonable prices on her work.  Her career has been praised and well documented along with rumors of a major retrospective show.  Perhaps now is the time to buy?  A mid-career artist came onto the scene like a rock star many years ago, but continues to make work even if his fame has waned lately.  The work is still incredible and continues to have gallery shows.  His "stock price" may be low right now, but a "comeback" seems inevitable.  What about the biggest risk/reward scenario in the art world, the emerging artist?  You didn't know of them a few weeks ago, but now you see their work everywhere.  Where will their career lead?  Who knows?  But, getting on the ground floor early in an artist's career could be like winning the lottery.  And, isn't an investment in your favorite piece of art way more interesting to look at than your 401(k) statement?

Fun - The most important thing about investing in art is that it's "fun."  If you enjoy visiting museums, art galleries, studios, garage sales, art fairs, thrift stores, and making your own pieces, then this may be a great option for you.  Know who you are and what you like.  Chances are there are lots of other people who love the same things you do and will want the sames things you want.  

Are there any reasons to by reproductions?  Of course there are.  For example, when I moved out of my small apartment into my first house, I had so many empty walls.  And I'm an artist.  I hung some of my work and filled in the rest of the void with reproductions because I was on a budget.  But, over time, I've collected and made new pieces to replace posters as they've become tattered.

Let's say you love a piece and there's no way you can afford it.  The Sistine Chapel inspires you and the Pope refuses to sell it to you and Michelangelo is permanently retired from making art.  A reproduction is your best option.

Temporary spaces demand temporary art.  You know you won't be living in a college dorm next year.  You're planning on looking for a new job and a cubicle isn't a safe place for valuables.  Maybe you're just staging a house to sell.  Whatever the reason, you're not going to be there long.

Valuables shouldn't be here.  A factory floor with forklifts and other heavy equipment might not be the safest place for your investment.  Maybe you plan on using the space as a kid's playroom full of markers, crayons, and toys that could be thrown at delicate objects?  It could be that you smoke, the air is dirty, or constant high humidity in your basement.  There's nothing wrong with posters in these situations.

Where Can I Buy Original Art?  It's available all around you.  It's not just sold in fancy galleries in New York City.  Many towns, large and small, have their own galleries with a range of local to international artists.  Art festivals and craft fairs are popular annual events that can sometimes travel around the country.  Many artists have studios that are open to the public.  Shows, events, and studios are great places to visit when you're on vacation too.  Original artwork is even available online at places like Etsy.com, SaatchiArt.com, Sothebys.com, and even Craigslist.com.  Online is a great place to browse to see what you like before you purchase.



Research: Who is selling you the painting?  Are you buying it online, from someone you know, a random person on Craigslist, a local gallery, or a world-renown auction house?  What is their reputation?  Just like buying a car, a house, or choosing a bank, you want to make sure you can have trust in your dealer.  

What about the piece you'd like to purchase?  Is it really authentic?  If the artist is alive, that can usually be solved by a phone call or email.  But, if the artist is deceased, a third party expert should be used to get a certificate of authenticity.  And look for damage and/or restoration as this can greatly impact the value of a piece

Who is the artist?  Are they alive?  If so, what age are they?  Did they attend an art school?  Have their works been exhibited?  What awards have they won?  

THANKS AGAIN and please let me know if you have any other questions you'd like for me to answer.  Contact me at: MikeKKraus@gmail.com

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