February 13-19, 2017

What does it mean to invest in art?

By Molly Rector

I recently got an email from a reader suggesting that I follow up on my writing about the large-scale art market by discussing opportunities and encouraging readers to invest in art, themselves. As long-time readers will probably know, I’m fairly suspicious of the top-level portion of the market (like auction houses) that decides what art is “worth” economically because I see it as primarily concerned with the financial value of art, which (while important) I see as only one facet of the total value of art.

I don’t think it’s possible to convince people to meaningfully invest in art if the motivation is primarily personal enrichment. I think that kind of investment ultimately undermines the financial value of any product. Here, I’m thinking of boom and bust/hot-potato economies like the tulip mania of the Dutch Golden Age (worth researching if you aren’t familiar) and the 2008 financial crisis, which encourage people to contribute value to a system/object/cause (which is ultimately what we do when we buy and sell) not because they believe in the sincere worth of what they’re buying/selling, but because they believe someone else will later buy it for more.

This view of investing – that something is only a good investment if its financial value will appreciate – is, in my opinion, extremely limited. It neglects non-monetary forms of capital such cultural capital or social capital, and non-monetary forms of value like beauty or usefulness – both of which ultimately engage with and contribute to financial worth. I see art auction houses, and those who view investment in art solely in terms of its monetary value, as contributors to this limited view of worth.

So what I would say is that if you’re thinking of investing in art, which I absolutely believe is a good idea, think of your investment as one in the classic sense: buying into something you believe in and want to support the growth of. This can take many forms. One cause I like to support is investment in art museums (which give quite a bit of value to whole communities) and other public works programs. But it can also take the form of supporting individual artists and galleries, or non-profits benefiting individual artists and galleries. Readers curious about such opportunities (or who have suggestions) should feel free to write to me.

Molly Rector is a staff writer for the Daily Record. Contact her at